Special of the day: Spring Cleaning of the Spice Rack

13 Mar Special of the day: Spring Cleaning of the Spice Rack

Sweet and Zippy Poppy Seed Dressing

It’s  hard enough to believe that it’s March, let alone accept the fact that spring is right around the corner.  (Wasn’t it just Christmas?) But the calendar doesn’t lie: the first day of spring is coming up in just a week or so, on March 21.

Ah, spring, the season of new beginnings. Often associated with the coming season is the age-old tradition of spring cleaning. But for me, the one room in the house I’m most interested in sprucing up is…you guessed it, the kitchen! And so, last week I gave myself a long-overdue tour of the spice rack, or in my case, the spice carousel.

Like your annual smoke alarm battery change date, it might be nice to have a specific date marked to check out the best before dates on your spices. You’re more likely to get it done if you write it down and even more likely when it’s on the calendar. That sure would have been a good idea for me, as I found out when I embarked upon the project and began realizing how dreadfully long many of the spices had been sitting in the dark reaches of the carousel, long forgotten and expired. (Gasp!)

Lesson learned: after having done the spring spice clean this year, from now on, that first day of spring will signal the annual inventory of the spice collection: out with the old and in with the new! After all, dried spices have a limited shelf life.  Once they expire, they’re pretty much useless as they no longer add flavor to what you’re cooking or baking anyway.

As it turns out, you can learn a lot about a cook just by taking a peek at their spice collection. If you’re anything like me, you have your favorites: those darling duplicates lined up in rows like little ducks, taking up space, just getting old. It didn’t take long to learn that my habitual hording of poppy seed, toasted sesame seed and Italian seasoning was a little (okay, a lot!) out of hand. Who in the world needs four bottles of poppy seed, or three large containers of toasted sesame seeds, or multiple jars of Italian seasoning?

Flipping the spice jars over to check, I could see many were past their prime. Dead soldiers were quickly tossed into the trash. Clearing out outdated seasonings made ample room to organize the survivors first by category (cooking or baking) and then alphabetically, simplifying and speeding up spice selection while working in the kitchen.

Before long, the recipe development wheels began to spin, and I began dreaming up ways to best utilize the overstocked provisions. Extra poppy seeds were used up quickly in a sweet and zippy salad dressing one night, and toasted sesame seeds added a pleasant crunch to an easy Asian chicken entrée the next. Making a batch of herbed breadsticks later in the week put a nice dent in the Italian seasoning surplus, too. Almost as satisfying for me, I have to say, was the sight of my newly freshened-up spice collection proudly displayed on the carousel and at my service.

The survivors lined up alphabetically in a row

Sending you best wishes for a spring filled with new beginnings is this week’s Special of the day: Spring Cleaning of the Spice Rack and Recipes for Sweet and Zippy Poppy Seed Dressing, Herbed Breadsticks and Sesame Chicken. Happy spring cleaning, cooking and baking!

Recipe and food photography by Sydne George.

Sweet and Zippy Poppy Seed Dressing

Sweet and Zippy Poppy Seed Dressing

(makes ½ cup salad dressing)

½ tbsp. sweet onion (A little onion goes a long way. Be careful not to overdo it.)

¼ cup white wine vinegar

2 tbsp. sugar

2 tbsp. oil

1 tbsp. poppy seed

Combine onion, vinegar, sugar and oil in the blender and puree until blended and slightly thickened. Add poppy seed and stir with a spoon until combined. Serve over spinach salad with avocados, strawberries and red onion.

Enjoy!

Sesame Chicken

Sesame Chicken

(serves 4)

1 ½ cups buttermilk

1 ½ cups skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced into ¼ inch thick slices

1 ½ cups Panko crumbs

2 tbsp. sesame seeds

2 tbsp. sesame oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour buttermilk in a glass pie plate or other shallow dish. Place chicken in buttermilk and let sit for a few minutes.

Place Panko crumbs and sesame seeds in large Ziploc bag and shake to combine. Remove chicken from buttermilk a few pieces at a time, place in bag of Panko crumbs, seal and shake to coat. Set aside and continue until all chicken has been coated in Panko and sesame seeds. Place sesame chicken in 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Drizzle evenly with sesame oil. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Do not overcook. Serve hot over cooked rice or pasta.

Herbed Breadsticks

Herbed Breadsticks

(makes about 24 8-inch breadsticks)

1 ¼ cups warm water

1 tbsp. sugar

2 ½ tsp. yeast

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 tbsp. butter

3 cups flour

½ tsp. salt

1 tbsp. Italian seasoning

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Place warm water in a small bowl. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast on top of sugar water and let bloom, until puffy and foamy.

Heat buttermilk and butter in microwave safe bowl in microwave briefly to melt butter.

Place all ingredients (except cheese) in bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix dough with hook until it comes together in a ball, adding a bit more flour if sticky or a bit more warm water if too dry. Knead briefly on a lightly floured surface. Form dough into a ball, place in buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes. Pull golf ball sized balls of dough from bowl and roll into long ropes, about 8 inches long. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise 10-15 minutes until slightly puffed. Brush or spray with water and sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, just until edges are slightly golden. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on cooling racks. Serve warm with butter. Enjoy!

Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at sydnegeorge@hotmail.com . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.

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