I'm trying to learn how to cook without having to rely exactly on recipes, and part of that is learning what individual ingredients actually contribute to recipes, instead of just following the recipes blindly. Internet websites aren't being very helpful and I'd appreciate a better guide, of sorts. I guess that instead of a bunch of separate links, it'd be easier for me to just have a book that I can leaf through. Books really make everything seem easier to me.
Are there any books anyone can recommend on demystifying ingredients for me? The most helpful would be a good guide to spices and herbs, what sorts of tastes different spices and herbs have, what sorts of dishes they can be used in, which ones are good mixed together.. I am so naive with spices and herbs that I really DON'T know which ones give which sorts of tastes, so I can't improv and have to rely on recipes. What complicates me even more is how they can be used in such different contexts, like how ginger is often used with Asian food, but also in sweet things like gingerbread cookies? So a guide really WOULD help a LOT. I know there's always experimenting, which I will try, but I really don't have much intuition when it comes to cooking and it doesn't come so naturally to me, so actually having a book on it would REALLY help.
I wouldn't mind advice or a book for other things too, like what foods go together in general, but herbs and spices are the most important. As a sidenote, I might be using some pre-ground spices, but I'm at least going to try to use whole spices when I can, toasted when I have the patience, and fresh herbs when I'm willing to go buy them for the week (otherwise it'd be dried and pre-cut, most likely). Which leads to my final question.
Does anyone have a mortar and pestle? That's what I bought to grind spices, since I figured it'd be easiest to clean since it has no nooks and crannies. But I tested it out with some cumin and found that even after washing it with warm water, the cumin smell was strong on the pestle two days later. It's marble (but unglazed on the mashy parts), so "supposedly" it can be washed with detergent, but I'm afraid that if it soaked up the cumin oil that well, it'd soak up the detergent too! Does anyone have a marble mortar and pestle and advice on how to neutralize tastes carrying over from grind to grind? I'm thinking like doing garlic one day.. cinnamon the next.. I don't want my cinnamon tasting even remotely like garlic!
I tried grinding white rice in it, twice in a row, but it only helped minimally reduce the scent and was a lot of work (raw rice is hard phew!). I guess the odor can linger if the taste doesn't though. I don't want the taste to carry over's the most important thing. Any first hands experience with marble mortar and pestles anyone?
Also, sorry for the long post. I am, as always, ranty.
Sometimes I think I just like to hear myself type (most literally... tap tap click click click....)