Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Lent? Yuck!" Cooking up a metaphor

Today a friend made a soup disaster. I shared a spice guide with her. It didn't help the soup but it helped her get intrigued by cooking again.

What fascinates me about cooking is how much it is like life. Think metaphorically with me here and I promise to pull it together at the end...Sometimes you make a mess that you are stuck with eating because you've used up all your time and energy making the gloop and there just isn't anything left to do but eat it. I made a fondu (fond glue) like that once. By the time I was done ruining the dinner I had hours of scraping ahead of me.

Other times you take one bite and decide that you just couldn't possibly be that hungry. "No thank you, I'm having water! Mmmm!" Putting up with me and some of my great ideas is just more punishment than doing without. Those are the creations that even the dog shies away from with that peculiar doggy look of "I'm not even rolling in that!"

Yes, indeed, the kitchen will humble us and make our families grow in holiness. "I don't care what it tastes like! Offer it up!" (Yes, I really said that and no I couldn't take myself seriously after that. We ate cereal instead.) Just when you think you've got things in hand, along comes a meal so bad it makes it to the family legend stage. "Remember that time mommy melted the spoon in dinner?" (true story) It all seems so simple. Put in ingredients in the right order, the right amounts, add heat and it is good, right? In theory, yes. In reality sometimes even scrambled eggs can be beyond me (shells, rubbery, bland).

But, hey, even when the last meal was bad, you gotta eat. Just like life will keep on chugging along, there's always another meal coming around. You can start over three times a day, not counting snacks.

So, now that you are past the fun, adventurous stage of Lent, now that your penance is actually starting to grind at you a bit, now that you've had three feasts right in a row to break both your fast and your penance rhythm, and now that you're seriously considering giving up on giving up something for Lent, I'm here to remind you cheerfully that yes, you are a failure. Me, too. We all are going to suck at most things at least some times. Even eggs. In life the difference between a good cook and a bad one is that the good ones learn from their mistakes and try again.

Spicing issues? Try it the Vegan Way!
(no, actual children were harmed in the writing of this blog)
Get cooking. And for fun, try out some of these spice combos. From Compassionate Cooks (Vegans).

 Which Spices/Herbs to Use
How many of us have spice racks with jars of spices we bought years ago and never used, whose sole purpose is to collect the dust in your kitchen? J Now is the time to dust them off (or replace them) and start adding flavor to your dishes. The correct spice or herb (whether it is fresh or dried) for any food is the one that tastes right for you. When you're at a loss about what to add to a dish, try something from the list below.


Beans - cumin, cayenne, chili, oregano, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, thyme

Breads - anise, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme

Fruits - allspice, anise, cardamom, Chinese 5-spice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mint

Potatoes - basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, poppy seed, rosemary, tarragon, thyme

Salads and Salad Dressings - basil, caraway, celery seed, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, lovage, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sumac, tarragon, thyme

Soups - basil, bay, chervil, chili, chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, star anise, thyme

Sweets - allspice, angelica, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary, star anise

Tomatoes - basil, bay, celery seed, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

Vegetables - chili, chives, curry, dill, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme


Allspice: An ingredient in many baked goods as well as "Jerk" sauces.
Anise Seed: Mild licorice flavor, used in cookies, or candies.
Arrowroot Powder: Use as a thickener in puddings, pies, soups, sauces, and gravies.
Basil: used in Italian and Mediterranean cooking, especially good with tomatoes.
Bay Leaves: Perfect use in stews, sauces, soups, and marinades.
Caraway Seeds: Great in baked goods and with fruits.
Cardamom, ground: A wonderful addition to Indian dishes.
Cardamom, whole: Dry roast the whole cardamom seeds for more flavor in your recipe.
Cayenne Pepper: Wonderful heat for any Mexican dish.
Chervil Leaf: Similar to parsley, a mild flavor for any meat, soup or vegetable dish.
Cilantro: Used in Mexican cooking & salsas; may also be used in Indian dishes.
Cloves, ground: Popular in desserts, syrups, and sweet vegetable dishes.
Coriander seed, ground: Citrusy, sweet & tart flavor to be used at the end when cooking.
Cream of Tartar: Adds consistency and stability to any cookie or cake.
Cumin Seed, ground: Wonderful with tomato dishes, chili, salsa & Indian dishes.
Dill Weed: Great in dressings and sauces and on potatoes.
Ginger, crystallized: Sliced ginger partially dried in a sugar syrup solution. For sweets.
Ginger, ground: A sharp, aromatic spice is used in many sweet baked goods and curries.
Lemongrass: A grass with citric oils, very popular in Thai cooking.
Marjoram: Like oregano & from the mint family, it has a sweeter and subtler taste.
Nutmeg, ground: A sweet, nutty spice is used in custards, pastries, and vegetables.
Oregano, Greek: A must for Italian cooking, Greek oregano has a mild, delicate flavor.
Oregano, Mexican: Slightly stronger than Greek and less sweet, used in Spanish cooking.
Paprika, hot: Mixed with cayenne, these red peppers make the Hungarians famous.
Paprika, sweet: This sweet, milder Paprika will add radiant color to any dish.
Parsley: This versatile herb can be used as a garnish or with anything other than sweets.
Poppy Seeds: Used in baked goods, breads & to flavor noodles.
Rosemary, ground: Use ground in sauces or stocks to avoid the "needle" look.
Saffron, whole threads: Use for saffron rice and Indian dishes.
Sage: Well known for use in stuffings.
Salt, Kosher: Coarser than regular granulated, easier to control in cooking.
Savory: Strong, peppery taste, good with veggies & stuffing.
Sesame Seeds: Used mostly for baking breads & rolls, nice for stir-frys.
Spearmint: A popular tea flavoring, used in sauces and veggie dishes.
Tarragon: Aromatic herb used to flavor vinegar, dressings, breads. Great with potatoes!
Thyme, ground: Great for Greek & Italian cooking, use ground for sauces & soups.
Thyme, whole leaf: Versatile in flavoring veggies, pizza, stews & herb blends.
Turmeric: Used as a natural yellow coloring for soups, sauces, rice, curry, & tofu scramble.



  • Store spices in a cool, dark place. Humidity, light and heat will cause herbs and spices to lose their flavor more quickly. Although the most convenient place for your spice rack may be above your stove, moving your spices to a different location may keep them fresh longer.
  • As a general rule, herbs and ground spices will retain their best flavors for a year. Whole spices may last for 3 to 5 years. Proper storage should result in longer freshness times.
  • Because the refrigerator is a rather humid environment, storing herbs and spices there is not recommended. To keep larger quantities of spices fresh, store them in the freezer in tightly sealed containers.


  • For long-cooking dishes, add herbs and spices an hour or less before serving. Cooking spices for too long may result in overly strong flavors.
  • Use restraint! In general, � teaspoon of spice is enough for 4 servings.
  • Do not use dried herbs in the same quantity as fresh. In most cases, use � the amount in dried as is called for fresh.
  • Seasoning food is an art, not a science. Experimenting with herbs and spices can be fun and educational, and while you may occasionally be eating a less than perfect dish, you may also end up creating that recipe that will become a classic in your household.


  1. This is what I need. I really struggle with what spice to put in dishes.

  2. I'm glad you could use it! I would have been lost without it many times over.