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Handy Hints and useful tips for around the home - Spices and Herbs

Cooking with spices
  From chilli to cinammon, spices give zest and something special to any dish. However, we don't always use them to advantage.
  Next time you are making a meal like a curry, instead of adding the spices to the sauce once it is already cooking, fry them separately first.
  Before even cooking the meat and other ingredients, put a tablespoon or two of oil in the pan, then sprinkle in the spices (garlic and ginger too) and stir-fry over a moderate heat for a couple of minutes. Now start adding the rest and cook in the same pan with the fried spice.
  This method brings out the flavour of the spices which, in turn, enhances the dish overall.

  Most recipes incorporate some spices, especially curries, and the quickest way to make these dishes is to buy a pre-mixed packet or jar then add it to the rest of the ingredients. This, however, can be expensive, and you don't always get the flavour you might prefer. And when you just want a little, whatever's left over probably won't last long after it is opened.
 By using dried spices, you can make up your own combination to suit personal taste. Stored in an airtight jar it will keep for a long time. Here's one that I use frequently, either for an actual Madras Curry, or for pepping up sauces, soups and stews. With the curry, I generally start off with a teaspoonful, then add more as I go along - after tasting, of course! This way, I get exactly the level of flavour desired.
 Measurements are in parts. I found a teaspoon was easiest and I normally double the quantities for each new batch.

1 garlic powder
1 ground coriander
1 ground black pepper
1 ground turmeric
½ ground chilli (or peri peri)
½ ground cardamom
½ ground cumin
½ ground cinnamon
½ ground cloves

  Here are the spices for Recipe R80_Rogan Josh. All are dried and ground, and can be mixed well in advance. Measurements are in teaspoons; but if you want to use a tablespoon: 1 Tbsp is the equivalent of 3 tsps. Simply spoon each spice into a bowl, mix thoroughly; then transfer to an airtight glass jar until needed. Kept in a cool, dark place the mixture will last as long as individual spices.

1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp ginger powder
12 tsps paprika
4 tsps chilli powder (or Peri Peri)
4 tsps cinnamon
8 tsps cumin
8 tsps coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper

Here are the quantities to mix your own spices for Recipe 82 Moroccan Chicken. Measure them into a glass jar, screw on the lid, and give them a good shake up. If you decide not to use the lot in one go, they will keep for a long time when sealed and stored in a cool cupboard or pantry. Then you can use a teaspoon or two for spicing up any meal in a jiffy whenever you fancy.

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Spice up with Cinnamon
  Cinnamon is often associated with buns and cakes, but did you know that it has many health properties?
  Researchers have found that this aromatic spice can improve brain function, help reduce triglycerides (fats in the blood) and increase antioxident levels. It is also said to lower the risk of heart disease. Although further claims that it cures most illnesses may be pie in the sky, we can verify that taking it daily has made discomfort from indigestion a rarity.
  Obviously there are many uses for this versatile spice in cooking, but a sprinkle of cinnamon in coffee, or a quarter teaspoon in the coffee grounds before percolating adds an exciting new dimension to an old favourite. For a bit of variety, try a few drops of vanilla essence as well. That's what we do after our evening meal. Now, even when we've made absolute pigs of ourselves, we still get a good night's sleep minus the reflux.

Herb Flowers for More Flavour
  Whether fresh or dried, herbs add flavour to food; but in most cases, the leaf is the part that is used. Freshly chopped, the taste is obvious and can be quite strong; when dried, however, many like parsley and basil lose their flavour; and after a period of storage even in airtight containers, most can end up bland and smelling like tea.
  The flowers of the plant can change this, but always check to make sure that they are edible. They can still be used straight from the plant and will add a new dimension to any dish. The new buds which haven't yet opened are especially fragrant. To dry, simply cut the flower stalks complete with buds, then lay them in a shallow container, cover with paper towel and put this out of the way somewhere. Depending on the water-content of the herb and ambient temperatures, drying may take 2 or 3 weeks. After this, strip everything from the stalk by stroking down from the tip with the fingers. Now chop or grind (we use a coffee grinder), put in a small glass jar with an airtight lid, then you have a better-than-average herb for use whenever you need it. We've tried oregano, basil and rosemary and all seem to work well.

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