Since it's the first Sunday in October, my favorite thing this week is fall flavors! Especially fresh spices.
Spices are best when they're freshly ground. They start to lose their maximum flavor as soon as you grind them. But they're so, so important. Without flavorful spices, your recipes will be dull. Those spices that came with your spice rack could be years old. Last summer at my grandparents' cabin I found spices in metal boxes (McCormick stopped selling these in 1987, so...) Here are a few hints to make sure you're getting the most out of your herbs and spices:
*Replace your spices at least once a year. You don't need to replace the ones you use the most, as chances are you'll cycle through them before the year is up, but if you can't remember buying it than you should probably toss it.
*Buy spices from somewhere you know has fresh spices. If you're buying a less common spice (cardamom? Curry powder? Turmeric?) from your local mom-and-pop grocery store, then I'd venture to guess that it's not the freshest. Spices have expiration dates for several years, so buying within the sell-by date unfortunately isn't a good clue whether a spice is fresh or not.
*Grind spices yourself! It's easy and that way you know you're getting them fresh. Buy an inexpensive coffee grinder just for spices, and let it whirr away. This is an especially great idea for spices you don't use very often, like allspice or cloves. To clean between spices, just toss in a piece of bread and the bread will clean out any crevices that could be harboring any lingering spice residue.
*Store your spices properly. I store mine in glass containers and keep them in a dark place. Light and oxygem sap the freshness of ground herbs and spices. I know some people store their spices in the freezer, but I hate the taste of freezer burn and wouldn't want to subject my spices to that.
*Buy quality spices. I've bought those cheap $.99 spices when money's been tight, but don't make a habit of it! They really do have very little flavor. And this relates directly to my favorite thing this week--spice houses!
A couple years ago, my family did a Secret Santa exchange. My aunt, who drew my name, knows I like to cook and bake. She bought me the Baker's Gift Box from the Spice House in Milwaukee. Oh my goodness. Until this, I had no idea there were entire stores devoted to spices. The ginger in this box was incredible. It was so spicy and it made the best holiday quickbreads ever. The cinnamon and nutmeg were equally pungent, and the vanilla was rich and dark (it came with a big piece of vanilla bean floating around in the bottle. The bay leaves were big and blemish-free, and a much higher quality than the ones at the grocery store.
Late this summer, my family took a trip to St. Paul. Several people recommended that I visit Penzeys Spices. And my husband foolishly left me alone in the store for more than half an hour. What a fun store. Hundreds of herbs, spices, and spice blends, packaged in various sized containers, and with smellable samples. I came away with ... well, more spices than I had planned on buying. And I bought a present for you, too, dear readers!
In honor of the onset of fall, the prize in the second Kim Chee Casserole giveaway will be the Baker's Assortment gift box from Penzeys! This box contains Sweet China Cassia Cinnamon, Dutch Process Cocoa, Baking Spice, and a bottle of Double-Strength Madagascar Vanilla Extract. It's also got some beautiful cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and whole nutmegs.
The question is: What's your favorite fall food?
Winner will be picked at noon CST on Sunday, October 10. I'll continue to blog this week but each blog entry will be linked back to this entry. Please, only leave entry comments in this entry; if you leave them in the comments section of another entry, they won't be counted. Good luck!