Monday, January 15, 2007

Mo Tasty, Mo Betta

Bland diet? Feh!
I've been on a flavoring kick for a little while now: 5-spice powder, dried oregano, ground ginger. Sure, some days a nice, easy dish of buttered noodles is just what the dietician ordered. But as I look over some of my recent creations, I see I've been jacking up the taste-bud factor.
I remember hippie food, back when none of us really knew how to cook; we figured if we just knocked the entire contents of the spice shelf into the brown rice, all would be good.
It wasn't. Besides, the contents of the spice shelf were ancient, dried-out, and sometimes just weird. ("Seasoned salt"? What is that? "Lemon pepper"?)
Years later I've finally learned a few things, one of which is restraint. I've also learned to use natural, often local, flavors, which generally means "no spice shelf." That doesn't mean my food is bland — for complexity, I rely on citrus, chiles, fresh herbs; and there are times when the taste of a pure, ripe tomato needs nothing else.
How pristine of me; how holy.
Not really. Yesterday I baked a batch of crackers to take to a party. The recipe (Alton Brown's if you must know) calls for a mixture of white and whole-wheat flours as well as a riot of poppy and sesame seeds. But I wanted more in my mouth. I'd made Alton Brown's whole-wheat crackers in the past, and they were sweetish and mild... yesterday's mixed-flours batch was going to get a kick in the pants, dammit.
So I knocked in a couple of the contents of the spice shelf — garlic powder and mustard powder, and I added a shake of mustard seeds to the other seeds. That, plus the salt the recipe already called for, gave just the right upward tick away from "nice." Now, the crackers were a little closer to "nasty" — in a good way, you understand. Heck, they might have even benefited from a little cumin or cayenne, too.
Yep, I'm re-exploring my spice shelf. Wow. There's some pretty old stuff in there. I'm not saying how old, but the price stamp on a jar of dried oregano I just used up said ".49." But that's cool. I'm going to replace it.

Party Fun! Don't worry about losing a party dish; make one you can leave behind. This works great with dry foods, or you can choose to line the homemade paper dish with a throw-away plastic container for anything drippy. Since Cranky and I have a little bit of journalism in our DNA, I thought it would be neat to take sheets of newspaper and fold them into pressman's hats. Turned upside down, the hats are now disposable baskets. Wanna try?


Catherine said...

Wow - 49 cents!

The crackers look very good and I like the party dish idea!

I don't know what it is but I'm keeping my lemon pepper! Essential for eggy toast!

Dagny said...

49 cents? Woah!

And I'm with Catherine. The lemon pepper stays. If I'm not mistaken, it's mostly salt so I use it in place of regular salt at times.

Beccy said...

I recently found cornflour that came over with me from England over 12 years ago. It looked alright to me but when I read the use by date it had to go!

kudzu said...

The crackers sound great, by cracky, but it's the pressman's har that impresses. I mean, I'm probably the only one who remembers when there were pressmen, hats or no hats. They were a rowdy lot who made rude remarks when the summer intern waltzed hastily through their workspace to go file thumbnails in the morgue (how Brenda Starr is that?),

Tea said...

You MADE those crackers? Wow. I couldn't try them myself, but I heard other people saying how yummy they were. I didn't realize they were your own creation (me, I buy crackers at the store, how boring:-).

And I loved the containers. How clever!

Tammy said...

Ooooo, crafts! I flunked origami in high school, but it might have been a blood sugar thing. No yummy homemade crackers to be found.

Anna Haight said...

Some crackers! I've never attempted crackers, hearing that they can be difficult! The hat basket seems my speed for making though!

Cyndi said...

I posted about flavor tonight, too - in attempting to cut the carbs I have to ratchet up the flavor so I don't miss my precious potatoes so much. Those crackers look really tasty. I wonder if cream of tartar expires - I have a bottle that I think I had when I got married 25 years ago. Other spices defiinitely get replaced and replenished, but cream of tartar just hasn't had a great priority. Now, gotta go grab the newspapers to make me a hat!

sfmike said...

When I went to Judith Ets-Hokins' Home Chef school many years ago, she instructed us that dried herbs needed to be used with great care, but that fresh herbs could be used "with abandon."

Of course, Ms. Judith used that observation to make fun of her stupid students, telling the story about a previous class where an old lady had put up her hand and asked which herb "abandon" might be.

cookiecrumb said...

Catherine: I'm vindicated. I checked, and the lid with the 49 cent stamp on it doesn't even match the jar. There has been a lot of filling and refilling that oregano jar with bulk herbs or those great dried ones in cellophane packets, and lids got switched. I may not be as old as I thought. ;-P

Dagny: Lemon pepper has a *twangy* taste; easy to crave. I get it.

Beccy: Oh, well, see... I would have tasted the 12-year-old cornflour before I threw it out, and probably decided to save it for another 12 years.

Kudzu: You ARE Brenda Starr.

Tea: Those was mine. I thought of you: I also brought a goat cheese spread (maybe OK for you) cut with sour cream (not OK for you). Dang. Nowadays we have to label everything.

Tammy: No. The crackers are across the hall, in Home Ec.

Anna: Crackers are the easiest baking project I've ever managed. Try! Easier than banana bread.

Cyndi: Brava to you on your new food plan. Flavors will get you through. And I think you're good for another 25 on the cream of tartar.

SFMike: What's a Bandon? (I owe you. I flubbed up our potential date. I'll call.)

Sam said...

the crackers were yumptious!

Ask mum how old some of her west indian spices are - the nutmeg for example, I do believe they might be nearly as old as I am. she wont throw them out.

unfortunately i have since lost the antique food collection I put together from mum's pantry when I was in college, but the prices used to make me laugh! I think some of them were in 'd' instead of 'p' which predates decimlisation (1970)

ChrisB said...

Sam is so right I still have the whole nutmegs ( brought from the west indies) she is referring to but when grated they still taste good and I can't bring myself to throw them out. However Sam, only last week I did clear some of the old spices and replaced, this is under the influence of all the food blogs I read and I've also started using fresh such as ginger- is there hope for me!!

cookiecrumb said...

Sam: I was at my parents' house several years ago when my mom decided to weed out the really old spices from her cupboard. The old metal cans were so charming, I pulled them out of the trash, and they are "decor" in my kitchen now. (I think they still have stuff inside too.)

ChrisB: I'll come to your defense: If the nutmegs are whole, there MUST be something still good inside. Mm?

Katie said...

Summer cooking is about grilling and fresh herbs.
Winter cooking is about the spice shelf - stock up and use. Right now I'm into sauteing chili powder in oil with onions - the basis for anything...

cookiecrumb said...

Katie: So right, and it's been interesting to see myself gradually come around to acknowledging it, after a very rigorous year and a half of local eating. Plus: Winter = the aromas of spices. Hot cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, curry, chiles... I could just wallow.

Sara said...

I definitely need to learn to make crackers!

Barbara said...

Impressive crackers but I'm REALLY impressed with the Pressman's Hat container.

cookiecrumb said...

Sara and Barbara: I'd make them again, fer shur. I'm thinking of increasing the oil a tiny bit, for more snap and less dusty dryness.
And Barbara -- hah, you cutie. The hat only comes in one size. (And they keep shrinking the size of newspapers!) Well, the benefit was that not all the crackers got taken to the party!! ;-)

Anonymous said...

how do i make the pressman's hat with the new downsized newspaper page?
seems that i would have to cut some off to maintain the correct proportions-but how much i can not figure without knowing the size of the real newspaper