Tag Archives: improving taste

What are spices good for anyhow?

28 Jul
Spices used in cooking

Photo: Library of Congress

True confessions time.  Our family lore is that my father’s ancestors were spice merchants.  In fact my own father was in the spice business for a while. But I grew up in a spice-challenged household. When my mom set up housekeeping, she got spices but I never saw her use any of them except cinnamon.  She kept spices so long that when she moved after my own kids were born, I found her spice shelves filled with containers that she bought when I was a kid.

If you like well-spiced food – or just love a few foods that must use more than salt and pepper to give them that delicious oomph you crave, then let’s get down to business.  Not all spices give food a hot taste – some are delicate but when used properly, give recipes an unmistakable and delectable smell and taste.There are many spices to learn about and many types of cuisine for which spices are indispensable.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Learn how to use a few spices at a time.
  • Decide which ones to learn about based on what type of food you like. Find recipes for dishes you crave and see what spices they use.
  • Spices typically lose their “punch” over time, so don’t buy them in large quantities unless you know that you are going to use them in the next few months.
spices sold in bulk

Spices sold in bulk Photo: Adam Baker

Secrets of “in season” cooking

28 Jul

Have you noticed that locally produced food is all the rage?  Do you wonder whether you should use in season produce you see at farmers markets, but you’re not sure what to buy or how to use it? Keep in mind that locally produced fruit and vegetables are sold in grocery stores, too  – not just farmers markets.

Go ahead – try some of that luscious food you see in bushels or on tables at the farmer’s market or marked with a big sign in your grocery store. Using locally produced ingredients could make your food taste infinitely better and even save you money without any extra work.

If it sounds too good to be true, try two tests.

First – the taste test. Buy a tomato that is mass-produced, far away from wherever you live and looks ripe. Now buy a ripe tomato that is local, either at a grocery or farmer’s market. Take a bite from each. Can you tell the difference?  I’m betting that the local tomato tests a lot better than one that traveled thousands of miles.

Second – the price test. Go to a reasonably large grocery store and check out the price of a fruit that is out of season locally and is imported from a climate where the fruit can grow at this time of year. For example, now (mid-late summer) you may find Granny Smith apples in US stores that come from New Zealand or Australia.  A few months from now, when the fruit is in season in your area, price the same fruit grown locally. Usually, the imported, out-of-season produce (fruit or vegetable) will be more expensive than the locally grown version that is available only in season.

So, if you make an effort to eat fruits and vegetable that are in season and produced locally, you’ll probably enjoy their taste more and may well find them less expensive than out-of-season produce shipped from far away.