Posts tagged spices

A world of tastes in your spice cabinet

Okay who else early in their cooking exploits bought one of those fully stocked, rotating, 20-spice racks? Yup, me too. And you know I felt like I had to hang on to those spices. Sure I know they lose their flavor after awhile, but I just kept pushing them farther and farther back in the cabinet thinking, “One day I’m going to need this for a recipe” (yeah, the spice rack deal didn’t last long when I realized how much room it takes up:). Well I’ve finally trimmed my spice cabinet to just a few essentials. The ones that I just can’t substitute in certain dishes. Usually these are the spices that give that authentic zing to dishes I make from other parts of the world. Here are some of my favorites–

Hungarian chicken and spaetzle

Paprika–

This is one of the few spices I’ll pay a little bit more for an authentic variety. I like Penzey’s Hungary Half-Sharp Paprika, which packs more of a kick than what you’ll find at the grocery store (the full sharp has a little too much of a kick for me). I’m pretty generous with the paprika on my Hungarian chicken that I serve over spaetzle (German dumpling/noodle pasta that used to be my middle daughter’s favorite food before she discovered fried rice).

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Rosemary–
Roasted potatoes and rosemary are made for each other. But when I make Italian focaccia bread, a sprinkling of rosemary on top is a must too.

Cumin–

Forget chili powder. Please. Cumin is the spice of choice in Mexican dishes. Toss it in chili, tacos, salsas, guacamole, enchiladas

I can’t help but throw in a couple more obscure spices that I can’t live without.

Photo credit: Savory Spice


Ancho powder–

Yes, you could buy roasted, dried ancho chiles and add those to dishes too (and I often do use) but for the flavor of ancho chiles without all the work I sprinkle in the ground variety. I haven’t found this spice outside of Mexican grocers except at Savory Spice. I buy it in bulk. Like cumin, toss this spice into your favorite Mexican dishes.

Mustard seeds–

These are getting easier to find, but I always toss mustard seeds into fresh vinaigrettes or when a recipe calls for mustard I’ll throw some of these in too (I like them in rice when I serve pork dishes). The tiny seeds pop in your mouth when you eat them and have sweeter, brighter flavor than pourable mustard. They aren’t a mustard substitute, but just a fun addition.

These ideas came to mind as I was checking out Patriotic Things to Do in the Summer with your kids on Motherboard. One of the tips was to explore cultures throughout the world by making dishes from those countries. Love it.


Your turn–What are some of your ‘can’t-do-without’ spices?

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Why aren’t you using…cumin

Cumin. It’s the 2nd most popular spice in the world after black pepper. And yet you’d have to dig to find it at the grocery store.

In the same family as parsley, dill and caraway seeds (with similar shape and look), cumin has a strong earthy flavor and smell. It adds that layer of old world essence to Mexican and Indian dishes.

When I seasoned our molcajete, I used cumin seeds to smooth out the rough surface of the Mexican mortar and pistol. While you can freshly ground your own cumin seeds, I’ll readily admit I usually don’t have time to do it. I order mine from Savory Spice, but you may have another spice shop in your neighborhood where you can pick up this must-have ingredient.

Try adding it to chili, barbecue sauces, soups, meat rubs, and anywhere else you might reach for chili powder.

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Flavor boosters hiding in your pantry

Okay is anyone else out there suffering from a bit of the wintertime blahs? I know, I know just a few months ago I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen and crank up the oven to 425 degrees to make calzones. But now that I’ve exhausted most of my favorite snowy day food recipes, it’s time to get creative. Time for some recipe makeovers!

Now, these aren’t complete makeovers, mind you. Instead I want to give you a few ideas about how to tweak the recipes that you already have to give them just a little more flavor. And most of these ingredients are just waiting in your pantry, stuck behind a bag of flour or hiding behind the canned tomatoes.

Vinegar

Give your veggies a boost by adding a few splashes of vinegar on them just before serving. One of my favorite pairings is green beans and a little bit of apple cider vinegar. But other dishes can benefit from just a hint of sourness.  Spaghetti sauce? How about a drizzling in a little Balsamic vinegar. Rice? What about a hint of regular white distilled vinegar.

Onion powder

Even if I add chopped fresh onions to a dish, I’ll usually sprinkle in some onion powder too. I’ve noticed that when I use my crockpot, which is frequently, the slow cooking makes for tender meats, but sometimes also flavorless ones– unless I use plenty of powdered spices. Along with onion powder, I also sprinkle meats with garlic powder (but not garlic salt) and sometimes chicken broth powder.

Worcestershire sauce

Yeah, I can’t pronounce it right either, but I like the deep flavor that Worcestershire sauce can give to gravies. But I don’t stop there. I’ve noticed that adding a few drops in creamier dishes like stroganoff adds a zing and richness. My secret ingredient in mac ‘n cheese? A few drops of Worcestershire.

HEAT

Break out the cayenne pepper! If you’re a regular reader you know I like a bit of heat in my meals. Any creamy sauce at my house–from alfredo to hollandaise–gets a dash of cayenne pepper or a few red pepper flakes. My theory? The tickle that chile gives your food makes it more interesting to your taste buds.

What about if you don’t have any of these flavor boosters in your pantry? Not to worry. All of these ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find at the grocery store. And with a couple of exceptions, I buy the store brand. With the Balsamic vinegar and the Worcestershire sauce, I splurge for the good stuff (there is no substitute for Lea & Perrins).

Looking for more ideas on what to stock in your pantry? Check out these pantry must-haves. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

Now it’s your turn. What kind of flavor boosters do you use in your meals?

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Thank You—Savory Spice Shop for Black Onyx Powder and more

Photo credit: thefoodnetwork.com

Normally I shun getting too obsessed with the spices that go into a dish. I tend to keep a small herb arsenal of potent seasonings like cumin, basil, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and other easy-to-find spices on hand. Sure, I have a couple novelties, like ground ancho chiles and tamarind paste, but I don’t think of myself as a ‘spice enthusiast.’ That’s beginning to change thanks in large part to a spice shop a ten-minute drive from my house in Colorado, called Savory.

The shop made aromatic waves in Denver when it opened its first shop in 2004—three more locations soon followed. Now, when I say spice shop, I don’t blame you if you might yawn a bit. But this spice haven begs customers to try out each and every variety they offer. The fresh-ground spices are divided into logical sections like barbecue rubs, curries, Mexican chiles, baking spices. As you venture through the store there are large canisters of each spice, along with small, glass-bottled varieties for purchase. You can buy the standard spice jars or just a couple ounces in a baggy if you’re looking to try out something new. You can also bring in your old glass bottles for a refill. One bottle is marked ‘tester’ so that you can sniff and taste each spice. Although I will caution that the last time I was in my daughter urged me to take a whiff of the mole blend and I inhaled a little too deeply and felt like I was breathing in chiles for the rest of the day (actually, wasn’t too bad).

I meant to pick up only a few standards when I was in last, but I couldn’t resist picking out a few extra things. Since my kids were with me I ended up buying even more. My kids loved being able to try out new flavor combinations. The staff encouraged my kids’ curiosity and even told them if they tried out something and didn’t like it to just brush it off their hands and onto the floor.

Savory Spice Shop isn’t just a favorite destination of Coloradoans, though. The Food Network has noticed too. Janet Johnston, who co-owns Savory with her husband Mike, premiered her show “Spice & Easy” a couple weeks ago. The time slot seems dismissive—7:30am on Saturdays, but with our DVR we’ve been able to watch each episode. I was skeptical that a ‘spice’ show could hold my attention, but I was quickly won over (granted I already loved Savory spices).

What I liked about the show was first that you don’t have to be using Savory spices to make the recipe—Johnston imitates some of Savory’s best combos with dried and fresh herbs. For example, on last week’s episode she made an herb-infused popcorn. The popcorn was topped with a mix of grated Romano cheese, dried dill, salt, fresh chives and tarragon. Now, if you go into Savory, you can just buy the Paris Cheese Sprinkle that this recipe is based on, but it’s nice to have a few hints about how I can recreate some of the blends at home. (And I must admit that I also thought myself privileged that I could cheat my way through some of her on-air recipes because I could just buy the mixes at the store.) Johnston’s style also caught my attention. She seemed easy-going and approachable, her hair wasn’t plastered in place, it was  like you were in the kitchen cooking with your sister.

What really sells me on Savory is finding fresh spices that I haven’t found anywhere else (not even Penzey’s, which opened its own shop a couple doors down about a year ago). From their eclectic, creative blends to the store’s down-to-earth style, which makes spices…cool…I’m a fan. So here are my favorites—

Black onyx powder: It’s like cocoa powder on steroids. Dark, rich. I add it in every chocolate recipe I make (and our homemade mole). The powder intensifies the depth of the chocolate flavor—and enhances it. I’ve never bothered with buying a jar, I just go for the large baggies.

Lodo Red Adobo: With a mix of paprika, Mexican oregano, cumin, Chile powder and more, this is the one spice blend I’ll reach for when I don’t have time to make my red enchilada sauce from scratch. You can whip up a sauce using a little apple cider vinegar and chicken broth to create a spicy, soothing, satisfying sauce. I also mix it with sour cream to top quesadillas, nachos.

Peruvian Chile Lime Seasoning: Start with cumin, add hints of tumeric, chiles, lime, cilantro and a few other spices and you have the complex flavors behind this blend. I use it as a rub on barbecued chicken or fish. (Sometimes, I just sprinkle it on plain rice—it’s that good).

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