Sunday, January 4, 2004

Martin: Helpings

How do I know when it's time to throw out dried spices and herbs?

Good question, since the first of the year is the time the clean out the old and bring in the new. When judging the quality of dried spices and herbs, use your nose and taste buds. If the spices don't have a fragrant smell or strong flavor, it's best to throw them away and buy new. Generally, though, bottled dried spices and herbs have a shelf life of about six months. To keep track, mark the purchase date on the bottom of the bottle or container.

Spice buying and storage tips

• Buy ground spices in small quantities to avoid waste.

• If possible, buy spices such as cloves, allspice and nutmeg, whole. Then grind them as needed. (Whole spices last longer than ground.)

• Store spices in airtight containers in cool, dark place - never over the stovetop or other hot location.

• If you know you're going to keep ground spices for longer than six months, seal them tightly and keep refrigerated. This is especially important for spice blends such as chili and curry powder.

• Intensify the flavor of whole spices by roasting them in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Cool completely before grinding and using.

Source: "The Food Lover's Tiptionary" (Hearst; $15)

Flavor source: Learn more about using spices and herbs and making substitutions from Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference (DK; $30).

Fresh-ground: The best, most efficient way to grind spices is to use an electric coffee mill, made by Braun, Krups or other manufacturers. Just make sure you don't use the spice grinder for coffee, or vice-versa. Electric coffee mills are about $15 and available at many gourmet and specialty stores.

Game n' brew: Wild game is paired with wild beer for a special dinner beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Iron Horse Restaurant in Glendale. The four-course meal features roast, stuffed pheasant and bacon-wrapped ostrich medallions. $45. Reservations required: 771-4787.

Low-Carb TV: Host Rachael Ray readies you for the new diet with Open-Faced Chili Burgers on Grilled Portabella Buns, Macho Gazpacho Chunk Salad and other low-carb fare at 6 p.m. Monday on 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network.

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Martin: Helpings
Get a grip on oddly named additives