Friday, July 22, 2011

Foodie Friday: Seasoning Mixes

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed learning so much about cooking from scratch (still not all the way there, but it's a process... right?). In this adventure, I began looking into the plethora of ready-made spice mixes and packets from the store. I agree that these are a convenience item, but what's really in them??

To be honest, this started with my desire to find a substitute for the canned cream soups. At the time, my parents were living in Europe and didn't have access to our canned creamed soups. I stumbled upon a few recipes, and it seemed just too easy. I mean, making cream of chicken soup has to be hard... that's why they put it in a can for us... right? Yes, I have an odd way of rationalizing.

I could get the creamed soups at a cheap price around the holidays... matching up the big sales at the grocery stores with doubled coupons. After looking at the homemade recipe, all I needed was butter, flour, chicken broth/stock, and seasonings. Oh, chicken stock... that's got to be hard, too. Later, I learned that it's simple and SUPER cheap to make. Then, it was just a small jump into making all my own cream soups. What a relief!

I also discovered (obviously, one of the last to know) that the manufacturers use MSG to keep the items shelf-stable. The purpose of this post is not to outlaw MSG or condemn food distributors from using them. Instead, I think we should be  educated consumers and vote with our dollars. OK... stepping off my soapbox now.

That got me thinking, I bet I could mix up some of my own seasonings. Of course, my analytical brain started to turn me away: Those packets at the store have tons of different ingredients. There's no way you can do that! After poking around online, I found several awesome sites that have huge lists of spice mix recipes. Some I've taken "as is," but it's given me the confidence to tweak the recipes to my taste and that of my family. So cool!

Here are a couple links of my favorite sites that have become a great resource:

Nervous about buying the ingredients?
Buying all those little containers of herbs and spices seems daunting and expensive. If you're not careful, it can be quite expensive to buy them. However, for me, I've found it cheaper to buy the ingredients from a health-food store (Whole Foods, Fresh Market, EarthFare, etc) in the packets. I can get them for about $2 each. And they contain quite a bit more than the little spice containers.

I also decided to buy some of the spices I use the most from a bulk co-op. I was able to purchase a 1-lb bag of garlic powder for under $6. When a little jar costs $2 to $6, it' a HUGE cost savings.

From there, I store what I need in my spice/herb jars near where I cook.

After mixing up the seasoning mix, I can store them in a plastic container or re-use some glass jars.

I LOVE that I can tailor the heat-factor of each recipe mix. My boys still don't like things too spicy, so I can make a mild mix and just add a little extra heat to hubby's food.

This little step (of making my own recipe mixes) has helped me expand my level of cooking. In the past, I was nervous to deviate from a written recipe. Now, I can look at the recipe and figure out how I can adapt it... and it actually works! Obviously, you don't want to do that with baking.

Do you have some favorite Seasoning Mix recipes? Please share!!


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