Today is my normal cooking and baking day. However, with the volumes I've been producing lately with my pumpkin excitement and surplus of tomatoes, I'm running low on my grocery budget and freezer space! I can hardly find anything in the freezer without something falling out!
So, in lieu of a whole day in the kitchen, I'm trying a new recipe for dinner. It's an attempt to be frugal, use up some ingredients from the back of the pantry, and still make up for not cooking and baking all day. It's called Everyday Cassoulet (a bean and sausage casserole) from my Betty Crocker cookbook. It called for dried or fresh thyme, which is actually where I got the idea for this post.
I've been growing a number of fresh herbs in my garden this summer. I'm not a fancy chef, so I knew very little about spices and herbs. I really only used seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder, unless a recipe called for something else. In fact, I had to leave all of the little tags that came with the starter plants in the herb pot, so I would know what was what. Slowly over the summer, as my recipes called for them, I would learn about that particular herb (i.e. how/when to cut it, dry it, use it, etc.). I'm far from an expert, but using the fresh stuff, as opposed to the dried spices, has really expanded my knowledge and recognition of them. The stuff in my pantry is so old, it hardly has any smell or flavor. The fresh herbs are SO aromatic and add so much flavor to the dishes I use them in.
When I made all of that tomato paste, I had a bunch of extra herbs that cut and washed just sitting on the counter in separate bowls. Over the last few weeks, they've dried, and it's been so handy to have them almost ready to use. It's an inspiration to pick some more and wash it up, just to have it ready. Plus, as the fall settles in, less and less will grow. Next summer, I may not grow as much variety, but grow more of the stuff I use most. (I have plenty of sage if there's anyone interested!)
On the baking side of things, today I had a tasty spice cookie made by my friend, Darla. It looked like a snickerdoodle, so I was surprised when I tasted the nutmeg in it! I was equally surprised with myself that I could tell that nutmeg was the spice used! I think I recognized it, because I had ground some fresh nutmeg with Aunt Barb one time. Thanks Aunt Barb for encouraging my culinary desire, and providing ample learning opportunities!
You can help me learn more, too!! What are your favorite spices/herbs to cook with? What do you use them in? I look forward to hearing from you, and maybe trying some of your recipes!