Q. I have several recipes that call for herbes de Provence. What is this?
A. Herbes de Provence literally translates to "herbs from Provence," a region in the southern part of France. It's sold as an assortment of dried herbs and can be found in the spice aisle of your supermarket.
Although herbs in the mix can vary from brand to brand, mixes generally contain herbs that are common to the cooking style of the region. These usually include some mixture of basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory, or thyme. Some brands also include bay leaves or oregano.
You can make your own herbes de Provence by mixing together equal amounts of each of the dried herbs and storing the blend in a bottle with your other spices and herbs. Personalize your mixture by selecting the herbs you particularly like.
Herbes de Provence can be used to season all types of meat, poultry, and vegetable dishes.
Q. I have some recipes that call for Chinese five-spice powder. Can you tell me what it is and where I can find it?
A. Five-spice powder is used in Chinese cooking, mainly in Cantonese-style dishes. It's a ground spice blend consisting of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. The five basic flavors in Chinese cooking are represented: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty.
Five-spice powder brings balance to the flavors of a dish -- a little pinch goes a long way. It's available in Asian markets and can also be found in your supermarket's spice aisle.
Q. I like using fresh herbs when I cook, but so many recipes call for dried herbs. How much of a fresh herb, such as basil, should I substitute for a dried herb?
For best flavor, using fresh herbs whenever possible is a good idea. The usual proportion is to use 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs for every 1 teaspoon of dried herbs called for. Keep in mind that as dried herbs get older, they begin to lose their flavor. If you've been adding more than the recipe calls for to make up for that loss of flavor, you might accidentally add too much of the fresh herb. So, use the substitution suggestion as a guide when you add fresh herbs, and adjust the amount to taste.