Friday, June 29, 2012

7 Spice Cupboard Tips: The Eye of Newt MUST Be in There???!!!

Organized chaos, yes, eye of newt, no.

I guess I could have some in there somewhere. God knows I buy more herbs and spices annually than most small countries import in a decade. A good spice shop is as intoxicating to me as a shoe store must have been to Imelda Marcos. My problem is, aside from storage issues, is that I keep herbs and spices as  souvenirs of my travels and am loath to toss some things out.

Now mind you, I know they've lost any vestige of tasty oomph long ago, but that sweet little can of harissa reminds me of that cramped shop in Morocco we found between flights and that creepy man following us. Even though it's a little rusty, I can't part with it. There is also a little packet of gelatin sheets from the Chelsea Market that I've used some sheets from once and that tiny vial of black squid ink that keeps getting pushed aside. My spice cupboard DOES look as if there should be Eye of Newt in it. There isn't any; used that one up...yup, right.

There are also a few sentimental items in there, several types of natural vanilla product samples including a killer double-fold extract, made and given to me by my sweet son-in-law who passed away far too young, nearly a year ago. He worked for a flavoring company, and you always knew when he walked into a room from the scent of vanilla wafting around him. I use the stuff he gave me sparingly, to make it last, often in things I make for his little girls so there's a little of their Daddy in it, but...

Yes, I do have regular culinary dried herbs and spices that do get used up often, and that do get tossed out and replaced if it's been around for a year or so. Or if I can't remember how long I've had it because I neglected to write the date on the jar or bag with a marker.

Even though it does look like chaos in the picture, it really isn't. Some tips for keeping your seasonings in top form:
  • Never keep your dried herbs and spices in a warm or bright place. Never over the stove or on open shelves unless your containers are light-proof. Heat and light kill the flavor faster than accidentally spraying your favorite rosebush with weed killer. Don't do either...
  • Get a little set of shelf "steps". Called a tier organizer, mine has 3 levels. They are inexpensive, so get 3 or 4, they are worth every penny. If you put these into your cabinets, it lets you see what's in the back row without having to move jars and bottles around.
  • Never buy more than you will use in a year unless you are willing to toss it when it starts to not have any scent, or begins to taste or smell "off". Giant containers at club warehouses are rarely a bargain unless you use a LOT. We buy a variety of cinnamon we like at Costco, since we add it to fruit nearly every day.
  • Place "like" items together. Baking extracts in one section, Mediterranean spices in another, general spice mixtures together, flavored salts in one get the idea.
  • Put things back in the same spot every time you use it. This really speeds the cooking process so you are not searching shelf by shelf for the thyme or the turmeric. The corollary here is to also add herbs or spices that you use frequently to your shopping list before you run out. Keep the supply chain going.
  • Date everything, with a marker when you get it or open it. So you won't find a jar of dried rosemary from the year you had your first baby, now that you are about to produce your third.
  • If you buy a spice mixture, an herb or spice, and you don't like it, either give it away or toss it. Otherwise, it'll live forever in your cabinet, like the asafoetida I bought 4 years ago for an Indian recipe. It's still there. I can't always take my own advice. Sigh.

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