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Herbs & Spices-The Cook’s Reference by Jill Norman-one of the two reference books that I used to get familiar with fresh ingredients
A few years ago when I started getting more serious about my grilling I started cooking year round. During the Winter I started doing big roasts that could be cooked indirectly and with smoke in my gas grill. The recipe I decided to use for my Christmas standing rib roast called for a fresh herb paste made with EVOO plus fresh rosemary, oregano, Italian parsley, basil and garlic. The author admitted to not using fresh herbs very often himself but made a point that you should do it with this recipe. With the price you pay for a standing rib roast I decided to go for it. The first thing I noticed right away was the wonderful aromas that filled the Kitchen. You certainly don’t get that with jar spices. The proof was in the tasting though. The herb crusted standing rib roast was amazing. The picture at the top of this page are the fresh ingredients for that rub, just before they were blended.
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The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs & Spices by Tony Hill-my second reference book. I like each book for different reasons
This amazing rib roast opened my eyes wide. Here was a relatively simple change I could make to my cooking that would make a HUGE difference. The first step was to learn more about fresh herbs and spices. A trip to the local book store solved that with a couple books about spices, both of which are illustrated here. Doing a Google search for a spice will often turn up articles, or better yet videos on how to prepare that item. Both the web site About.com and AOL have quite a bit of information and videos on cooking. As I started using more varieties of fresh herbs I noticed a great improvement in the flavors of what I made. A side benefit is the great smell in the Kitchen while you work. I think fresh basil is my favorite aroma, but rosemary and cilantro are a close second. The only downside is the extra time it takes to chop up the fresh herbs. It is a small price to pay for the great flavors. Get yourself some good sharp knives and you will find you can make reasonably short work of this task.
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The Krupps coffee grinder makes a great spice grinder. Just don’t grind coffee in the same on you grind spices in.
I also purchased a spice grinder so I could grind up some of the spices fresh for certain recipes. Actually my “spice grinder” is a Krupps Coffee Grinder which I found many people use as a spice grinder. Just don’t grind coffee in this one, buy a second one if you want to grind coffee too. The price is quite reasonable and it is easy to use and clean. You use it pretty much like a miniature food processor.
One thing that you’ll need to know: If a recipe calls for either fresh or jar spices and you substitute one for the other it is not a one to one equivalency. What surprised me is you use less of the jar spice than the fresh spice. Going by the intense flavors of the fresh herbs and spices you would think the opposite is true. But it is not, I guess the jar spices are more concentrated. Here is a link that gives the equivalents for fresh vs jar spices:
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These classic juicers come in three sizes for oranges, lime and lemon (shown here). You cut the item in half and put it cut side down in the bottom half and squeeze the handles together
The next discovery I made was what a difference using the fresh squeezed fruit juice makes to the recipe. I wrongly thought that where the juice is added in early on you would not notice the difference between fresh and a concentrated bottle juice. I know, I know, I should have known better-fresh squeezed orange juice is much better than bottled or frozen. My own wake up call was when I was making some ribs a few years ago. The recipe called for adding fresh lemon juice to the apple juice marinade used for soaking the ribs. I had made this recipe before and always used bottles of concentrated lemon juice. For whatever reason I decided to try fresh squeezed lemon juice. Not only did I notice the difference , others who tried the ribs noticed the lemon taste without my mentioning it to them. I was now a convert. I had bought a lemon juicer to squeeze the lemon juice out, it was now back to the store to buy two more for oranges and limes.
These days many recipes are calling for lemon or lime zest. This is the scrapings you get off the outer skin. I used to buy zest in a jar. Well now that I am using fresh lemons, limes and oranges, I have the skins around. A quick trip to the store and I had a zester that scrapes the skin and produces the zest. And by now I am sure you’ve figured I am going to tell you this is better than the jar variety. Once again: No Contest.
So if you want to make a big difference in your cooking: Go fresh. If you don’t believe me, try it once on an old favorite recipe. Preferably try one where you’ve been using jar spices in lieu of the fresh herbs or spices the recipe called for. I think you’ll agree that the big difference in flavor is worth a little extra work.
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