April 8, 2008

Spicing up the Spice Must Flow

For years I have had to order my Penzeys online and wait days and days for their arrival. But the Hartford Courant reported on April 3rd that Penzeys, my fave spice supplier, has opened up a store just 40 minutes from my door at 24 LaSalle Road.

See: Hartford Courant article.

My kitchen rejoices even though my wallet may not....

Posted by Jennifer at 1:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
May 3, 2005

Cardamom

Cardamom (scientific name: Elettaria cardamomum is one of the most expensive spices in the world. As such, it is frequently adulterated with inferior substitutes. The fruits of the plant have small capsules, or pods, that contain around a dozen seeds each. There are two natural varieties: the larger "black" and the smaller "green." The bleached white pods are much more bland. The plant itself is a perennial herb and a member of the ginger family.

History: Native to India, it grows wild on the Malabar coast, and is now cultivated in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Central America, Mexico, and Thailand. It is known to have been grown in Babylonian gardens, and is also listed as an import on which duty taxes were charged in Alexandria. The ancient Egyptians chewed the seeds as a teeth cleaner, and it appears in the 1550 B.C. medical document "Ebers Papyrus." Vikings discovered it in Constantinople and introduced it to Scandinavia where it remains very popular as flavoring for breads and cookies. The Normans first introduced cardamom to England in the 11th century, but it wasn't imported to Europe on a regular basis until the 17th with the advent of easier trade routes by sea.

Uses and Properties: It may be used whole or ground. It is best to buy whole pods to get the sharpest flavor. It should be stored in an airtight container out of direct light and away from heat, and will keep for many months. When a recipe calls for whole cardamom, crack the pods slightly before adding them to the dish to extract the full flavor.

Used mostly in the Near and Far East, it is often featured in curries and desserts. It is also an essential ingredient in pilaus. However, more than half of the world's consumption is accounted for by its use as an ingredient in coffees in various Arab countries. Its most common use in Western cuisine is in baking. Cardamom is a stimulant and carminative, and has been used as a digestive since ancient times. It is also mentioned in the Arabian Nights as an aphrodisiac, and in old Vedic texts as a cure for impotence.

Sources: thespicecentre.com, wisegeek.com, botantical.com

Posted by Jennifer at 12:06 PM | Comments (2)
April 8, 2005

Cilantro and/or Coriander

Cilantro and/or coriander (scientific name: Coriandum Sativum): might be categorized as both a spice and an herb. Cilantro refers to the leaves of the plant (an herb) while coriander is produced from the seeds (a spice), each of which has a quite distinct taste.

A member of the parsley family and featured largely in Middle-Eastern, Indian, Chinese, and Latin cuisines. Generally thought to have originated in the mediterranean or south-western areas of Europe. References to coriander can be found in Sanskrit writings and the Old Testament. Seeds have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. The Greeks believed coriander to have aphrodisiac properties; while Chinese folklore says the same of cilantro. The book The Arabian Nights tells a tale of a merchant who had been childless for 40 years but was cured by a concoction that included coriander.

Finding fresh, non-wilted cilantro can be a challenge. Look for bunches with bright green leaves and a fragrant aroma. Store in a plastic bag or place the roots in a container of water. It may last up to 5 days, but the flavor fades fast. Coriander seeds can be found in any spice aisle of a large grocery store. (I order mine from Penzey's.) As with most spices, it's best to buy them whole and grind them as needed. Keep in a cool, dark place.

Posted by Jennifer at 4:06 PM | Comments (3)
August 3, 2003

Tear-free onions?

Thanks to Michael for bringing this article about Supasweet onions being released on the British market to my attention. As many who know me are aware, I'm not that fond of onions. Indeed, I won't eat them raw at all, and used to avoid cooking dishes that included them because I found them so difficult to cut. Of late I've gotten better about the latter, but something like these new tearless onions certainly sounds attractive to me. I must admit that I'm curious, though, as to whether the method they used to reduce the pyruvic acid will make any difference in the taste.

A doctor from the team at the University of Liverpool that developed a method for analyzing the strength of the vegetable says: "Supasweets are less than half the strength of traditional cooking onions and a good deal milder than other supposedly mild onions." link

According to celebrity Liverpool chef Paul Heathcote: "The new onions are very sweet, but still have the flavour of an ordinary onion which makes them very versatile." link

While Shane Osborn, head chef at London's Pied a Terre restaurant, is currently on record as less than convinced about the idea: "I love the flavour of strong onions, I don't know whether this milder variety would have the same effect." link

I suppose it remains to be seen how the cooking world will receive this. At present, it seems this variety is only available in the U.K., so I guess I'll have to wait a bit to discover my own opinion. Meanwhile, perhaps I'll just keep an eye out for what others have to say on the matter.

Posted by Jennifer at 3:23 PM | Comments (1)
June 12, 2003

Smoked Maple Chipotle

For Christmas, Michael bought me a bottle of Bittersweet Herbfarm's Smoked Maple Chipotle Finishing Sauce. Last night, while casting around for something new to do to a couple of pork chops, I was finally inspired to try it, and at his recommendation to get in another use of my grill pan. So I basted the chops and grilled them, continuing to baste during the cooking process. And they were amazingly good. So simple and so quick. And I liked the taste as much as I enjoy the Wasabi Ginjer Finishing Sauce that I had purchased last year -- though, of course, they are quite different. I suppose this means that at some point I may very well begin experimenting with creating my own finishing sauces. Could make some nice return Christmas presents for people.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:00 AM | Comments (7)
June 9, 2003

Crispy vs. Chewy

A couple years back, my friend Deb and I got together for a big holiday cookie baking binge. Our aim was to send the fruits, er...baked goods, of our labor to various friends as a token of the holiday spirit. And also to get to spend some quality time together doing something we both enjoy.

We'd baked together before - mostly for the supplies we bring to ACUS, but during this particular endeavor, a discussion arose concerning the fact that our chocolate chip cookies never seemed to have the same consistency; hers were crispier and mine were chewier. It wasn't until some time later that the reason was accidentally discovered (if I remember correctly, on FoodTV).

Apparently, it's all in the shortening. Or the butter. Here's why...

Butter, which has a very low melting point, will cause the cookies to spread out rapidly in the oven, and thus the cookies will be flatter and crispier. Shortening, because of its higher melting point, will hold the cookie together better. The problem being that many people feel this affects the flavor of the cookie. Recently, I've run across a few suggestions to use half shortening and half butter, so that one might get both the taste and the fluffier cookies. And conventional wisdom is to never, ever, ever use margarine -- apparently it suffers from the flaws of butter with none of the taste advantage.

I've decided I prefer them chewy, but I may attempt my next batch with half butter just to see if it really does make that much of a difference in taste.

Posted by Jennifer at 9:47 PM | Comments (0)
May 30, 2003

Prunus dulcis

Otherwise known as almonds... have been cultivated for thousands of years before they had an official name...It is thought to have evolved from the same primitive stock as the peach, but took a different genetic route millions of years ago when the land rose up to form the mountains that separate Central Asia from China and Mongolia. To read more on the history of this ingredient, go here.

Until just recently, I hadn't tried cooking with almonds, but they very much added to my Yogurtlu Basti and the Almond and Herb Chicken. I have some left, so I'm sure I'll be using them again.

Posted by Jennifer at 5:07 PM | Comments (0)