Jun 2, 2009

Making Your Own Herb Blends & Spice Mixes

I've always grown (and dried) my own herbs. Whether it be pots inside the house, pots outside the house, in the veggie garden and this year, I planted an herb garden bed to keep them all together and in "one centralized area" LOL. I guess I should be doing a post about planting and growing herbs first, but there's a method to my madness and I'll explain that in a sec. However, if you're interested in growing herbs you can check out the bakespace forums of the herb chart that I posted recently.

If you cook, you probably already know by now that all of your spices and dried herbs in your cabinet only have a shelf life of no more than a year. Sometimes only 6 months, depending on the type of herb and spice, packaging, storage conditions etc. (if you didn't know that, go through your spice rack now and TCB) What I like to do is a rotation system so that I have fresh herbs and spices or fresh DRIED herbs at any given time. So here's how it works for me:

My Rotation System

Summer- Of course, I use fresh herbs in the summer while they're growing in my gardens.
Fall- Then at the end of summer or at harvest time, I dry them in my handy dandy food dehydrator and use them to fill up the individual containers or bottles in my spice rack.
Winter- Now in the winter months, sometimes I have to buy more to replenish my supply. When I do, I transfer them to my spice rack containers and save the bottles.
Spring- At the beginning of spring (it's already sprung) I plant my annual herbs, tend to the perennial ones.
The Here and Now- Now, at the end of spring, I'll make up big batches (8-16 oz really) of spice and herb blends. This helps to use up all of the almost-out-of-date spices/herbs AND make room for the new dried herbs that will be coming in a couple of months.

In addition, the end of spring is a perfect time to do this because grilling and smoking season is just around the corner. (actually, it's HERE! Yippie!) It's much easier for me to have my favorite blends already mixed up and ready to go. Besides, it's seriously a pain, not to mention cumbersome and messy, to try to get out all of my spices for those steaks & chicken on the grill, while blending margaritas with my inebriated girlfriends at the same time. ;)

My Two Favorite Personal Blends:

The first one, I've named "D.D's House Seasoning", because really I use this one the most. It goes with EVERYTHING. I use it on steaks, roasts, chicken, turkey breasts, and pork or as a dry rub for bbq. It can even be used with vegetables and even french fries! Sometimes I'll throw in some cumin or chili powder and use it for tacos, fajitas or quesadillas. I like to use sea salt, but mine is usually coarse so I'll grind it along with the paprika (because it's usually clumpy) and the pepper (because my pepper mill doesn't get it fine enough). You can use a mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder, just as long as you get all of the ingredients the same size and weight. This will keep them evenly distributed throughout. If you don't use sea salt, you can substitute it by swapping out garlic salt for the garlic powder. It's all good!

D.D's House Seasoning

Fills an 8 oz spice jar

4 Tbsp Garlic Powder
2 Tbsp Celery Salt (or ground celery seed)
2 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 Tbsp Accent (MSG)
1 1/2 Tbsp Onion Powder
2 Tbsp Coarse Sea Salt
1 Tbsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Put the paprika, sea salt and pepper into a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Grind only until they are the size of fine table salt. Add into a bowl with the other ingredients and stir. Using a funnel, pour into a clean glass or plastic spice bottle that has a tight fitting shaker style lid. Store in a cool/dry place. To use on meats, rub a bit of olive or vegetable oil, then sprinkle on the spice mix. You can also use this as a dry rub and refrigerate the meat for up to 8 hours before grilling or smoking. Enjoy!

This next one is my go to basic herb blend, "D.D's Poultry Seasoning". I use this one for more delicate meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish. However, I do use this one occasionally for pork roasts too, just depends on my mood. Around the holidays, this makes a great compound butter for your turkey. Just mix about 1 Tbsp of mix with one stick of softened butter or margarine. (sometimes I add in a little rubbed sage) Slather on top of turkey skin and also, create a pocket underneath the skin and smush it up under there. I do this with our smoked turkey breasts as well, makes killer sandwiches! The ingredients are simple, but I'm telling ya, the taste is unbelievably awesome!

D.D's Poultry Seasoning

Makes about 4-6 oz

2 Tbsp Dried Rosemary
2 Tbsp Dried Thyme
2 Tbsp Dried Parsley
3 Tbsp Garlic Salt
1 1/2 Tbsp Lemon or White Pepper

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix. If your dried herbs are homegrown, you may want to pulse for a few seconds in a grinder or use a mortal and pestle to break them down a bit. Place in an jar larger than contents. You'll need to shake this one periodically because the salt and pepper will fall to the bottom.

Time for some Tips:

You can choose any jar, container etc, but if it is plastic be aware that the aromas/flavors can permeate or become infused with the plastic. So I try to use the same plastic jar over and over for any one particular blend.

As with the recycled jar, choose your recycled lid wisely. While using the salt-shaker type lids with your spices is ok, but a better choice for your herb blends might be one with larger holes and even better, a duel top that you can shake or pour them into your hand. (you'll thank me later ;) )

Take the time to label your blends. Yeah, trust me, you'll inevitably forget what was in there or what you intended to use it for. I used floppy diskette labels that I had left over from back in the day, but even if it's a piece of masking tape, that will help. (ya, done that too) Once you've found a blend that you like, or you've created your own, go as far as putting a label on the back, with the recipe. This way, when you want to refill it, it's right there! Also, after applying my labels, I put shipping tape all around to protect them. ('cuz I'm messy, and they get blurred, and I can't remember how much of what I used, and 'cuz I'm an OCD dork! and yes, btw, I would have done computer printed labels but frankly, I don't have the time LOL) If you're making a fresh batch with new dried herbs/spices (instead of just cleaning out old spices) then I'd put the date on there as well. If it's something you use often, don't bother.

I suggest if while trying out these or other blends, mixes, rubs, whatever, that you only use a scaled down version to try it out. Once it's mixed, it's done. Of course you can "add" stuff to tweak it, but you can't take it away, right?

If you're having problems with clumping in your shaker style jar, throw in a couple of dried beans or some uncooked rice (obviously, bigger than the holes in the shaker). They will not only absorb the moisture and prevent caking, but they will break things up on a quick shake.

As mentioned earlier, you can use an electric spice grinder if you choose. However, never use the same grinder as you do for your coffee beans. There are plastic parts on "them there" grinders and again, the spices will permeate the plastic and the next pot of coffee might taste like, well, garlic salt or something. Not good.

In fact, I used to have two grinders, one for coffee, one for spices. But I seriously got tired of cleaning out the spice grinder after each use. (wiping around the blade, blah) So now, I only use my mortal and pestle. It's marble and for the most part, impervious to odors. Most of the time, I only need to swipe it out with a dish cloth real quick like. If crushing very aromatic seeds and such, I will wash it completely with soap and water.

However, on heavy duty spice mixing days (uhm, or when smashing paprika clumps?) it can get stained. Here's a quick easy solution. I just throw in about a Tbsp of coarse salt (use the cheaper Kosher salt, not your fancy sea salt), and scrub using 1/2 a lemon. If that doesn't work for ya, just add in some baking soda and squeeze in the lemon juice. Now stand back! (throw in the pestle while you're at it)

It will foam immediately, but give it about 15 minutes for the scrubbing bubbles to work their magic. Now go clean up your messy kitchen while you wait. (or blend a margarita, you've worked hard today) You may have to use the lemon and scrub it around in there just for a few. But look, see the paprika in the bubbles? Gotta love it!

Woooohoooo! Wicked clean! (as my beeps Spryte and Bob would say hehehe)

Ok, so I hope you've found some useful tips and are inspired to try making your own spice and herb blends. I have to warn you, it's addicting. Not only that, but you'll save yourself tons of money by not buying the premixed out-of-date spice blends in the grocery store. (start reading labels people, chances are, you have everything in your spice rack) One last thing for people new to using herbs/spices/rubs etc....they taste VERY different in the jar or say, on your finger than they do on the food! The juices in the meat/veggie, the temperature, the method of cooking, can all affect the flavors. For this reason, try not to pre-judge or change a recipe until after you've used it at least once. The exception to this rule would be loweing the sodium or sugar if you need/like to. Also, if you don't like it on one thing, try it on another. If you still don't like it, then by all means, tweak away to your liking.


Spryte said...

I keep saying I'm going to make my own spice/seasoning blends... but I never do!!

Donna-FFW said...

Ok, Like can you have a giveaway with these amazing spice mixes as the prize?? I want it. It looks fantastic, sounds great. Love the jars.

ImStuffed said...

You're so darned organized LOL. I have no idea how old the spices are in my cupbard (insert bakespace shock face). Oh...and I have the same mortal and pestle as you! :) I'm going to have to get my butt in gear and clean my cupboard out are I?

Dajana said...

For now, only my basil is nice and big, mint, so and so, thyme is dead. Unless I steal someone else's herbs, I'll have to buy them ready.
What I always wondered about is the reason why the herbs have expiry date.

girlichef said...

Wow, I'm kinda jealous. I wish I had the stick-with-it-ness to do this!! I'm totally OCD like that, so I don't blame you a bit...very awesome post :)

Michele said...

I love this! Last summer Steve's mom gave me tons of fresh parsley from her garden. I didn't know what to do with it all so I stuck it in my freezer. That was such a dumb move because I can't do anything with it now. Next time I will definitely dry it!

Bob said...

Awesome. I would love to have an herb garden to do just that kind of stuff. Love you mortar and pestle too.

Culinary Alchemist said...

MOST Excellent!!! I have a feeling I know which one you will use first ;) Oh, and thank you!! I have have been wondering how to give my mortar & pestle a good Spring Cleaning..

DDpie said...

Thanks guys!

Dajana- they don't necessarily "go bad", they just loose their flavors and aromas after about a year. However, I found that home dried herbs hold their flavor a lot longer than store bought ;)

Monique "Nenita" said...

I love it! Thank you for posting.