good stuff #7- spice blends

spices are the soul of cooking. they are deep and rich and complex, with the ability to infuse the simplest and blandest of ingredients with a deep and authentic taste-of-place. if you’ve never made your own spice blends before, it’s as easy as anything. think of chili powder and curry powder, or herbs de provence. these blends have become so familiar that you can buy them at every grocery store, but do you know what is in them? what if you like your blend a little spicier, or like to go easier on one spice or another? i accept i’m a tad weird but i adore the alchemy of making spice blends. i can taste and smell each component and know exactly what spice is adding a sweet or hot or earthy note.

making your own also guarantees a higher level of freshness, and if you have a mortar and pestle, or a small electric spice grinder, even better: you can keep the blends whole and grind as needed. i guarantee you will notice a big difference in flavour from pre-ground spices.

ras el hanout
1 broken up cinnamon stick  – 1 tsp sesame seeds 1 tbsp ground ginger  15 black peppercorns – 1 tsp. ground nutmeg – 1 tsp. fennel seeds – 1 tsp. coriander seeds – 8 whole cloves – 8 allspice berries – 8 cardamom pods – 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes – pinch of ground mace

 

this is the beautiful and aromatic blend from north africa that gives moroccan tagines their fragrance. the name translates to “top-shelf”, meaning these are the best spices the merchant has to offer. use in the aforementioned tagine, or stirred into couscous or rice. i especially love to make a moroccan-style salad of cucumber, tomato, mint, and ras el hanout.

 

 

berbere
5 tsp. chili flakes – 1 tsp. ground ginger – 4 cardamom pods – 1/4 cinnamon stick, broken up – 1/2 tsp. each fenugreek, ground nutmeg, black peppercorns, coriander seed, allspice berries, ajwain, and whole cloves – 5 cassia buds

similar to ras el hanout, baharat is used in turkish dishes and very often mixed with olive oil as a marinade. i like to rub it on tofu steaks or add a pinch to hummus, and it’s great with any eggplant dish.

 

 

berbere is one of the distinctive spice blends of ethiopian cuisine, a rich, dark-red blend that gives shera wat and other slow-cooked dishes their fire. also try it tossed with fried potatoes alongside your morning eggs, or mix up with olive oil and tumble some cauliflower before roasting.

 

 

baharat
1 tsp cardamom pods – 3 tsp allspice berries – 3 tsp whole cloves – 4 tsp. black peppercorns – 4 tsp. cassia buds – 3 tsp. coriander seeds – 4 tsp. cumin seeds – 3 tsp. ground nutmeg – 6 tsp. ground sweet paprika

 

 

similar to ras el hanout, baharat spice blends are used in turkish dishes and very often mixed with olive oil as a marinade. i like to rub it on tofu steaks or add a pinch to hummus, and it’s great with any eggplant dish.

 

 

 

 

andalusian spices
equal parts smoked paprika – fennel seed  cumin seed – coriander seed – granulated garlic – peppercorns – oregano leaves – crushed bay leaves – and a pinch of saffron threads

 

 

in spain, tapas-sized skewers of meat called pinchos are rubbed with this blend before grilling, but it’s also a wonderful seasoning for short grain rice, or rubbed with olive oil and lemon juice on peppers and tomatoes before roasting or grilling.

 

 

 

chinese 5-spice blend
equal parts cinnamon bark – star anise  sichuan peppercorns – cloves – fennel seed

 

 

it seemed that for a while there, 5-spice had a bit of a bad name. it had been over-used and the powdery blends at the grocery store were truly bad. but freshly made 5-spice is great, perfect for dusting on fried tofu or seasoning rice.

 

 

 

 

shichimi togarashi
equal parts red chili flakes – ground sancho (japanese red pepper) – dried orange peel  black sesame seeds – white sesame seeds  brown sesame seeds – hemp seed – ground ginger – dried nori

 

i use this japanese pepper blend everywhere. it’s used in this recipe for tofu with spicy salt, and i scatter it over rice and noodle bowls, or sprinkle it onto kale leaves massaged with olive oil and baked for kale chips. you can buy it, but it comes in such small little containers, it’s much more worthwhile to make your own.

 

 

 

 

 

panch phoron
equal parts fennel seed – nigella seed – fenugreek – black mustard seed – cumin seed celery seed

this spice blend is found in bangladeshi, bengali, and nepalese cooking. it’s always used in it’s whole form, and a common dish is simmered lentils made with this blend. it’s aromatic and distinct; i love opening the jar and freeing it’s lush aroma! one of my favourite things to do is heat some ghee, toast a teaspoon of these spices and cook until they “pop”, before adding peeled cubed potatoes and some coconut milk, and simmering until done. so good.

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absolutely essential kitchen trends

happy thursday lovelies…

this blog is a bit of new enterprise for me, and it’s still somewhat under construction. because what the world needs now is another long-form lifestyle blog, i’ve been cooking like a madwoman, photographing, and amassing posts.  but i couldn’t resist firing off a quick one today,  because it’s trends time folks. i’ve been absorbing what’s happening in the world and what the kids are into these days.

i dig my place and enjoy reading and getting inspiration from design blogs, like this one, which touched on the top kitchen trends for 2015.  bring on those industrial elements, layered lighting, and bold colour!

so in the spirit of a good ol’ top 10 list, i thought i’d helpfully provide:

kitchen trends for 2015 you absolutely must embrace

cracking the stove. it’s that big-ish square thing in the corner that radiates some kind of heat from electricity or gas. you can use the top or throw something inside. it turns raw food into meals, and it’s pretty awesome.

cutting food with knives. knives are for turning food into ingredients. they should be sharp, so cooking is actually enjoyable and you’re not hacking away and cursing how much you hate cooking while trying to cut carrots with the equivalent of a blunt stick. using a dull knife is more dangerous than using a sharp one. you have to press harder and risk it slipping from the food and onto your hand. and the cut you receive will be much worse that the clean nick you would get from a sharp knife. fearing a sharp knife because it might cut you and making do with crappy dull blades is a lot like not changing a light bulb because you might accidentally put your finger in the socket, so you live in the dark and trip over things. see what i did there? fear not the light bulb, or the knife. and for heaven’s sake, get a steel and use it every time.

recipes. look at your background. have you learned to read? put windshield washer fluid in your car? passed your driving test? assembled an ikea billy bookshelf?  congratulations.  you have the skills to prepare a recipe. there are recipes everywhere. if you’re not careful you’ll trip over them. they are in magazines about cooking, and magazines not about cooking. they are on the web and in newspapers and on those little tear-off sheets at the store. also this

planning a meal. kitchens are made for this type of activity. see stove, knives, and recipe, above. if you can figure out that you need shoes to go with an outfit, or keep track of the web of lies on house of cards, you can read a recipe, buy what you need, and make it. if you don’t know a cooking term or need help with a technique, this, and this.

cooking stuff. seems obvious, right? you’d be amazed how many kitchens exist to show off their reclaimed parisian bistro marble countertops and copper exhaust hoods. if they had eyes, those fancy all-clad pots and le creuset dutch ovens would be sadly staring up at you and weeping “use me!” while the hidden recycling drawer lined with organically grown bamboo overflows with two-weeks’ worth of plastic bento boxes. people who cook for a living would die…no…give up their favourite child… for your sub-zero fridge and your aga. hell, have you read my reasons for writing this blog? if you have the means to trick out your kitchen, for god’s sake don’t insult everyone who slaves in kitchens making minimum wage by not using your fancy stuff.

using your fridge, and all its compartments. its the taller thing, bigger than the stove. open it. what do you see? if it’s 1 or 2 six-packs and a bottle of ketchup from y2k, read on. this state-of-the-art device is made for storing your ingredients. the vegetable drawers keep your veggies fresh, your cheese drawer keeps your cheeses at the right humidity. that really, really cold bit is the freezer, and you can use it to freeze pizza dough or edamame or anything else that will make cooking easier and more efficient. if you find you’re throwing away what you buy, buy less, or better yet, use your fridge and a few tips to store your food properly.

cooking together. when you have a party, people congregate in the kitchen. why? it’s where we all have something in common: food, and drink. so when you’re not having a party, put down that game of candy crush and hand your child a knife. (that’s right, the sharp one), and get cooking together. if you’ve already discounted any of the previous hot kitchen trends, at least do this one. by the way, your spouse/life partner/current squeeze wants to be with you, and so do your kids. the kitchen is an awesome place to connect and bond, and feed each other yummy things. and talk about what to make next. you’ll be giving and learning life lessons, promoting togetherness, and leaning some new skills together to boot. nice huh?

maintaining your equipment. baking cookies are great, but not on a old rusty baking sheet. you may have a spatula somewhere with a loose screw, and what about those horrible dull knives? buying a few good pieces, and keeping them in good shape is hot hot hot! some of the best maintenance is using your equipment. like a car that sits in your driveway, that food processor is begging you to turn it on and work out the kinks. besides, you can use it to make this

eating together. the kitchen is a good a place as any. it’s closest to the food. many kitchen have tables, chairs, plates, and cutlery.  sitting down and savouring a meal means you’re freed forever from holding your cup-o-noodles in one hand while the other swipes a trackpad to take the latest buzzfeed quiz.  you can bring the food from the stove, walk it over, and share it with other humans in your tribe. you may have even cooked it together. talk about what you like, what you don’t, your day, whatever. and despite what Slate says, i prefer what Joel Salatin says. imagine my best virginian accent: “the meal is not dead!”

displaying your pretty stuff. i should have said at the get-go, “in no particular order”, but let’s not discount the power of the visual. when your kitchen is pretty, you’ll use it more. you may also eat more, but let’s not go there (for more on that, read this). also, your pantry. why on earth would you venture anywhere near a dark, dreary closet with quarter-ounces of dry pasta wrapped in elastic bands? clear jars let you see what you have, and inspire you to use them. if nothing else, it makes you look like you actually cook stuff, and that’s a start. i’ll even throw in some free printable jar labels so you never again need to wonder if your going to kill your sister because you used whole wheat instead of the gluten-free chickpea flour.

enjoy this lovely spring day, and for god’s sake make something.

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