Spice Rack Challenge

19th Aug 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge
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I have been having one godawful time lately getting inspired to do any cooking, much less anything for this month’s Spice Challenge. A few weeks ago I had a gallstone attack, and as a result I’m now on an extremely low-fat diet until such time as the surgeons can be bothered to take my gallbladder out. How low is “extremely low”, you ask? Try 30-35 grams of fat, per day, and not all of it in one meal, so I can’t even save up for one semi-normal dinner, say. 30 to 35 grams of fat may sound like a lot, but when you consider that one tablespoon of oil contains 9 grams of fat, even something as healthy-sounding as simple salad with vinaigrette, or a grilled, skinless and boneless (and might I add flavorless) chicken breast suddenly becomes worrisome. Veggie burgers and fat-free Jello tapioca pudding cups with fat-free Reddi-Wip have become my lifeline. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?

So, this month, I’m resorting to an old favorite, a Moroccan spice mix, which comes from a recipe for braised Moroccan chicken that’s probably my husband’s all-time favorite of all the dishes I’ve ever made. Of course,¬† making that dish right now would probably not be wise, since it involves fatty chicken thighs (you know it’s bad when even a dish designed by Graham Kerr, ex-Galloping Gourmet and currently a proponent of all things heart healthy, isn’t low-fat enough for you), but maybe I’ll find something else I can make with it. Maybe some Moroccan veggie burgers? At least it smells really good.

Moroccan Spice Mix

(slightly adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)

5 tsp cumin seeds

5 tsp whole coriander

2 1/2 tsp whole allspice

5 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground/grated, if possible)

5 tsp ground ginger

1 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp ground cinnamon

Toast cumin seeds, whole coriander and allspice in a shallow pan over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking the pan now and again. When their warm, spicy aroma hits you, they’re done. Pour the toasted spices into a spice/coffee grinder (use one dedicated to spice grinding–if you use the same grinder you use for grinding coffee beans every day, it’ll just taste like coffee), or you can use a mortar and pestle. Either way, grind the spices into a powder, more or less. Mix with the nutmeg, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon, and store in an airtight jar.

This recipe makes more than enough for the chicken recipe linked to above, even if you double (or triple, or quadruple) the amount of spice mix called for in it (sometimes the folks at Cooking Light are wimps when it comes to spicing dishes). I haven’t experimented a whole lot with different uses for it, but I’m thinking a touch of it might be interesting in something sweet—Moroccan cinnamon toast, anyone?

 

14th Jul 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge
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I admit, I’ve been feeling pretty un-creative this month. I love basil, and the two basil plants I have in a pot on my deck are going great guns this summer, so it’s not like I have any shortage in the supply department, but I just made a pesto (albeit a mostly mint one) for last month’s challenge, so the obvious basil recipe was out, even though this time of year (really, any time of year) pesto is something I could eat morning, noon and night.

Part of why I was feeling less than inspired was that I was (and still am) just plain worn out—it’s been godawful hot ’round here lately, and work has been a gut-buster (we just hired a new person, and will have two more new folks coming on soon, so because others are spending all their time training, or being trained, I’m doing the tasks I hate the most, pretty much all day, to pick up the slack). I’m not a big drinker, but I’ve really been craving margaritas, mojitos, or pretty much any summery drink (preferably on a beach far from here, but I’ll settle for a drink on its own).

So what I decided on for my main entry in this month’s Spice Rack Challenge was a basil-infused simple syrup—like the name says, it’s pretty simple, although there are a surprising number of variations on the recipe out there on the internets. The typical instructions, however, are to combine 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. At this point you can add whatever you want to infuse into your syrup—in this case, a generous handful of fresh basil—then simmer gently for awhile. (Sorry I can’t be more specific than “awhile”—the recipe I followed said 5 minutes, but my syrup didn’t seem to have picked up much color or scent after only 5 minutes, so I let it keep simmering, and of course I forgot about it, so I have no idea how long it was on the stovetop. How about we just say “till it looks and smells the way you want it”?) What I ended up with was a greenish-tinged, pleasantly anise-y scented liquid.

When picking out a drink to mix up with my syrup, I decided to keep things simple: basically a gin and tonic, flavored with the basil syrup and a muddled (or perhaps I should more accurately say, brutally attacked with the handle end of a wooden spoon) strawberry. I ended up adding several teaspoons of the syrup (I did say I’m not much of a drinker), far more than the various recipes I consulted asked for, to try to balance out the bitterness of the tonic water, but still I couldn’t taste much basil in it. I think next time I’ll leave out the poor, mangled strawberry (though it did make for a pretty pink cocktail), and maybe add some bruised fresh basil to amp up the basil flavor.

And, since no cocktail hour would be complete without something to nibble on, I whipped up some pesto to go with some of Zingerman’s Creamery’s fresh goat cheese, to schmear on a cracker. Another confession: I really don’t like the barnyard funk of most goat cheese (hopefully this won’t get my foodie cred revoked). But, last year, some friends introduced me to the wonders of really fresh (mostly non-funky) goat cheese, mixed with basil pesto, which complements the cheese perfectly (any goat-y funk somehow melds with the slight muskiness of the pesto), and I’ve been craving it ever since. (If you want to go the super-authentic, only-the-tenderest-baby-basil-leaves-pounded-in-a-mortar route to make your pesto, you can try Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s recipe from “How To Eat Supper”, but this is a simpler version.)

Strawberry-Basil G & T with Goat Cheese-Pesto Cracker

Ahh. I feel more relaxed already…

14th Jun 2011, by Mary, filed in Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge
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Halloumi Kebabs

I’ve loved mint ever since I was a little kid–my grandma used to grow it next to the steps to her front porch, and she taught me to pick a leaf off and chew it for a sweet, minty treat. Still, I had some trouble coming up with something to make for this month’s Challenge, because most of the things I like mint in aren’t really recipes (or at least not complex ones): I like tossing mint leaves into salads for an unusual kick, and I’m fond of mojitos and mint tea, Moroccan-style. I came across slightly under one metric ton of mint ice cream recipes online, but mint ice cream really doesn’t float my boat (and I made ice cream for last month’s Challenge anyway). So, finally, I decided on Grilled Halloumi and Cherry Tomatoes with Mint Pesto–still not terribly complex as recipes go, but definitely a winner. The pesto is more or less just your typical basil pesto recipe, just with half the basil substituted by mint, which gives it a nice, but not overwhelming, mintiness. Mint and cheese may seem like an odd pairing, but halloumi is very mild, almost sweet, with a pronounced saltiness–in any case, I’d liked all the Greek dishes I’d tried previously, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and having tried it, I can say they are definitely¬† on to something. As I was grilling the cheese-tomato kebabs, it occurred to me that if I’d given it sufficient forethought, the pesto would have gone really well with grilled lamb chops, too, or maybe some grilled zucchini and other summer veggies. Oh well–that just gives me an excuse to make it again.

16th May 2011, by Mary, filed in Food blogs, Home Cooking, Spice Rack Challenge
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A few weeks ago, at a charity fund-raising sale put on by some local fraternal order (Eagles? Elks? Egrets?) I picked up a used ice cream maker. So, when Mom of Mother’s Kitchen announced that this month’s Spice Rack Challenge would be coriander, I wondered: are there any recipes out there for coriander ice cream? Turns out there are, and the one I picked to try was Coriander-Lime with Rhubarb Swirl (kudos due to the folks over at Burp!), just because it sounded like the most interesting of the bunch. Did you know coriander is said to have a slight lemon-y taste to it? I hadn’t really noted it before, but I can testify that however you care to describe it, it works fantastically well with both lime and rhubarb. (Both the ice cream itself and the rhubarb sauce include it, so the flavor of coriander doesn’t get buried by the other ingredients.) Unfortunately, given that this was my rookie attempt at making ice cream, I missed the window during which I was supposed to add the swirl to the ice cream, so my finished product wasn’t quite as pretty, but both David and I were still quite happy with the results. Funny thing is, I was kind of skeptical of how well the rhubarb sauce would go with the ice cream (maybe my sub-conscious sabotaged the swirl?), but after trying it I really don’t think the ice cream all by itself would have been nearly as good.

Coriander-Lime Ice Cream

In the future, I think the only thing I might change is to steep the cream with whole coriander seeds, not ground coriander–the ice cream turned out ever so slightly grainy-textured, which might also have been due to the artificial sweetener I used, but I thought it was kind of strange for the recipe to call for steeping with a ground spice. Still, none of that ice cream is going to go to waste!

19th Apr 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge
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Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of dill. I like pickles quite a bit, and I like fresh dill in salads, but beyond that, dill hasn’t exactly played a big part in my cooking. So, since I decided not to go the pickle route for this challenge, I had some difficulty coming up with something to make.

My first thought was to modify my favorite recipe for cheese-filled turkey burgers, subbing dill and havarti for the standard cheddar. The original recipe is really fantastic–the burgers aren’t bland or dry, like so many turkey burgers, due to a healthy dose of minced shallots mixed into the ground turkey, and the cheese, of course. And they have their own built-in timer–since, unlike with beef burgers, you want these to be well-done through and through, you just wait for the inevitable bit of melted cheese to start leaking out the side, and you’re done! Well, I ended up mixing the dill into the ground turkey along with the shallots, and made up a mustard-dill sauce (using this recipe, but I can’t say I recommend it, at least not for this) to try to increase the dill usage. David liked them, and I could at least taste the dill, but I think in the future I’ll stick to the original recipe, thank you.

Pretty, but meh.

Okay–on to the second recipe. After last month’s first dismal failure, I figured I’d browse the web for another dill recipe to try, just in case. There were, of course, tons of variations on the above-mentioned mustard-dill sauce, generally paired with salmon, and pickle recipes galore, but not a whole lot else. Finally, though, I came across something promising: a “traditional” Kerala egg salad recipe. Now, I don’t know whether there really is any such thing as traditional egg salad in Kerala (which is in the southern part of India, by the way), but the recipe sounded interesting–a little like deviled eggs, and what’s not to like about that? Here’s the original recipe, but what I ended up doing was sort of a hybrid of that and the plain-jane Joy of Cooking egg salad recipe I’ve been making for years. Basically, I wasn’t happy with the ratio of mayo and mustard to egg, so I kept adding both in about a 2 to 1 ratio until I got what I wanted. The addition of the dill, paprika and red onion was brilliant, though–this definitely is my new go-to egg salad recipe.

Yummy even without the bread!