I was just thinking that, because it's Friday, that we could spice things up a bit.

I enjoy cooking and I'm not very good at following recipes. Well, I can follow them but I don't. I seem to always be adding a little something extra. I've found that most cookbooks seem to be singularly unhelpful when it comes to choosing herbs and spices to liven things up. The ever present line "season to taste" is one I curse. Over time I've gathered a few favorite uses for seasonings. I doubt many of my ideas are particularly new but I thought I'd share them here. Perhaps you can add a few ideas of your own or just unwind in the comments. It's an open thread -- no required subjects, no required answers. So don your cooking caps and join me after the decoratively whorled, Itzl-flavored hairball won't you?

Now, please-- this isn't about my self-inflating ego. It's about a hobby of mine that might get you to think about what you eat in a different way. It might inspire you to share your ideas and enrich my palate, er, "palette" because cooking is an art isn't it?

So without further guff by the fuzzy-headed fur-ball here are a few of my favorite herbs and spices and how I use them in no particular order:

Dill was an herb that my family in America loved but that the entire Czech nation was seemingly traumatized with in horrible undercooked floury sauces in school cafeterias. My mother used copious amounts of dill in her beef stew along with Worcestershire sauce and black pepper. I've convinced a few people that dill is wonderful in beef stew. And my clever mother also liked dill in her scrambled eggs and dill and onion in her bread doughs. I like it mixed into cottage cheese.

Marjoram is a favorite in the local Czech cooking for anything with potatoes-- especially potato soup and the garlic packed Czech potato pancake. And you know, the Czechs are right about marjoram's loving relationship with the humble potato. Try a bit of it sprinkled over some corned-beef hash sometime.

Sage is an herb that is amazingly easy to grow. It's of course used every year in my Thanksgiving stuffing. What took me a bit longer to discover was that when I tried making minestrone soup for the first time it didn't taste anything like the minestrone I'd liked as a child-- until I added sage. For me, sage and basil in combination are the flavor of minestrone soup-- oh, and it has to have some legumes in it too. It may or may not be authentic Italian minestrone soup but I like the taste enough not to care.

Oregano is something that I've taken to sprinkling on my sub sandwiches-- any sort of sandwich that involves cold cuts seems to be improved by a bit of oregano. And like sage it's very easy to grow. It also seems to belong with anything containing tomatoes-- or eggplant. A favorite dish around here lately is eggplant sliced into circles around a half inch thick, lightly salted, a bit of black pepper and then sprinkled with basil and oregano then topped with the shredded cheese of your choice and placed on a baking sheet lightly coated with olive oil (for good measure I drizzle a bit of extra oil over everything) and baked until the cheese is bubbly and begins to brown.

Rosemary is just one of those things that I can't seem to do without when making chicken soup. I also put both black and green peppercorns in my chicken soup stock. Did you ever consider adding rosemary to corn bread? It's quite tasty.

Tarragon is something I use almost exclusively in making chicken rolls -- I skin and remove most of the meat from a chicken (bones and wings go into making soup stock), spread the skin out on a sheet or two of aluminum foil, spread the meat out on the skin, sprinkle the meat with black pepper and tarragon (no salt!), cover that with a very thin layer of bleu cheese, and then a layer of thinly sliced ham. Then I roll it up and fold the ends of the foil to seal it up and bake it in a pan with a bit of water in the bottom until it's done-- the last few minutes I usually unwrap it partially and let the skin brown.

Thyme is another easily grown herb that I use in a variety of things like stews and soups-- especially cream soups, chowders in particular. I enjoy it in my pea soup. It also seems to belong in beef pies combined with sage.

Basil has become a big favorite here. Tomato and mozzarella salads with fresh basil, basil in anything pasta related, basil in soups, basil sprinkled on tossed salads.

I recently bought some cardamon and tried putting a half teaspoon in my favorite waffle batter and now I won't be making waffles without it.

Something my father-in-law did was add a few allspice and black peppercorns to whatever soup stock he was making. I've followed his fine example.

White pepper for me is a taste that belongs in my stir-fry creations. I like a mixture of fresh ginger, garlic, white pepper and coriander with stir-fried meats and vegetables. When I make one of my never-the-same-twice versions of "Hot & Sour" soup most of the heat comes from white pepper. Oddly enough, a touch of cinnamon is pretty good in there too.

Yeah, ginger is one of those spices that I really enjoy. I've started putting it into fruit pies and it may have been our own Street Prophet krwada who recommended that I try it in my Thanksgiving cranberry relish. Ginger just seems to do wonderful things to fruity flavors. Perhaps try broiling a grilled (or pan fried) chicken breast sprinkled with salt, black pepper, ginger and tarragon topped with a slice of (fresh or canned-- I ain't picky) peach and cheddar cheese.

I've also noticed that no recipe that I've tried which calls for vanilla extract was ever harmed by doubling the amount. I'm rather fond of vanilla.

After trying a chocolate bar laced with cayenne pepper I've started adding cayenne pepper to other chocolatey things like brownies. And I've been adding a bit of cocoa to peppery things like salsa-- pretty good.

And one of my favorite spices is nutmeg but I've not managed to be very creative with it. I like to use it in cakes and custards, spice cookies and gingerbread. But I feel that there's a lot more potential there waiting to be unlocked. I need some savory uses of nutmeg -- it's such a warm, delightful flavor. Maybe I'll try it on some fish fillets sometime.

Well, that's just a few of my ideas regarding cooking with various herbs and spices. I find comfort in certain flavors-- connections to people and places long gone. I like learning to cook new things. I enjoy reading cookbooks. I hope you've enjoyed reading my blitherings about herbs and spices today.

So please do tell, what's for dinner? And how will you be spicing it up?

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