Posts Tagged ‘Spice and Herb blog’

Hey, I know I used a couple of terms in my last post that may leave some of you rubbing your head, but don’t be afraid of the four letter word roux or its much longer cousin…emulsions.  You need to master a roux and an emulsion before you can be successful at composing fine “Mother Sauces.”  So, let’s get to it.

A roux is a mixture of ingredients used to thicken sauces so they aren’t runny like water.  The way to make a roux will leave you open-mouthed by its simplicity.  You must use an equal amount of flour and fat (traditionally clarified butter and/or animal fats) mixed in a saucepan and cooked over medium heat.  That sounds simple enough, but for how long do I cook it.  Well, here’s the rub….how long you cook it depends on what type of roux you want.  Unfortunately, no matter how long you cook it you won’t get a kangaroo!  Couldn’t resist.  Seriously, here’s how it works.

There are three generally accepted types of roux.

1.  White Roux.  Really, this should be named a yellowish roux, because that’s its true color, but who’s questioning history, eh?  You will mix an equal amount of flour and clarified butter (if you are a purist) in a sauce pan and cook over medium head for just a few minutes until the fat and flour are well mixed and begin to get a little frothy.  Don’t just pull the roux off the stove at this point, as you WANT to cook out the flour flavor.  Also, you don’t want to leave it on so long that it turns a darker color, or you off and running into another type of roux.  So, be careful how long you cook the White Roux.  White Rouxs are used primarily for bechamel and alfredo sauces (in other words, sauces using bases such as milk and cream).

2.  Blond Roux.  Yep, Blond Roux.  I can imagine a few of you “man cooks” out there hurrying to make a blond roux in hopes that she’ll be a dream come true.  Well, she may be beautiful and slightly blond and she may make you happy, but she won’t last.  Blond roux is cooked a bit longer than your White Roux.  Cook it until it begins to turn a bit darker than the Yellow/White Roux.  Blong  Rouxs and used for stock based white sauces such as veloutes.

3.  Brown Roux.  You guessed it, a brown roux is a blond roux taken several steps further in the cooking process.  The key to a perfect brown roux is to lower the heat and cook it over low heat (once it has combined and is frothy) until it browns evenly.  Note, I said browns evenly, not burns or scorches.  Interestingly enough, a brown roux cooked correctly will have a slightly nutty flavor and smell and taste quite rich.  Yummmmm.  You will use a brown route to thicken brown sauces like gravies.

Now for some tips for a great roux:

1.  Never, never, never burn or scorch your roux.

2.  A great roux is paste like and not runny or stew-like.  Roux should not pour like liquid.

3.  Cake flour makes by far the best roux.

4.  Try not to use shortening as your fat.  It add little flavor, tastes terrible and leaves  a after greasing on your tongue.

5.  Try to use clarified butter or another animal fat.

6.  Make sure to use the correct amount of roux to complement the amount of liquids you have.  I did some research of this one and here’s what the experts say.  Personally, I just keep adding until I get the thickness I desire.

3 ounces of roux per quart of liquid will thicken into a thin consistency

4 ounces of roux per quart of liquid will thicken into a medium consistency

5 ounces of roux per quart of liquid will thicken into a thick sauce

6 ounces of roux per quart of liquid will thicken into a heavy gravy

So, how does one incorporate a roux?  Well, again, it is really quite simple.  A roux can be added to a liquid mixture when the mixture is warm to hot, but avoid early boiling, as clumps can form.  Once the roux is added to the mixture you wish to thicken, make sure you whisk furiously until the liquid incorporates the roux (smooth and without any lumps).  Next, bring the sauce to a simmer and continue to simmer and stir for 20 minutes or so.  During this time the starchy flavor of the flour will further dissipate and your liquid will proceed to thicken.  If you happen to have added to much animal fat, make sure you skim it off the surface.

Well, this had been good for me I hope it has been good for roux…………………….

Photo Courtesy of:  http://www.meninaprons.net/images/bech.jpg

Our next post will be about emulsification.  No, not mumification….emulsification!!!!


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Oh, Boy!  I have changed my Etsy sellers on my special page, “Etsy Sellers You Must See.”  These artists are truly after my own heart.  Such a variety of subject and talent.  Really, take a look, stop by their stores and do what you can to support the hand-made movement!  Enjoy!

Divorce - Home Free / 8 x 10 - 27 x 39

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Photo Courtesy of:  http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3508/3832870548_46043bcc4c.jpg

Photo Courtesy of:  http://www.ediblelandscaping.com/Plants/PlantImages/kaffir%20lime%20DSC_0624.jpg


Yes, I know I have been tardy in my posting.  But, my return from vacation was met with a huge water leak in a wall line and a wonderful visit from my cousin from Italy and his lovely significant other.  What a great way to spend my time–with the relatives, not the leak and subsequent clean-up.  So, on with our travels and spice/herb education.  I promised Cambodian or Khmer spices and herbs and here they are!

1.  Kaffir Lime.  The lime is small, very green, and has a bumpy skin.  When Kaffir Lime is used in Khmer cooking it is only the rind of the fruit that is used.  The leaves of the Kaffir Lime tree are used as well and are called Makrud.  The leaves give your dish a definite citrus flavor!  You will find kaffir Lime leaves used in many South East Asian dishes.

2. Rice-paddy Herb.  This herb has a very lemony flavor with plenty of plucky tang.  It is most often used in fish and seafood dishes.  I have seen it used in salads as well.

3.  Galangal.  Many people mistake Galangal as ginger and it is from the same family.  But, its flavor leaves a peppery, lemony taste on the tongue.  After a few moments, I could swear I get a hint of pine pitch.  Sigh.  Just remember that Galangal is not ginger!

4.  Taro Root.  Taro is a tuber (root) that is very starchy and tastes like a potato with some lingering nutty after-notes.  Taro is often used as a staple and a major benefit is that its starch has a definite purple color.  When you see purple”ish” ice-creams and desserts in Cambodia, they are often colored with Taro starch.

5.  Asian Coriander.   Believe it or not, Asian Coriander is not related to the Coriander we normally know.  It is from an entirely different family, but its flavor is like a stronger Coriander.

6.  Water Spinach.  Water Spinach grows in wet-lands and often the stems are picked just like asparagus.  Also the tender roots are eaten as well.  The taste of this relative to morning-glory is just like Spinach and it is frequently eaten in Khmer cooking.

7.  Turmeric.  Turmeric, or as it is known in Khmer, Kunyit, if most often used freshly grated from the root.  Turmeric is used for color and to add flavor and aroma to curry dishes.  Americans are most often used to powdered Turmeric, which, depending on its age, truly lacks the beautiful color and aroma of freshly grated Turmeric.

8.  Star Anise.  Star Anise, as we have learned, tastes and smells of licorice.  Anise is used to flavor baked goods as well as savory dishes.  When I lived in Viet Nam it was common for locals to chew the Anise seed as a breath freshener.

9.  Jicama Root.  Jicama Root has become increasingly popular in America and can be found in most large grocery stores.  It tastes like a cross between a potato, an apple, and a turnip.  I love eating raw root as it is quite sweet and crunchy.  In Asian cultures Jicama is often substituted for water chestnut in stir fries.

10.  Cilantro.  As we discussed in an earlier post, Coriander and Cilantro are one and the same!  The leaf portion of the plant is Cilantro and the seed portion is Coriander.  

11.  Tamarind.  The Tamarind pod has a fruit whose pulp is, generally speaking,  sweet.  Thai Tamarind is quite sour, as are its leaves, both of which are often used in soups and stew-like dishes.

12.  Finger Root.  This root is considered a relative of ginger root, but is much milder in flavor.  Interestingly enough, I have heard it argued that Finger Root is not related to ginger at all.  Who knows!  Finger Root is softer than ginger root and the skin is removed and the internal meat is julienned.  You can rest assured that Finger Root will be found in most Cambodian curries.

13.  Sweet Basil.   As discussed in a previous post, Basil is a member of the mint family and is widely used throughout World cooking.  However, I am told that the Thai variety has a subtle taste of licorice.  I have never tried Thai Sweet Basil myself.

14.  Lemon grass.  Cambodian cuisine, and East Asian cuisine, widely uses Lemon grass herb.  I personally do not like the flavor of Lemon grass as I find it reminds me of citronella candles and even a tiny bit too much leaves a chemical taste on my tongue.  But, I must be in the minority on this as Lemon grass is a popular herb and the main flavoring in “Kroeung”, a popular Cambodian curry paste.

15.  Angkeadei in Khmer or Sesbania Grandiflora in its scientific terminology is a bitter herb not used much outside Cambodian cuisine.  We can say that Cambodian cuisine accepts bitterness in its cuisine as a sought after flavor.  Both flowers and leaves are used in cooking.

16.  Mreah or Bitter Melon.  This plant’s leaf is often used to attain a bitter note in certain Cambodian dishes.

Well, this has been a bit longer than I anticipated.  I’ll let you all catch your breath, get on your computers and browse on-line East Asian groceries for Khmer spices and herbs.  Later, you can fall asleep to the dreams of tropical jungles, foods of incredible color, friendly local peoples, and aromas drifting past on moist, warm breezes.

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Photo Courtesy of:   www.paradiseinfiji.com/blog/tag/fiji/

Good morning spice mix enthusiasts!  Yes, a Fijian spice blend that you can store and use in your favorite recipe.  What you say?  You don’t know of any Fijian recipes?  Well, not to worry once you have this spice mix made I’ll be posting a wonderful and simple Fiji Chicken Curry dish.  In fact, this spice mix recipe is so aromatic and delicious you’ll want to use it as a body rub. 

Most of the ingredients will be available at any larger grocery store.  If you can’t find a spice, the internet spice market is HUGE and you should have no problem finding the ingredients.  If something can be left out I will indicate so in the mix recipe.  Ummmmmmm.  Let’s get going!  Oh, if you want more than one batch just double or triple the ingredients so you can make more than one dish before having to mix another batch.

Fijian Indian Curry Powder Spice Mix Recipe

1/2 tsp ginger powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cummin seeds

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 small cinnamon stick

5 cloves

4 whole cardamom

6 dried curry leaves

1/4 tsp coriander

2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chili

 1 tsp amchoor powder  – Remember Amchoor powder is powdered mango that hasn’t ripened yet.  It has a tart flavor a lot like lime.

3 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

Take all ingredients and place in large skillet on medium heat.  Dry roast the ingredients until they become aromatic.  DO NOT BURN or OVER ROAST!  Place all ingredients in coffee bean grinder or spice grinder and pulse grinder until spices are a fine powder.  Put blend in a glass jar and cap tightly.  As with all spice blends, but in a dry, cool  place away from sunlight. 

Hey, that was easy, huh?  Now all you have to do is get a great recipe, use your Fijian Curry Spice Blend, and invite great friends and family.   I know, you’re thinking how am I going to find that recipe?  Don’t worry, as I mentioned above, I’ll soon be posting a Fijian Curry Chicken Recipe.  Hang in there and you, your food and your new spice blend will soon be united and become fast friends!

Happy spice mixing!

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Ah, yes.  This is a quote from The Truman Show (1998).  No doubt you are wondering what the heck this has to do with my blog.  Well, not much–or a lot–depending on how your brain works.  Mine works on a wide plain of abstractions and strange zig zags of connections, so it makes perfect sense to use this quote as a segway into my new post on Fijian Cuisine.  Yes, we’re still near the ocean for this post.  Not the roiling, surging, dark and frightening ocean some of us live near, but the soft, blue-green, warm, foaming, see till the end of the earth Ocean of the Fijian Islands. 


If this picture from the Fijian Tourist Bureau doesn’t grab you, then nothing will.  Ah, Fiji.  Just a grouping of about 300 islands laying in a beautiful nest of liquid pleasure.  Do we ever hear of Fiji.  Not really.  But it has had two military coups, believe it or not.  And, there are some relatively famous folks from Fiji.  Who you ask, your head turning sideways as you look at your computer screen in doubt.    Vija Singh for one.  Who?  Vija Singh, the world-class golfer.  Any other guesses?  No, well there is Jimmy Snuka a.k.a. “Superfly” the former WWF wrestler.  And, lest you think there are only two famous folks from Fiji, what about Anand Satyanand?  Umm humm.  The Governor General of New Zealand is from Fiji.  Sigh.  Just think of the minutia you have learned from reading this simple spice and herb blog!

The cuisine and spices of Fiji, which is really our topic today, is a melting pot of various cultures that have infiltrated the Islands.  Fijian cooking has been influenced by Polynesians, Indians, Chinese, Dutch and other Europeans, Africans, and even Melanesians.  Fijian cuisine is a lovely mixture of many different cultures all adapted to fit local tastes and Island living.  As such, it takes a deft hand to create the subtle tastes  of modern Fijian cuisine. 

The Fijian Islands provide ample perfect weather and growing conditions for many spices and herbs.  Some are indigenous to Fiji and others were brought to Fiji and cultivated.  But, the list is so varied and beautiful that what else but subtle perfection can be expected of Fijian dishes.  So, let’s begin by listing the most common spices used in Fijian cooking.

1.  Vanilla

2.  Pepper

3.  Nutmeg

4.  Cinnamon

5.  Tumeric

6.  Ginger

7.  Cardamom

8.  Coriander

9.  Cumin

10.  Chilies

11.  Fenugreek

12.  Sea Salt

From this list, it is easy to see the outside influences on Fijian cuisine.  Imagine the magical dance of these spices combined with seafood, pork, chicken, goat (yes, they eat goat in Fiji), breadfruit, yam, cassava, taro root, limes, lemons, guava, mango, bananas, pineapple and the ever present and abundantly used coconut milk and flakes.  Can’t you just feel the burst of flavor on your tongue?  Feel the salivation start?   Hang onto your hats kids, and with the next post we will explore some common Fijian dishes that will leave you and your guests yearning for sun, waves, color and relaxation. 

For now, goodnight fine friends and I leave you with this…………………………………

Photo courtesy of:  http://www.paulsmedia.co.nz/images/gallery/fiji_sunset_02.jpg

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Yeah.  A beautiful day here at home and there is obviously a lot of interest out there about Cuban cooking.  O.K., then.  Many of you noted you wanted more recipes.  Well, I am here to please (within limits).  I decided to give up my simple Chicken with Rice dish recipe.  Easy, quick and peasant style Cuban cooking. 

Photo Courtesy of:  http://www.frenchcreoles.com/cuba3.jpg


Just had to share that artwork with you all.  Lovely, isn’t it?  Anyhoo, let’s get to it fellow cooks and spice lovers.

Chicken with Rice Cuban Peasant Style


1 whole chicken, cut into pieces

4 ripe tomatoes, chopped (I remove seeds before chopping)

1 1/2 cups warm water

8 minced, fresh garlic cloves

2 1/2 large, red, finely chopped onions

1 bay laurel leaf

2 medium green bell peppers, finely chopped and seeds removed

1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped and seeds removed

9 green pimento olives, finely chopped

3 tsp. juice from olive jar

One large lemon

1/4 tsp. cummin

Olive Oil (Extra Virgin is best)

1/4 cup raisins

1 tsp. salt


The chicken needs to be marinated for at least 14 hours (overnight is best) in the juice of the whole, large lemon and the cummin.  Make sure you add salt to the marinade.  Coat the chicken well and put into fridge.  I like to shake my chicken in the marinade every couple of hours to ensure even seasoning.

Once you have marinated the chicken, get out a larger frying pan and add some olive oil.  Brown the chicken pieces on all sides!  Once browning is complete, place the chicken in a large pot.

Add a little bit more olive oil to the frying pan (not the pot) and add in the onions and peppers until carmelized.  Add in the garlic and bay leaf and stir.  Let cook no longer than one minute before adding the water (this keeps the flavor of the garlic fresh and pungent).  Stir again.  Add this mixture to the browned chicken in the pot.  Cover and make sure you simmer for at least 30 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.

Immediately serve over plain white rice.   Enjoy!

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Happy Mom’s Day to all who celebrate it.  And, we all should since without Mom’s there would be no us!  My Mother has always provided me with mentoring that has made me the person I am today.  Literally, everything good that I am I have gotten from her.  Her heart is spiritual, loving, accepting, non judgemental, caring, artistic, appreciative, soulful, fun-loving, nurturing and well–just all around perfect!  She has battled cancer for 12 years and now is suffering from all the chemotherapy and medications she takes.  She nearly died six weeks ago and yet on she goes, helping others and shouldering her pain and discomfort.  I love her more each and every day I am with her.  Caring for her is a blessing and a gift!  I love you Mom!

Today, we delve into that wonderful Cuban Spice Mix that I told you about on my last post.  This will be a bit of a different preparation than we usually talk about.  This will be made fresh, on the go, and put immediately into a great Cuban dish:  Black Beans and Rice.  You get a lot of arguments about whether Cuban black beans and rice should be “yellow” or not.  According the lady I was taught by, “real” Cuban black beans and rice (as the peasants make it) does not have a yellow color to it.  Now, my teacher indicated that through the years Saffron made its mark in Cuban rice and beans and that some families use saffron as a spice to both flavor and color rice and beans.  Additionally, she informed us that there is a Caribbean spice blend available (for many years) called (and I hope I get this right) Sazon Goya that many modern Cuban cooks use in rice and beans and many other dishes. 

I looked up Sazon Goya on the net and, yes indeed, a spice packet is sold by this name (as are some others by the same company).  It turns the rice and beans a lovely color and contains a number of spices that are now used in Cuban cooking.  If you are interested, just type in Sazon Goya on the web and you will find resellers of this blend.  Our teacher told us that in very poor homes where saffron and spice mixes can not be afforded, yellow food coloring is sometimes added to rice and beans to give them a beautiful saffron color. 

For our purposes here today, we will use the five main ingredients of basic Sofrito. You will receive arguments on what belongs in Sofrito.  I was taught that Sofrito for beans and rice should be garlic, cummin, green peppers, onions, saffron (optional and not used in this recipe), Sazon Goya (optional and not used in this recipe), and bay laurel leaves.  Hold onto your hats, here we go!

Peasant Black Beans and Rice


2 cups black beans (we are making a quick recipe and won’t be using dried beans in this recipe)

1 large yellow onion

Olive oil

2 cups chicken broth

3 large, minced garlic cloves

3 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup long grain white rice

1/2 cup minced green pepper

3 1/4 tsp powdered cummin

1 bay leaf

Once all ingredients are handy, you want to begin by draining the water from the beans and setting them aside in a small bowl. 

In a large cooking pot that has a cover, you will now want to begin to saute your chopped onion, garlic, green pepper, and bay leaf in olive oil until they appear opaque and are tender.

Next, add the tomato paste, black beans, cummin and chicken broth.  Stir and let gently warm. 

Add the rice and cover.  Cook over low heat until rice is completely cooked.  This can take anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes. 

Bingo, you are ready to go.  You should add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.  Yum!

So, you ask, what if you want to used dried black beans.  Well, that is easily enough done.  You will need one pound of black beans.  To prepare them you would put them in a pot and make sure they are well covered with water.  Bring them to a boil, remove them from the heat, and let them stand at least one hour.  Drain them and continue to use them as the recipe above states.

If you want to pour in some Sazon Goya, please do and you can add a bit of Saffron as well to come up with that beautiful yellow color and that just right flowery flavor that only Saffron can bring to a dish.  But, for Peasant Cuban rice and beans, just stick to the recipe above.

You can see that Sofrito is a blend of vegetables, herbs and spices that is not stored, but created just before it is used to flavor many different Cuban dishes.  I encourage you all to explore Cuban cooking as it is wonderful in all its varieties!

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