15 June, 2010

A Word on Dried Spices

My husband is from Minnesota, and he tells a joke about Minnesotan cooking.  He jokes that a REALLY exciting recipe in Minnesota uses both salt AND pepper.  Unfortunately, salt and pepper are the spices that most Americans, not just the friendly folk in the North Star State, know how to use on a regular basis.  And even then, only black pepper and so-called "table salt."

With the right spices, you can live forever on a limited diet.  Having a good spice rack is essential to cooking.  You don't need to start collecting every flavor in the spice world, but there are a small collection of spices that you probably don't realize are in just about every delicious food you love.

There are more spices than those listed below that you should consider keeping around, but they are certainly better fresh.  Stay tuned for a word of Fresh Spices!

Staple Dried Spices 
Frontier Oregano Leaf, Mediterranean, C/s, Fancy Grade, 16 Ounce Bags (Pack of 2)Oregano: This is one of those New World spices that changed European cooking forever.  Most people think of oregano as an Italian spice, but it is just as constant in Latin American cuisines.  It's a primary ingredient in chili blends, as is...

Frontier Natural Products, Whole Cumin Seed, 16 Ounce Bags (Pack of 2)
Cumin: Cumin comes from Middle East and northern Africa, and is one of the few spices that was brought to the New World and altered native cuisine here.  Cumin has a rich and warm flavor, and is used in an amazing variety of dishes.  I recommend having at least ground cumin, but you'd be surprised how often you'll use the whole seed variety as well.

Frontier Celery Seed Whole, 16 Ounce Bags (Pack of 3)Celery Seed: Much like fresh celery, you'll be amazed at how many dishes can be improved with the simple application of a little celery seed.  Celery Salt can also be very useful, as you add more flavor when you use it instead of regular table salt.  Any vegetable heavy dish can be made to taste somewhat heartier with a little celery seed.

Garlic Powder: You can use it in all sorts of situations where you could use fresh garlic, but it has additional flexibility.  I like using toasted garlic powder, you get a richer flavor as the garlic is already cooked when it's dried.  This makes it much better for adding to, say, a grilled cheese sandwich.

Frontier Fenugreek Seed Whole, 16 Ounce Bags (Pack of 3)

 Fenugreek Seeds: You can get both the leaves and the seeds of this spice, and both have an excellent flavor, but the seeds are definitely the bolder taste.  Fenugreek is the flavor that makes curry taste like curry, so if you like Indian food, Fenugreek is a must have.

Frontier Thyme Leaf Certified Organic, 16 Ounce BagThyme:  This spice is one of the few that is pretty much as good dried as it is fresh.  What you may not know is that there are two major varieties of Thyme, French and Mediterranean.  French Thyme is the more common, but when you go out to get your spices, consider the Mediterranean Thyme.  It has a slightly spicier flavor, so if you substitute Mediterranean for French, you create a more unique flavor that stays just as familiar and delicious.

13 June, 2010

Curry Week!

Frontier Cardamom Pods, Green, Whole, Extract Fancy Grade, 16 Ounce BagIt's finally here, curry week!

Curry is an interesting subject.  After all, it describes such a wide variety of dishes.  There are yellow, red, and green curries.  There are sweet curries and spicy curries.  The variety of countries boasting an array of delicious curries is staggering.

Fenugreek Leaves - 1.5 Oz Jar EachWars, oh so many wars, have been fought over the spices that go into curry.  History has turned on the whims of those who love curry.  Curry is the culmination of the combined spice, and in the words of Frank Herbert, "He who controls it, controls our destiny."
Frontier Cinnamon Sticks 2 3/4", 16 Ounce Bags (Pack of 2)
This week, we will be making a variety of curries.  This, like every week's meal, has everything you need for a balanced diet.  Lean protein, green and orange vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and just a dash of dairy.  The bonus is, of course, that it even includes dessert and really, curry is EASY!

El Guapo Ginger Whole - Mexican Spice, 1.25 Oz (Pack of 12)Curry is one of the simplest things you can throw together.  Got a few ingredients and don't know what to do with them?  Curry!  Want to impress you in-laws or your sister?  Curry!

Frontier Natural Products, Whole Cumin Seed, 16 Ounce Bags (Pack of 2)Unlike most dishes, curry's success depends much less upon the quality of your fruits and vegetables and much more on the quality of your spices.  Curries developed in parts of the world where the weather is hot and wet, which meant that food tended to spoil faster.  However, those glorious spices could disguise the taste of even the most withered yam, and as a result we have the amazing, the spectacular, the splendiferous curries we enjoy today.  There are curry leaves, and they are in many curries, but the flavor that really makes curry taste like CURRY is fenugreek.  Why don't we call it a fenugreek instead of a curry?  I have no idea.  But however the confusion came about, thank goodness for the Indian subcontinent!  Thank goodness for the Carribean!  Thank goodness for Thailand!  THANK GOODNESS FOR CURRY!

Fresh Curry Leaves - Fresh South Indian and Sri Lankan Herb - Citrus AromaThis Week's Menu:
 Saffron Rice
Sweet Potato Carrot Curry
Not / Chicken Massaman Curry
Vanilla Raita
Sweet Lassi

 The Grocery List:

  • 1/2 lb red lentils
  • 5 carrots
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 lb boneless chicken OR 12 oz chicken substitute (I like Veet for this recipe!)
  • 1 quart vanilla yogurt
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 can thick coconut milk
  • 1 can black eyed peas
  • 1 small fresh ginger root
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 4 shallots

12 June, 2010

Chocolate Covered Frozen Bananas

I freakin' love bananas.  Seriously, there are SO many reasons to adore this particular fruit.  There's its absurd shape, it's lovely hue, it's amazing history...  The story of the banana is fraught with drama and comedy.  Alas, who now even remembers the Cavendish?  I adore the banana.  For years all of my internet aliases were bananas.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  Delicious?  Always.

Then there's chocolate.  Oh, chocolate.  Food of the Gods.  Seriously, the Incan holy beverage was made from cocoa beans.  And again, another food with a rich and wild history.

So much drama in this dessert!  So much to enjoy!  And of course, so delicious.  And deliciously simple.

  • 4-5 ripe banans
  • 3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 c powdered sugar
  • bamboo skewers , with the sharp points cut off
In a double boiler,  melt the chocolate.  Stir in the sugar, and transfer into a low sided baking dish.

Poke the skewers through the bananas length-wise.

Roll the bananas in the chocolate, and then place on wax paper and IMMEDIATELY transfer to the freezer.  Leave in freezer for at least an hour.

04 June, 2010

Almond Gouda Salad with Lemon Poppy Vinaigrette

My husband, the meat-and-potatoes guy, lived on a very limited diet before we started dating.  He had a bowl of mini-wheats for breakfast, a turkey sandwich and an apple or a few carrots for lunch, and can of soup for dinner.  He was not exactly a fan of the amazing concoction that is SALAD.  I'm happy to say we've managed to change a lot of his eating habits, perhaps the most dramatic of which is his love of a good salad.  Some seem to think that a salad is nothing more than lettuce and dressing with a few croutons dropped on top.  I say, let your freak salad flag fly!  Why not load up your salad with every delicious thing you can?  And for that matter, your salad dressing too!

This is a recipe that I came up with when confronted with a nearly empty bag of almonds and a small piece of aged Gouda in my cheese drawer.

Almond Gouda Salad
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce
  • 2 oz aged Gouda, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 c almonds
  • 1 tomato, cut into thin wedges
  • 1 c mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Place your almonds on a tray in your toaster oven and toast for about two minutes.  Chop them roughly.

Rinse your lettuce thoroughly, and shred it into a bowl.  The goal with your lettuce should be that you can easily fit the pieces into your mouth.  I recommend shredding over chopping because torn edges take longer to wilt and brown, meaning that you'll have better leftovers.

Add all your other ingredients into the salad, and dress with...

Lemon Poppy Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1.5 Tbs lemon curd
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Mix the poppy seeds into the vinegar, and allow to sit for about five minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients, and whisk thoroughly.

02 June, 2010

How to Prepare a Leek

Organic Scotland Leek - 340 Seeds - HeirloomLeeks are delicious.  And yet, most of my cooking friends fear them.  Why?  "They're hard to clean," say my friends.  Phooey, say I!  "You can only eat part of them so it's a waste," say my friends.  Bah humbug!  The leek is a delicious plant, and you can eat nearly the whole thing.  Silly friends- eat your leeks!

How to Prepare a Leek
Slice off the root covered end.  You only need slice off as much as a quarter inch of leek.

Slice the leek into rounds, you can use both the white and a great deal of the green leafy parts.  You will note that there is a lot of dirt and grime in between the leaves- don't worry about that just yet.

Stop slicing when the dark green tops of the leaves begin to seem tough or dry.  Unless a recipe specifically says otherwise, you can use the greens in your dishes.

Leeks - 25 Plants - Allium porrum - Herb/VeggieNow the secret- fill a large bowl or a CLEAN sink with cold water.  Dump all your sliced leeks into the water, and swish them around for a minute or two.  Break apart the rings of the leeks gently as you swirl the leeks through the water.  Then let the leeks sit for another minute, and remove leeks from the water by the handful, shaking out the extra water.  The water that remains should be cloudy and slightly green.

Congratulations!  You have prepared your leeks!

Turnip Hash

You think it sounds awful, don't you?  And yet, it tastes amazing.  You see, back before we Americans decided that the potato was our go-to starch, turnips were much more popular.  French and Russian immigrants in particular were VERY fond of the hardy root.  When undercooked, they're mustardy and spicy.  However, a thorough cooking yields a vegetable with the same sort of texture as a new potato, a mild and fresh flavor, and a buttery finish that makes for a few perfect ingredient pairings.

One of those perfect pairings is the leek.  Leeks are a part of the onion family, they have a milder flavor than most onions, and they become creamy when cooked.  Leeks are notorious for being difficult to clean, but with a simple method one can clean them easily and quickly.  Leeks are one of those vegetables that people seem to consider super fancy, but they're a common garden vegetable that grow all over the United States, and are an excellent addition to any diet.

Organic Purple Top White Globe Turnip - 350 SeedsTurnip Hash
  • 4-5 turnips, chopped to 1" or smaller pieces
  • 1 leek, sliced and cleaned
  • 3 c sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 1 Tbs dried French Thyme or two large sprigs fresh
  • 3/4 tsp Coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Pink Hawaiian sea salt*
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
In a wok, heat the oil over med. high.  Add the turnips and cook for 5 minutes or so, and add the honey. Make sure you completely coat the turnips in the honey.  This is important, as the extra caramelization from the honey will eliminate a great deal of the turnips' extra spice.  Continue to stir regularly as you cook the turnips for another 8-10 minutes, or until the turnips are slightly brown.
Add the leeks, salt, and pepper, and continue to stir regularly for another 5 minutes, until the leeks are thoroughly wilty.
Add the thyme and mushrooms, and continue to cook for 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are thoroughly integrated.

Enjoy hot, paired with crusty bread or a croutette.