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Need to jazz up your cooking? Go from simple cook to chef extraordinaire with just a few pinches of herbs or spices.

Common Types

Spices are pungent or aromatic seasonings derived from seeds, stems, bark, roots, fruit, or buds of plants. Herbs come from the leaves. Herbs and spices, readily available in grocery stores and other places, include three well-known categories: 1) sweet spices for baking and desserts such as allspice, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and others, 2) mild flavored varieties for meats, vegetables, and salads, i.e. basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, or thyme, and 3) hot, strong, or spicy selections from black pepper, cayenne, curry, garlic, mustard, and turmeric.

Cooking Tips

The following tips will bring out optimum flavors in your dishes.

  • Add stronger spices toward the end of cooking for dishes that need to simmer such as stews and soup. For short-term cooking, add toward the beginning.
  • Add mild spices toward the end of cooking for best results.
  • Use whole spices for longer cooking recipes like soups and stews because they take longer to release flavors.
  • For maximum taste from leafy spices, rub in palm of hand or use a pestle before adding to food.
  • Use only one and one-half the amount of spices called for when you double recipes.
  •  Add spices to salad dressing, dips, fruit dishes, or other uncooked foods several hours before serving so that flavors can blend.
  • Keep pepper-types (chili, cayenne, paprika, etc.) refrigerated for freshness.
  • Use equivalent substitutions of one teaspoon dried herb for one tablespoon fresh.

Shelf Life

Many cooks keep herbs and spices long after flavor has deteriorated. Smell and color are good indicators of potency. When purchased, label immediately with the current date so you will have no doubt about age. For best results, store in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. The following shelf-life guidelines help assure freshness.

  • Ground spices:          two to three years
  • Whole spices:            three to four years
  • Herbs:                      one to three years
  • Extracts:                   four years

Use dry measuring implements and avoid dipping utensil into the container. Seasonings exposed to moisture will cake and cause loss of flavor.

For greater zest in your dishes, keep these suggestions in mind as you choose, store, and use herbs and spices. Then, sit back and enjoy the praises and accolades from family and friends for your tasty cuisines.

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As the holiday season approaches, we busy ourselves with extra tasks including food preparation. None of us would intentionally harm others through improper handling of food—but it happens. Careful attention helps assure safe food. The web site, www.foodsafety.gov, provides guidelines to follow for purchasing, preparing, and serving food. Some guidelines are basic: wash hands often, store foods properly, and pay attention to proper handling and cooking of foods, especially meats.

The “Fight Bac” brochure, www.fightbac.org, explains four steps to food safety:  Clean—wash hands, cutting boards, etc. frequently; Separate—avoid cross-contamination; Cook—use cooking temperature guides; Chill—refrigerate promptly.

The “rule of four” reduces possibilities of food spoilage.

  • Thaw, prepare, cook, and reheat frozen items, within four hours for all procedures.
  • Store cold foods below 40oF.  Keep hot foods above 140oF.
  • Limit the time foods stay in the optimum bacterial growth danger zone (40oF to 140oF). Cool and refrigerate or freeze leftovers within four hours.  
  • Use refrigerated leftover foods and highly perishable foods such as fresh meats within four days.

Also, remember to cook turkeys to an internal temperature of 160oF, fresh hams, 160oF, and precooked hams, 140oF.

Keep family and friends safe this holiday season. Following these above suggestions helps prevent foodborne illness. Enjoy a food-safe Thanksgiving.

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