Season to taste, who’s taste are we talking about?

Just who’s taste are we seasoning to? What do they really mean by ‘Season to taste’?

I read an article sometime back about this subject. They stated that if you gave 10 cooks the same simple recipe, you might get two that were the same tasting dish.

How can this be? First lets start with the very basics, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Well, what kind of salt. Kosher, Sea, Himalayan Pink, That Himalayan black (the stuff that tastes and smells like sulfur). What? I am being a nit picker. Okay, how about Morton’s table salt. Fine, you happy now? Well how about Morton’s with and without iodine? Point is, every salt mentioned tastes different.

Next we will go to that 1/2 teaspoon. Did you really measure it, or was it a double pinch. Measured it. Okay did you level the top?

Now that we have covered salt, what brand spices do you use? Are they fresh or are they the same bottles that came with the spice rack wedding present 15 years ago? And if in a bottle, probably not fresh anyway.

We grow herbs in our garden. Even dried they only retain the optimum flavor for maybe six months. What we grow is way to much for our normal use, but we have found at first harvest we dump all the old stuff ( usually in the tomato pots). Better than the garbage disposal , or even worse, the dump.

After our tins are full of fresh goodness, we put together one or two mixes (really just everything else grown that season and mixed together). Great for sauce bases or a good starting point. At this point I can promise you that a can of Hunts tomato sauce with 1/2 teaspoon each of herb 1, 2 and 3 will taste differently if made in different homes. Same tomato sauce, same herbs, right?

If you have been following what I have said, then I don’t need to answer that.

When buying herbs, we like to go to the bulk department and buy what we want. Oh, the bulk spices in supermarket A are probably from a different vendor than Supermarket B. Or go to a specialty store like Penzie’s we haven’t ever been disappointed and they carry variations of the same theme. Do you have any idea how many different curries there are?

So, back to ‘Season to taste’, that’s just what it means. Add a little more of this, that one is just fine. I would like a bit more salt, but the doctor says no. Please do NOT rely on the recipes list of condiments as gospel. Get started with what they suggest, a little more of what you like and a little less of what you don’t. Always taste the dish before serving.

Always remember that you can add little bit more, but it’s very difficult to take a little bit out. Also spicy does not mean hot.

If you love to play with spices and very flavor-able dishes, then buy a tagine and give Indian food a try. One of the best lessons you can learn about taste and spice is to learn about curry. One size does not fit all.

I will let you go with one more thought, who wrote the recipe and who was their audience? Betty Crocker? Some great starting points, but seasoned for the masses, their version of a shrimp curry dish is not at all like a shrimp curry dish from an Indian ethnic cookbook.

But when done, remember to season to taste.

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Those glorious Shallots

Shallots are a wonderful alternative to onions and garlic, true or false? Well the answer is both. Onions, garlic and shallots are of the same family but all taste a bit different and affect your breath differently.

We have always been onion and garlic people and only played with the shallots. Generally because they are expensive, well at least compared to onions and garlic.

This past couple of years we have added shallots to out home garden. Year one was the learning curve. You plant the whole container (starts) in one place and they overcrowd and stunt each other, spread them apart (year two) and you get a nice crop. The picture of shallots on the patio table was 1/2 the crop of one box from the garden store. These where planted in an above ground 15 gallon flower flower pot.

Shallots have a very delicate flavor and I wouldn’t waste them in a heavy dish. Substitute onions with shallots in a gumbo or stew and you have lost what the shallot has to offer.

Where we use them the most is in lighter soups, sautes and thinly sliced and layered on top of a nice fillet of fish, either paper wrapped or baked. They also are wonderfull thinly sliced or diced in a garden fresh salad.

Shallots can be handled much the same way as you would garlic, a nice slow roast at about 425° for about 40 minutes. Use right away or store in the refrigerator and use in vinigretts and sauces. These shallots will be much sweeter because of the caramelizing

We have also been experimenting with drying foods as a way to extend their shelve life and shallots have proven to be an exceptional experiment. Our dried shallots are used primarily in soups, don’t bother to rehydrate them as the soup liquid will suffice. Give them a quick chop and toss them in.

For storage, store fresh shallots in a cool , dry location and do not store onions and shallots next to potatoes as both expel gases that will promote the other to spoil quickly. Our dried sliced shallots are stored in an airtight container, we prefer the Airscape containers as they have a valved insert that you press down over the shallots, limiting the amount of trapped air.

If they are new to you, then give them a try when preparing a more delicate dish, we are sure you will be pleased.

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Sun Dried Tomatoes

Sun dried tomatoes, well not really dried in the sun but close enough, besides no flies in the dehydrator or oven.

This is a pleasant way to spend some time outside and put the dehydrator to use after the herbs are dry and removed. Of course you can use your oven set to it’s lowest setting, generally 180 or 200 degrees.

Our pictures show us prepping Green Zebras, Dorthy’s Delight, Roma and Willamette tomatoes. Of all the varieties shown, the Roma’s have the least meat after fingering out the seeds. Tools needed, a couple of knives, one to cut the tomatoes into wedges or in half and the other, a pairing knife to remove the stem core. A long paring knife will work for all needs.

Wash the bird stuff off the tomatoes, slice tomatoes into desired sizes, use your finger (wash hands first) to remove the bulk of the seeds. That’s it. That was the hard part. Layer your dehydrator shelves or your cookie sheets if using the oven. Leave some room for air circulation (if using cookie sheets put a cooling rack inside to hold tomatoes off the sheet.

Herbs in the upper left being replaces with Green Zebra’s quartered and seeded.

Layers getting ready to be seasoned and then dried.

Tomatoes that have been dried to a leathery texture

Here is where you need to decide what you future uses will be. If to eat like jerky as a snack, you will want a little more salt. If to added to sauces and soups then less salt or you will over salt your dish right from the beginning.

You can also use finally chopped or ground herbs, or something like a salt less seasoning of choice. The choices are yours but a little preplanning will make the dried tomatoes more versatile.

Depending on method used, they will be dry when they get leathery. I prefer to remove all of them when most are dry and some are still with some moisture. I store them in a airtight container together and the drier tomatoes will draw moisture from the others. The tomatoes can also be stored frozen and if so, they can still be holding onto some moisture or less dry.

I re-hydrate in the sauce or soup they have been added to. I also do a coarse chop before adding them. I do not like sun dried tomatoes stored or re-hydrated in olive oil, they just seem oily and your adding more olive oil to your dish then may want.

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Hang on little tomato

Welcome to the world of goodness, the great tomato. Have you ever eaten a fresh tomato, ripened on the bush and picked yourself so you know it’s freshness? Sadly for many the answer is probably ‘no’.

For most of us, the tomato is that tasteless commodity picked from the grocers shelf. Picked green and then gassed till red. Even worse is you only could chose between a table of Romas, Red Cherry and a couple others.

Every variety has a difference, maybe taste, maybe texture, the amount of solids, etc. Here is the list from Rutgers. To bad you have only experienced 3 or 4 unripened varieties.

Tomato’s from home gardens, farmers markets are only available for a short time every summer but they are plentiful. We like to dry them in our food dehydrator, cut in half with a little sea salt or salt less seasoning they make a great jerky like snack. Better yet, these dried tomatoes can be re-hydrated and added to many of our recipes.

Re-hydrated tomatoes will not have that same fresh look, but will have a great concentrated flavor, the flavor that only fresh ripened tomatoes can have.

Of course you can always sauce or dice them and then can them, or oven roast and freeze them. But drying the fruit (yes, fruit, not a vegetable) should be considered, a daily snack, easily stored, easily re-hydrated and just downright tasty in any way you use them.

Tomatoes can be re-hydrated with water or oil, generally olive oil. Our choice is water, usually the liquid already in the pan or soup base.

Dried

Green Zebra's dried and waiting for that next soup or sause.
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