spiced right holiday gifts 2014

In an earlier post, I mentioned to y’all that I planned on making Christmas gifts this year for my loved ones.  One of the gift ideas was to create custom spices.  I love playing in the kitchen and I have a slew of family members who do too, so I know they’ll appreciate them.  Wondering how to go about making custom spice blends?………or for that matter, learning more about spices in general???  With the help of The Spice & Herb Bible by Ian Hemphill (recipes by Kate Hemphill) through Robert Rose publishing I discovered a myriad of knowledge.  This book lists alphabetically, with detailed photos, 97 different spice entries, 177 recipes using these spices and a section exclusively for creating spice blends.

Author Ian Hemphill a native of Sydney Australia oversees Herbies Spices a large exporter of herbs & spices.  That, along with growing up in a family who were also in the business makes him a guru on the subject.  Ian has some great tips for those of us who may not be schooled in the herb & spice world:

1. “All spices are NOT hot.  The term ‘spicy food’ implies hot from chiles, peppers etc. however, the majority of spices are either; sweet, pungent, tangy or amalgamating” without heat.

2.  “Be prepared to experiment”.  It helps to start with a recipe for the quantity to use.

3.  “Don’t just buy the cheapest spices you can get”.  Sometimes you get what you pay for and cheap spices can often be old, contaminated with allergens or full of fillers.

4.  “Buy small quantities regularly”.

5.  “Spices that are not used regularly or in large quantities, or have very strong flavors (ex. cloves) are best purchased whole and then ground with a mortar & pestle”.

6.  “Dried herbs and spices should be stored in airtight packaging and away from extremes in light, heat and humidity”.

7.  “Out of date spice is just that, and should not become unusable if it was dried and processed properly in the first place.  Don’t make the mistake of just adding more of an out of date spice as it will have lost its bright top flavor notes, but will still retain some of the harsher base notes that may spoil a meal.

I’ve learned a whole lot already from The Spice & Herb Bible but I know I’ll be pulling it out time and time again to research.  As for Christmas; My mom and I recently got together to create a few of the spice blends from the book, like the Cinnamon Sugar, Game Spice and Garlic Steak Rub.  We went to a wonderful local gourmet grocery that sells herbs and spices in bulk and had a blast scooping and sorting.  There were so many spices I had never experienced before so it was interesting sniffing their aromas (….sometimes sneezing :)). You wouldn’t believe the cost of some of them…..from a few dollars a pound up to $50+ per lb.  When you’re purchasing in bulk though, a tablespoon or two is affordable.  I will never buy a bottled spice again if I don’t have to because none of the bags I created even got over $1.50 for several tablespoons.

Each spice blend recipe gives a quantity for how much finished spice will be made.  Based on this, I estimated how many batches I’d like to make for the quantity of gifts I wanted to give.  For most recipes I made 2-3 batches to dole out 3-5 tablespoons for each recipient.  This will be enough for them to sample each blend with their recipes. Maybe I’ll have some requests for more in the future. 🙂  We created 5 different spice/salt blends and will label and package them in a cute box.

Eventually, maybe I’ll become familiar enough with spices to create my own original blends.  Practice makes progress!  What a fantastic gift The Spice & Herb Bible would make for your foodie friends and loved ones.

To purchase this and other great cookbooks visit Robert Rose.

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