My World of Spices - A Short Description of Herbs and Spices
In this section you will find a short description of my favorite herbs and spices, as well as, how to use better products to improve your cooking. The knowledge what product to choose, what herbs and spices to use, along with your cooking skills are very essential to the quality of your creation. Always use fresh products! These is nothing you can do to make something unfresh taste like fresh. Proper storage and rotation is the key to achieve that. All of the mentioned herbs and spices are great for gourmet cooking, but they can enhance a lot your everyday cooking, as well.
Fresh basil - If I was allowed to cook with only one herb, I would choose basil. Excellent for tomato-based pasta, salads, meats, not to mention that basil is the main ingredient for pesto sauce, which can be used in thousands different ways.
Fresh mint - It is excellent for cooking, as well as for decoration. Can be used in many dishes with lamb, beans, pork, vegetables, for stews, emulsions, sauces, soups, even ice cream.
Cilantro - Cilantro is very popular around the world and is my second favorite herb. I can't imagine Mexican salsa without it. Also, good for garnishing sweet soups, such as cream of corn, butternut squash and ginger, sweet yams, etc. Cilantro is good for many salads, especially ones with beans and avocado.
Fresh or Dried Tarragon - With its slight licorice flavor tarragon is very good for any seafood, especially stuffed fish, squid, fish soups. Fresh tarragon can be used in many other light dishes with chicken, game, etc.
Fresh Thyme - Thyme is one of the most popular fresh herbs in the world and can be used for many different dishes such as poultry, meat, vegetables, game, soups, etc.
Fresh Rosemary - Fresh rosemary can be used for flavoring many red meats, potatoes, game and poultry. I don't like dried rosemary and rarely use it.
Fresh or Dried Dill - Fresh dill is great for cold soups, fish and some egg-based sauces. Dried dill preserves its original taste very well and can be used as a substitute to fresh dill.
Paprika & Smoked Paprika - Irreplaceable in roasted potatoes, for marinades, stews, etc. Try smoked paprika on roasted potatoes or in the marinade for grilled lamb chops. When marinating lamb, add 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar to every 1-2 pounds of meat. This greatly enhances the flavor of the marinade. Add 1 tbsp. white vinegar to every 10 chicken breasts to get the same effect.
Smoked Mustard - Great for marinating red meats and game, sauces, eggs, potatos. I have even flavored tomato-based pasta with smoked mustard.
Fresh or Dried Sage - It has very strong flavor, especially when dried, so use it sparingly. I like it with lamb, veal, for stuffings, even for marinating seafood for grilling.
Ginger Root - I use ginger for stir-fries, sweet sesame-ginger sauce, balsamic-honey-ginger reduction, lemon-ginger sauce, etc. It is best for fish, light meats and desserts.
Chives - With its delicate onion flavor, chives is an important addition to many soups, egg-based sauces, baked vegetables, as well as for garnish. When cooked, should be added to the dish at the very end.
My favorite products:
Sun-Dried Tomatoes - Sun-dried tomatoes are great for salads, sandwiches, antipasta, gourmet pizza, sun-dried tomato pesto or flavorful pasta dishes. I like particularly the ones that are marinated in olive oil and herbs, but if you buy the dry sun-dried tomatoes, slice them and store them in a jar covered with oil. The oil used for marinating the sun-dried tomatoes is very flavorful, too, and can be used for cooking Italian and Mediterranean food.
Parmegiano Regiano - Along with Grana Padano, Parmegiano Regiano is the best flavoring for pastas and it is excellent table cheese as well. Both have very thick and dry skin, but don't worry, it can be utilized, too. Drop a chunk of parmesan skin in the pot while making tomato sauce and remove it at the end, and it will add beautiful flavor to the sauce. I personally like very much Piave Vecchio, which normally have much thinner skin and is excellent table cheese. Never buy the grated "100% Parmesan", it isn't real cheese.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - It is one of the best products for your heart and is very tasty, as well. What better combination can there be? I use it for everything- salads, pastas, vegetables, even for frying, mixed with canola oil. For cooking I like the combination of olive oil and butter. For making salad dressings, cold-pressed avocado oil is a very healthy alternative to the olive oil, but it is not as easily available and is much more expensive.
Blue Cheese - I find it delicious sprinkled over salads, in cream based pastas, for sauces, dressings, cheese platters, even for pizza topping (a must try).
Truffle Oil - You will either love it or hate it. It actually is truffle-flavored olive oil. Half teaspoon of it gives nice flavor to mushroom sauces, risotto, even soups. Some people like a tiny drizzle of truffle oil over their French fries.
Sesame Oil - I'll tell you a secret. 1/3 teaspoon of dark sesame oil gives delicious flavor to many clear soups, rice, oriental dishes, stir-fries, marinades and salads, even ice-creams.
Demi-glace recipe - Brown in the oven about 8 pounds beef, pork and/or lamb bones. Fill a large pot with 10 litres of water and add the browned bones. Deglaze the bottom of the roasting pan with 2 cups red wine and add all the scrapings to the pot. Add, also, 2 tbsp. whole black papper, 10 bay leaves, dark-grilled onions and whole carrots, whole garlic bulbs and simmer very slowly for 16-17 hours. Strain and discard the bones. Reduce the remaining sauce until you have only 1 l. demi-glace sauce left in the pot. You can leave 2 l. of sauce and thicken it with some starch instead. For those who won't ever try to prepare demi-glace, buy a container of beef au-jus or demi-glace in powder and prepare according to the instructions. Try also my Veal Demi-Glace Recipe.
Cold-Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil - Coconut oil is one of the best brain foods and is very useful food to replace your energy level. I like to fry potatoes and eggs in coconut oil. Health conscious people claim that the coconut oil even has some very good antiviral qualities.