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Archive for January, 2010

Whew.  Looks like a lot of folks are looking forward to the Ras El Hanout recipe.  Sorry it took me so long to get this out there, but I have to admit that I’ve had a 48 hour Dougray Scott Movie run.  It left me exhausted, not to mention very, very happy.  If you don’t know who Dougray Scott is, may I suggest you look him up on the web.  But, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Oh, no.  If you don’t want to be hooked, don’t look him up.  Sigh.  What I don’t understand is why he can’t turn out a movie a week.  Not that I mind watching his current ones, but please give me something new to work with, Dougary!!!!  Enough of that and on to business.

Almost every house in Morocco has a different version of this spice blend.  The really, really well done ones, have countless spices in the mixture.  My Adult Indulgences, Wickedly Delicious Custom Spice Blends, Moroccan Madness Moroccan Spice Blend has over 50 herbs and spices.  So it is quite complex.  Hey, I have plug my own business every now and then!  What is important to remember is that you don’t want to overload your food with Ras El Hanout.  A little goes a long way.  To much and things can get bitter and upsetting to the stomach.

Ras El Hanout Spice Mix Recipe–The Simple Version.

1 tsp. allspice berries

1 whole nutmeg

1 small, fresh cinnamon stick

15 saffron threads

1 1/2 tsp. sea salt or Kosher salt

1 tsp ground turmeric (it is quite hard to find turmeric root in my area and probably yours as well)

1 tsp ground mace

1 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

2 inch cube of dried ginger

1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns (white peppercorns if you prefer a more delicate pepper flavor)

Many folks will just tell you to dump all of this into a spice or coffee grinder and grind until it becomes a powder.  This is what you will do, but before that you will put these ingredients into a non-stick pan and on medium head toast all the spices (stirring constantly) until a wonderful aroma fills your kitchen.  Briefly “toasting” the spices will bring out their oils and make sure they fully infuse whatever you choose to put them in.  Remember to let the spices cool before you pour them into the spice grinder or coffee grinder and make them into a powder.  Once you have ground the spices put the mixture in a glass jar and close the lid tightly.  Place the spice mixture in the dark and away from heat.  There you have it.  Simple, sumptuous, and ready to blend into your favorite Moroccan Recipe. 

Also, don’t forget to check out my etsy promotion page for handmade goods.  There will soon be all new sellers for you to view and shop with!

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Besides spices from India, I love Moroccan spices as well.  My Moroccan Madness, Moroccan Spice Blend by Adult Indulgences, has over 50 different spices and herbs.  In Morocco Ras El Hanout is the name given to the foundation spice blend.  And, as in India, almost every home  and region will use different spices, amounts of spices, herbs, etc.  So, Ras El Hanout can range from an extremely complex set of flavors to a blend that is rather simple.  Before I got into mixing my own blends, I had tried many different Moroccan blends and didn’t really feel “into” any of them.  Don’t get me wrong, Moroccan spices are fantastic, but I wanted more depth, warmth and end note that kept of giving.   And, I think I found it in my gourmet blend.  Just needed to toot my horn.

Anyhow, let’s take a look at a list of many of the spices used in Moroccan cooking.  Believe me, they are varied and when used in the correct amounts can cause your taste buds to stand at attention and ask for more, more, more!

1.  Bay Leaves.  Bay leaves come from an evergreen tree and can be very fragrant.  In Moroccan cooking they are generally used whole in soups, stews, sauces and tangines.  The leaves are not eaten but used only for their spice qualities.

2.  Anise.  As we have learned before, Anise seeds have a heavy licorice flavor.  Moroccan cooking uses both whole and ground anise, especially in their baking.

3.  Saffron.  Saffron threads are my favorite spice.  It is the world’s most expensive spice.  Saffron comes from the stigmas of the saffron crocus flower.  I love the beautiful yellow color they impart to rice and sauces and I adore its delicate flavor and scent.  Always remember that just a few threads of saffron can flavor an entire dish.  Overuse of saffron in a dish can completely overpower any other ingredients.

4.  Sweet Paprika.  Paprika is made from finely ground peppers.  Sweet Paprika is made from finely ground dried sweet red peppers.  In Morocco, paprika is used most often to season meats.  It is also often used in stews, cooked salads, and stews.

5.  Fenugreek.  Fenugreek seeds are widely used in the Arabic world.  They are golden brown in color and if used in excess can leave a dish quite bitter-tasting. 

6.  Black and White Pepper.  White and black pepper come from the same plant, but white pepper is ground only from the inside kernel.  Thus, the white pepper is milder than the black pepper and if often used in sweeter Moroccan dishes where it can complement the softness of saffron.

7.  Ginger.  We have also talked about Ginger before.  Ginger is a root and quite spicy in fragrance and taste.  Younger ginger is less fibrous and of a milder flavor.  Ginger is often used in tangines, stews and soups.  I don’t like using powdered ginger as you don’t know its origin or the age of the root used.  Powdered ginger can sometimes have very bitter flavor.

8.  Cinnamon.  Cinnamon is so wonderfully fragrant with a hit of sweetness.  Cinnamon is not spicy and comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree.  You can buy the sticks or rounds of bark or ground cinnamon.  Cinnamon is quite common in Moroccan sweets, pastries, and sweet dishes.

9.  Sesame Seeds.  One of my favorite ingredients for Middle Eastern cooking.  In the U.S. we are used to seeing the hulled sesame seed that is pale in color.  In Morocco and most Middle Eastern cooking you see the golden brown, un-hulled sesame seed.  I find sesame to be nutty in flavor with a wonderful after fragrance.

10. Turmeric.  Turmeric is often used to impart a yellow color to cooking and, sadly, as a spice that allows less saffron to be used.  Turmeric itself is a bit bitter and has a little bit of a fresh earth scent to it.  Turmeric comes from the ground root of the Curcuma longa.  Moroccan’s often use Turmeric for its yellow color alone.  In Morocco itself a yellow powder can be found in the markets to turn dishes a beautiful yellow/orange color.  I’ve never seen it in the U.S. and have only read about its use.

11.  Cumin.  Cumin comes from the dried and powdered fruit of a plant in the parsley family.  Cumin has a wonderful scent and a very slight bitter flavor when left on the tongue.  As in many cultures, Moroccan families use Cumin on eggs, stews, tangines, meats. salads, and beans.

12.  Nutmeg.  Nutmeg comes from the same fruit that gives us the spice, mace.  It is both sweet and spicy and is an ingredient used in the famous Ras El Hanout.

13.  Gum Acacia. Gum Acacia comes from the sap of the Acacia tree.  The sap becomes hard and is ground to be used as a stabilizer in many dishes.  Gum Acacia is widely used throughout Africa.

14.  Ras El Hanout.  Ras El Hanout, as mentioned above, is a spice blend used in most Moroccan cooking.  Generally, recipes for Ras El Hanout will include:  cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, anise, mace, and sea salt or Kosher salt, a number of different peppers and turmeric.

On that note, let me reveal that within the next few days I will be blogging about a simple Ras El Hanout Recipe.  Get ready to enjoy Moroccan cooking and the diverse and delicious dishes you can create for friends and family!  Now that you have a list of the basic spices used in Moroccan cooking you can get ready to mix and match as you see fit and try all those Moroccan dishes that have made such beautiful pictures in gourmet magazines!

And, keep an eye out on my etsy sellers promotion page, as the sellers will be changing soon!

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Good early morning for some and a very late night for others.  The last time we spoke I listed the main spices used in Indian cooking.  Various regions, I mentioned, use less, more, and added local spices.  Garam Masala is what I call a base spice mix.  You will find Garam Masala used in most Indian cooking as a base spice mix with other spices being added to the dish.  It is not that Garam Masala can not stand-alone, it does in many dishes.  But I find that used sparingly Garam Masala makes a wonderful, aromatic, warming lullaby, but adding additional spices can create an entire song.  There are even times when I use Garam Masala at the end of a dish–just sprinkled on vegetables, meats, rice, or potatoes.  Yum.

You can find Garam Masala at most larger grocery stores.  If needed, you can find it readily at most online Pakistani and Indian groceries.  Beware that commercial varieties have a number of different recipes and often cheaper ingredients are chosen (such as cumin and coriander) in place of the usual, more expensive cloves and cardamom.  The downside to these cheaper mixes is that they can leave a bitter after taste on your poor tongue.  Oh, there I go, mentioning tongue.  And, that only serves to remind me of Dougray Scott’s incredible mouth.  Speaking of yum.  Shudder, shake, and back to business! 

I always make my Garam Masala in cup quantities, but that might be a lot to use in most households that do not entertain a lot or don’t eat Indian spiced foods all that often.  So, here is a knock off of my own Oh India, Adult Indulgences Indian Spice Blend.  I have left out a few of my special differences, as my blend is proprietary.  Sigh.  However, I think you will find this mix to be incredible!  It will make around 4 tablespoons, depending on how you grind it.  Just remember to put it in a tightly sealed glass container out of the sunlight and away from heat.

Garam Masala

1/2 of a small-sized nutmeg

1 tsp. fresh cloves

1 tsp. fresh peppercorns (note these should be black peppercorns)

1 fresh, small cinnamon stick (broken into small pieces)

3/4 tablespoon cardamom seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

Using a counter spice grinder (or coffee bean grinder) place all ingredients in the holding cup.  Turn on the grinder for short bursts until the spices are ground into a fine powder.  Smell the wonder you have created.  Even better find a simple Indian recipe (like one of mine from my recipe page or your favorite Indian cookbook) and pour some wine, cut up some fresh mango and water melon and invite a few friends over for a night of laughing and chatting.  Enjoy!  Life is short!

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Good evening everyone.  Imagine my delight late last night when I was just about ready to enter this post and BAM!  Yes, BAM!  I found out that an old episode of Desperate Housewives was on featuring guess who?   Who?  Say it!  Yes.  BAM!  Dougray Scott.  Needless to say all thoughts of my favorite Indian spices went out of my head and I became glued to the television.  Dear God, how could she choose a plumber over Dougray Scott.  Sigh.  Now that I have those feelings out the way, its down to business!

Indian cooking is one of my favorites.  The flavors are so varied by region and even by cooks within regions that I believe Indian cooking is some of the most interesting in the world and the spices used, some of the most complex.  Here’s a list of the most common Indian spices.  Most of these can be found in grocery stores in larger cities.  If you, like me, are unlucky enough to live away from such an urban area, there are plenty of Indian groceries on the net to satisfy your spice searching.

1.  Green Hot Chillies.  Don’t touch your fingers to your eyes when handling green hot chillies.  Indian green chillies are about 2-4 inches long and filled with white seeds.  It is the white seeds that cause all that burn.  So, if you don’t want the burn, use latex gloves and remove as many seeds as you can. Indians call these chillies Hari Mirch.

2.  Red Hot Chillies.  Again, a warning about the heat.  These are really  interesting chillies.  When you place them in boiling oil they will puff up and the skin will darken.  It is believed that even the darkened skin lends a special flavor to Indian cooking.  The Indian name for these red chillies is Sabut lal mirch.

3.  Fresh grated Coconut and Coconut Milk.  Coconut milk is made by grating coconut, placing it in water and then squeezing out the juice.  Ummmmm.  Fresh grated coconut meat freezes and unfreezes easily so it is an easy item to keep for future use.  Fresh grated coconut is referred to in India as Nariyal.

4.  Coriander Seeds.  Coriander seeds are used often in Indian cooking.  They are usually freshly ground before used in any recipe.  The Coriander plant itself is also used in Indian cooking as a herb as opposed to a spice.  Coriander leaf is used much like we use parsley in Italy.  In order to flavor wet dishes the leaves are often tossed in and cooked for the addition of their aroma.  Indians call Coriander greens Kothmir.  Coriander seeds are often called Dhania or Sabut.

5.  Cinnamon.  Cinnamon sticks are most often used in rice and meat dishes.  The Cinnamon sticks are used for flavor and are not eaten. Their Indian name is Dar Cheeni.

6.  Whole Cloves.  Again, whole cloves are often used in meat and rice dishes for its aroma.  Indians refer to cloves as Long (as opposed to short–just kidding).

7.  Cayenne Pepper.  Hey this is one we all know about, huh!  It’s Indian name is Pisi hui lal mirch.

8.  Cardamom.  Cardamon seeds come from the Cardamom pod and are black and highly aromatic.  If you are using the pod with seeds included you should not eat it only use it for its aroma.  The seeds can be eaten and ground.  Cardamom seeds are referred to as Elaichi.

9.  Green Mango Powder.  Green Mango Powder is just as it says–a green mango that has not ripened.  The unripened mango is sliced and dried in the sun.  Both whole slices and powdered slices are sold in Indian groceries. I’ve only used the powder and can not speak to the use of the sliced Amchoor.  Amchoor is extremely sour and tastes somewhat like lime.  It is referred to as Amchoor Powder.

10.  Asafetida.  This is a resin with a strong odor that is usually found in Kashmir.  Someone in a cooking class once told me it smelled like truffles.  Ummmmm.  I’d say earthy is right, but to me it smelled closer to really old manure that no longer smelled like excrement but was once excrement.  Again, my palate can’t be trusted.  Since that class I have never used it even when a recipe has called for it. 

11.  Fennel Seeds.  Ah, another one I use often.  Fennel seeds have a liquorice-like flavor–not as heavy as anise but the taste is definitely there.  Fennel seeds are often roasted and placed on the last course in a meal as a breath freshener.  At an Indian grocery ask for Sonf.

12.  Fenugreek Seeds.  Many of you have used Fenugreek seeds in Mediterranean cooking.  They are a squarish, brownish-yellow seed that have a definitely mushroomy or earthy flavor (without the excrement included ; ) ).  Indians refer to these seeds as Methi.

13.  Cumin Seeds.  Indians usually roast their seeds in a pan and use them whole or grind them. 

There we have it.  These are the very basic spices used in Indian cooking.  Tomorrow we will look at another basic spice mixture used as a “base” (or a beginning) in Indian cooking–Gram Masala.  It is easy to make at home and is delicious by itself or after more spices/herbs are added to further enhance the flavor of a recipe. 

Alas, I must leave you for this evening.  Like Dougray Scott I am here, but not really here–I’m in the ether.  Goodnight and good eating!

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New ETSY Artists Added

Just added new etsy sellers to my etsy sellers promotion page.  You really need to take a look.  Wow.  The work is truly remarkable!

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My nephew passed away on this date and it makes my heart sad.  I miss him so, but know he is right beside me with his beautiful blond curls, his fantastic smile, his one-of-a-kind heart, and his love of all things natural.  Rest with God my blessed one!  We will see other again!

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Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Let’s finish off introduction to savory with a few words (Yeah, I know.  With me it’s rarely a few words.)  The big question is:  Will Dougray Scott stay married?  Just kidding.  The really big question today is, “Are there other herbs that are savory?”  Yes, there are.  They come with many, many names attached and each and every one of them can add to the savory flavoring of a dish.  Individually, they tend to have distinct flavors, but collectively, they mix well with other herbs and spices to infuse a dish with even more of a savory note for the tongue.  And, believe it or not, many, many herbs fit the savory category.

So, you ask, what are some savory herbs?  Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

1.  Basil.  When we think of basil many of us think of the lovely Italian, green pesto.  It is indeed lovely.  In our home we used basil on pizza, buffalo mozzarella, salads, pastas, etc.  As I have grown with my cooking I use it in steamed rice, omlettes, etc.  Basil comes in so many varieties these days, so try them all!

2.  Dill.  Growing up with my Father’s garden’s, my brother and I were tasked with weeding.  We hated weeding dill as it truly had a strong, hearty flavor that seemed to draw all sorts of ugly bugs.  All we ever thought about it then was that it smelled like a pickles.  As derogatory comments to each other we often used the term, “You’re a dill weed.”  Many people will tell you that dill seeds smell much more mellow (somewhat like caraway seeds), but I disagree.  Dill seed smells like pickles! : )  Dill, I have learned through these many years of cooking, is good for more than just pickles, it does well paired with potato soup, potato salad and some egg dishes (when lightly used). 

3.  Fines Herbs.  The French developed this little delicacy of a herb combination.  It is available at most grocery stores and is probably familiar to most of you.  Fines Herbs are fantastic for vegans as they are delicious on fresh and cooked vegetables.  I admit to using fines herbs on eggs on a couple of occasions.

4.  Oregano.  Again, even I tend to think of Oregano as an Italian seasoning and have often used it in pastas, pizza toppings, and hearty soups.  I think of Oregano now as a wonderful savory herb to mix with tomatoes in many sauces.

5.  Sage.  Sage has always been a staple in stuffings for turkey, pork, chicken, lamb, etc..  I also love to use it on vegetables with a little sweet butter.  Ummm.  Sage also pairs well with cheese and onion.  Be warned, though, sage packs a wallop of flavor so go lightly!

6.  Bay Leaves.  I’ve always loved bay leaves.  I use them in many of my middle eastern dishes where they have a chance to sit and infuse my dishes with a slightly almondy taste.  I use them in cheese dishes as well as stews.  Remember, remove the leaves before serving.

Are there other savory herbs?  Yes.  Chervil, Chives, Marjoram, Mint, Rosemary, Tarragon, and Thyme.  So, get out there, buy those spices and begin to experiment.  You can not learn without doing.  If you want to be a great cook, you definitely need to learn to work your herbs and spices to show their best sides and the best sides of what they are matched with.  Think of pairing herbs and spices and foods as looking for the best match in a marriage:  each ingredient upholds the other where it may be weak, one can outshine the other, but only when necessary, and all must embrace each other or the union will be weak!

Hey, I’m done.  Good eating and call up some friends, grab some great wine, set up the table, make some food and laugh!

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