The Frequent Four: Spices

In the spirit of thinking about everything I do in or near a kitchen or restaurant as a potential blog post, I present the Frequent Four. Why a Frequent Four? Because the last time I was at Penzey's, a place I really do need to do a proper post on one of these days, I bought four empty eight-ounce spice jars. I bought these with the intent of filling them with the four seasonings, other than salt and pepper, that I use the most. This way, the stuff I use most often could be refilled less often, and also end up in giant honking glass bottles that even my broken eyes could pick out from the morass of spice jars in my kitchen.

Of course, this meant I actually needed to figure out what seasonings I used the most. Which was surprisingly difficult. The first two came easily. The second two required a fair amount of thought and evaluation. So I narrowed it down to a few potential choices, tried to think back to how often I bought them and/or refilled the bottles, and settled on my four.

Or, as Investor's Business Daily calls it, ***in.1. Cumin.

This was the easiest one. I've always loved cumin. And then, when I first discovered Penzey's, and experienced good cumin, I loved it even more. Rachael Ray always says cumin has a "smoky" flavor, which is yet another reason why I think Rachael Ray is fucking insane. I don't use cumin to make things taste smoky, as you will see shortly. Cumin's not smoky. Cumin's... cuminy. And good cumin is even more cuminy, and a bit floral.

I go through cumin in truly epic quantities, because it's key to three of the cuisines I appropriate the most - Mexican/Southwestern, Indian, and Middle Eastern. Tacos? Cumin. Chili? Cumin. Kabobs? Big ol' pile of cumin. Curries? Cumin, unless I'm cheating and using a premade blend. Roasting some potatoes? Cumin. I go through it so fast I usually buy it ground -and- whole, which is good, because the last time I was at Penzey's they were out of ground and now I have a couple of ounces of home-toasted, home-ground cumin in my first giant jar.

Ancho is an anagram for "nacho". This means nothing.2. Ancho Chile Powder

I love smoke and heat. Not enough to own Backdraft on Blu-Ray, but enough to keep three different spices on hand at all times to get different levels of smoke and heat into my food. Smoked paprika is all smoke and no heat. Ground chipotle is a lot of heat and a fair amount of smoke. And ancho is the middle child. Smoke and heat in roughly equal proportion. Which is why I use it at least twice as much as the other two.

Obviously, it ends up going into my various taco fillings a lot. And my chili. Those are a given. I usually substitute it for "chili powder" in rubs and recipes because I love it's purer, generally more interesting taste, although I'll usually back it up with extra garlic or onion to make up for some of the lost components of a standard "chili powder" mix. Here's a fun mix - ancho, bacon, and sweet potatoes. I've never understood people who want to make sweet potatoes sweeter. But pair it with some smoke and heat? In a soup, or a mash? You've got yourself a whole different tuber, then.

No, I did not consider photoshopping a mirror and razor blade into this picture.3. Granulated Garlic

This was the other easy one.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge proponent of fresh garlic. It only takes a few minutes to pull out a bulb, remove the papery buildup, peel off a few cloves, smash the cloves with the flat of your knife, peel the remaining skin off the cloves, load the cloves into the garlic press, press the garlic, scrape the pressed garlic off with a knife, and wash the garlic press.

But it only takes 10 seconds to crack the jar and pour. And sometimes, that's good enough.

I use granulated garlic because I like it the best. Garlic salt has salt in it, and whenever feasible, you should add salt to things by just adding salt to things. Plus, it's better than garlic powder. Great for dry rubs, anything with a liquid base like chilis or marinades, and in general, anywhere else you'd use fresh garlic, except you don't really care that much.

4. Penzeys Bold Taco Seasoning

The only blend to make the cut. And the only one without an easy-to-find picture online, too. I love Penzey's, but they need to step up their website game.

Anyway, the point is, I make tacos a lot. This is a well-established fact. And sometimes I want the tacos to taste a certain specific way, and so I chop fresh green chile peppers, and I get out the cumin, and do all the stuff I need to do to make it taste just right. And sometimes I just dump a couple of capfuls of this in with some ground beef and lime juice and it's like fucking Taco Helper, only you know. Good.

So what's in it? Allow me to both cut and paste. kosher salt, onion, Spanish paprika, lactose, yellow corn flour (corn, lime), dextrose, tomato powder, crushed red pepper, garlic, cumin, Mexican oregano, cilantro, Tellicherry Special Extra Bold black pepper, natural cocoa. Now, see, this is where buying a blend is useful. Yes, I could buy all these things separately. In many cases, I have. And I could mix up jars of this stuff on my own, and have it at the ready. But I'm not such a devotee of scratch cooking that I'm going to keep tomato powder on hand, or figure out how much brown sugar to use to match the lactose and dextrose in this jar. That's time that could be spent much more porductively eating tacos.



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Ancho Chile Powder

I am intrigued by this, because I am a heat wimp.  So wimpy that Chipotle's chicken is frequently too much for me.  I like spicy *flavor*, but I can't handle spicy *heat*.  I will have to try this item and see if that does the trick.

My sad life

My "cooking" has devolved to the point that my big 4 would be:
1. Penzey's Turkish Seasoning
2. Penzey's Old World Seasoning
3. Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning
4. My own whole seed garam masala blend for toasting and grinding
Cumin would have been up there on its own, but three of those blends are mostly cumin as it is. God, I need to find an effective antidepressant.

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