Spices are nice

It feels good to take a break from grading papers.  This week marks the end of the term for me and so I am catching up on all of the final projects and things that need to be graded.

On to one of my favorite new products, although I have had this before, I am considering it new, since I haven't bought this in a while.  This is "crab" or fake crab meat, AKA surimi, which is pollock.  That is very confusing, just call it pollock for heaven's sake.  Either way it is delicious, low in calories and provides protein and Omega-3's.  I have tried this a few ways this week.

Use #1: Salad toppper

Use #2: Sandwich meat

I put some with a tad of mustard on a super yummy pretzel roll.  This was great for dinner last night and I had it again for lunch today.

And here goes the last of the bagels.  We chowed down on those FAST!  It was tasty with PB on it.

Now, on to the my title for today.  Ryan and I watched Julie and Julia, which may have inspired us a tad, so we have been cooking from scratch and also we have purchased some new cookbooks.  Some of these we had before, but we did order like 5-7 new cookbooks that we just had delivered.  Of course we bought the Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  So we now have quite a collection.  I guess it is time to get to work.

Since we did not have access to some of the spices we wanted when we were cooking the Indian food, Ryan decided to order some.  I never would have thought he would be able to find a place to ship APO from the states, but he did.  So here is a run down of our recent delivery.  I am going to post some additional information about them as well, in case you are madly curious about these.

We started off with this awesome Madagascar vanilla beans.

Vanilla is an indispensable flavoring for sweet foods. You will find whole vanilla beans called for in creme brulee, creme anglaise, most dessert sauces and custards, in making really good ice cream or frozen yogurt, or infusing your own liquors. In making custard, the vanilla bean is usually cut in half, then allowed to steep in the milk or cream. Then the vanilla seeds are scraped out and added to the custard, while the remaining pod is removed. The leftover pod can be rinsed and dried, then added to your sugar canister for wonderful vanilla-flavored sugar. Many good cooks automatically flavor their sugar supply with one vanilla bean per cup of sugar. If you slice the vanilla bean down the middle and then into 1/4” pieces, the inner seeds become exposed and impart greater flavor to the sugar. You can also add a vanilla bean to your box of powdered sugar: excellent for rolling warm cookies in, and lending fine flavor to buttercream frosting.
Why are vanilla beans and vanilla extract so expensive? We are often asked this question. A member of the orchid family, the vanilla flower is the only one of 350 species of orchids to produce an edible product. The first harvest of the vine does not occur for at least 3 years, giving a maximum harvest after about 8 years. When the flower on the vine blossoms, it must be hand-pollinated during the one or two days in which it blooms. It takes 4-9 months for the vanilla pods to mature and they are picked just as their color changes from green to yellow. Because these beans are so valuable (especially in light of some of the extremely poor economic areas in which they are grown), the vanilla beans are branded while still green. Much like cattle ranchers, each farmer has his own brand which is formed by inserting pins into a cork and imprinted on the vanilla bean while still young, so it will remain on the bean when it is ready for sale. When the green beans are initially picked, they do not have any flavor. The processes for curing the beans vary in different locations: this results in subtle, but noticeable differences in the flavor of the vanilla bean. In Mexico, the beans are stored in sheds until they start to shrivel, at which point they are transferred to wooden sweat boxes during the day and cooled at night. This maintains just the right amount of enzymatic reaction to produce the desired color and flavor. Much like wine making, this is really an art that a master must practice. This part of the process takes 2-3 months.

Next up is whole Cardamom.  This was one we could not find here but we did need.  Smelled great.

Cardamom has a unique flavor and aroma that is hard to put into words. It defies the boundaries of normal sensory comparisons. It is compellingly strong, yet delicate; sweet, yet powerful; with an almost eucalyptus freshness.

Cardamom is used in different ways by different cultures: in the Middle East to flavor coffee, in Scandinavian communities as a dessert baking spice. In India it is a savory spice for curries. Elsewhere it is used for poached fish, meat loaf, fish stews and sweet potatoes.

Star Anise.  Not a big fan, but I bet it will come in handy on some of these recipes.  Not a bad thing to have around.

Whole Broken Pieces or Ground Star Anise are practical for cooking purposes. The broken pieces will give you the same flavor at a third of the price of the hand-selected variety. The Chinese use star anise in many pork and chicken dishes, usually adding 2 to 4 stars per 4 servings.

The flavor of star anise also lends itself nicely to many fish dishes. The primary use of star anise in Chinese cooking is in its ground form, as an ingredient of Chinese Five Spice Powder. The Japanese like to burn the powder as incense in temples; you can scent your own home in the same manner.

Also known as Chinese anise, this plant features the same three essential oils as the small, more delicate anise seed. Waverly Root writes, "In putting this combination together once nature had already amply demonstrated her chemical skill; it was sheer showing off to perform the feat twice in two totally unrelated plants." The flavor is quite a bit stronger than the anise seed and is used primarily for Chinese cooking, although in the 1700's European cooking also called for star anise in fruit jams and syrup recipes.

Mmm, I love poppy seeds.  These are already ground so i wonder if I can put them on my bagels, hmmm, inside my bagels...

Blue Poppy seeds are considered 'European' poppy seeds because they are the kind seen most often on Western breads, bagels and in confectionery. White poppy seeds are often referred to as 'Indian', 'Middle Eastern' or 'Asian' since they are featured in these cuisines. There is actually very little difference in flavour between the two, so usage is more a question of aesthetics or availability.
Papaver somniferum is also the opium poppy, native to the Middle East and now grown in China, Indo-China, India and Afghanistan. An inert variety grows wild and is also cultivated in Europe and North America. The plant's species name, somniferum, means 'sleep inducing' and it is this narcotic effect that has provided so much incentive to its cultivation. The oriental variety yields much opium, and it is grown expressly for this lucrative purpose. The Western plants yield little opium and the latex that provides the drug is absent by the time the flower ripens. Poppy seeds of culinary use have none of the alkaloids that comprise the narcotic. Opium was known medically to the ancient Egyptians and the classical civilisations. The intrigues of the oriental opium warlords have been notorious for centuries. Opium has been connected with literature since the days of Coleridge (1772-1834) who wrote under the influence of laudanum, a tincture of opium (given even to babies in those days) and Baudelaire (1821-1867), an active member of the Hashish Club, admits gaining inspiration from it in Les Paradis Artificiels.

Here was the one we really really needed the other night for the Indian dish and we never found this.  We used curry powder instead, which contains turmeric.

Turmeric, essential to curry powder, is a member of the ginger family. It has a light, musky flavor along with a brilliant golden-orange color for which it is famous throughout the world. In Asia, its main use for thousands of years was as a dyestuff. At one time, sun worshippers, whose sacred color was yellow, dyed their textiles with the very expensive saffron. When it was discovered that the very inexpensive turmeric produced the same brilliant color, the sacred saffron was guarded for special culinary dishes.
Turmeric can replace the golden color with which saffron graces foods, but not saffron's distinctive flavor! For a while, turmeric was also used as a fabric dye in this country, until it was replaced by newer coal-tar compounds. To this day, some Hindu brides paint themselves with turmeric as part of the wedding ceremony, while married women rub it into their cheeks to give off an attractive golden glow. In Asia, turmeric is considered a good luck charm; newborn babies might have it rubbed on their forehead, or a bit of the root may be made into a necklace for them to wear.

Next up is fennel seed...

Fennel Seed has a delicate flavor; light and sweet, similar to anise. Use of fennel has a long history, dating back to the Chinese and Hindus who used it as a cure for snake bites. Fennel was hung over doors in the Middle Ages to ward off evil sprits. In Italy, "to give fennel" meant to flatter someone.

Fennel has always been considered an aid to digestion, and many people still drink fennel tea. The seed is often used with fish dishes. It can be used in a curing mix for salmon or bluefish. Some cultures add it to cheese. Good Italian sausage absolutely requires fennel. Ground fennel adds a mysterious element to a marinara or tomato sauce,which will go with any type of pasta.

Then we got some fenugreek seeds.  Sounds funny to me!

Fenugreek seeds are used mainly in Middle Eastern cooking. It is an ingredient in most curries and chutneys.

Like fennel, fenugreek has been cultivated for centuries primarily because it was thought to have many healing virtues. It was even an ingredient in the "holy smoke" which was a part of the Egyptian embalming ritual. An old-fashioned Arabic greeting was, "May you tread in peace the soil where fenugreek grows." Indians often roast the seed before grinding, giving it a somehwat sweeter flavor.

This was the sweet summer savory.  This really smelled awesome.

This variety of savory is known as Summer Savory; it has a more delicate and sweeter flavor than Winter Savory, which tends to be rather bitter.

The flavor of savory is somewhat reminiscent of thyme; many also describe it as a bit peppery. It is the most popular herb for beans and peas, giving rise to the German title of Bohnenkraut, or "bean herb." Savory can be used instead of sage in poultry stuffing, and can be found quite often in sausage-making recipes. It's also a pleasing herb in soup.
If you haven't already noticed most of the information I am finding is from the place Ryan ordered these from.  It just happens that it is easiest for me to locate the information here.

Last up we have this gumbo file powder.

Gumbo file powder is a necessity for cooking authentic Cajun cuisine. Quite simply, gumbo file powder is the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. When ground, they smell somewhat like eucalyptus or juicy fruit gum.
Long before the use of file powder for Creole and Cajun cooking, American Indians pounded sassafras leaves into a powder and added them to soups and stews. In addition to contributing an unusual flavor, the powder also acts as a thickener when added to liquid.

Here is what they looked like on the counter.  You can see the nice sized jars we have of these spices.  I am glad it is a thick glass since it is so humid here.

QUESTION:  What is your favorite spice?


Abby (Abbys Vegan Eats) said...

wow, im jealous of your assortment of spices.. awesome!!

I love tumeric, cumin, and right now, I seem to be putting cinnamon on EVERYTHING!!

Mari said...

OMG you have so many spices! I am jealous lol

I love cinnamon and pumpkin spice!

FoodFitnessFreshair said...

Love spices! Can't say I have a favorite, but I use cumin quite often. I also love vanilla bean!! But quite costly. And I have the Joy of Cooking cookbook at home. I haven't made much out of it yet, but it did help me make a killer peach tart.

MelissaNibbles said...

The pretzel roll looks amazing. Very doughy!
You're a Spice Girl! "So tell me watcha want watcha really really want!"

Gina; The Candid RD said...

WOW! First of all I LOVE pretzel rolls. I used to work at a restaurant that offered pretzel rolls as buns for burgers. Oh my gosh, so good!

Thanks for the spice information. You're all set to make a ton of different goodies. My favorite spice is garlic, or curry, or pepper :)

Unknown said...

you will never need to buy spices again my friend! does garlic count? i like garlic! and curry!

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

Great spices! And great info! Thanks! You'll have sooo much fun! Can't wait to read about it...

Favorite spice? Probably curry powder (which I know is a mixture of many different spices; come to think of it, I should probably research making my own one of these days...).

Rachel Lauren said...

The ones I use the most are cinnamon and cumin. I love the smell of cumin too. Umm... does rooster sauce count? I put that on just about EVERYTHING.

I love surimi! I haven't bought it in a while though. I love to eat it place or with yellow mustard. Remember when mom used to eat that all the time?

Shannon said...

I use cinnamon and italian seasoning the most. Thanks for the tutorial on ones I don't use as often!

chrystad72 said...

Wow!! what awesome info. I really learned so much about all these different spices. Very cool. I think I use alot of peppers to season my food. Dried chipotles is a fav, along with cinnamon and cumin. Love those!

Nutritious is Delicious said...


Pumpkin Pie Spice is the bombdotcom! :D

Anonymous said...

I am jealous of your spice stash! I've never even heard of Cardamom but based off your description, I sure want some! And Madagascar vanilla beans? Lalala....I would've died and gone to heaven right then and there!

Rosemary and basil are my favorites - basil is probably #1. I'm boring :)

Naomi(Onefitfoodie) said...

mmm i LOVE spices!! I totally get in moods for certain ones, but I always have cinnamon ALWAYS on hand! I also love israeli spices like cumin, coriander...rosemary is awesome as is BASIL!!! ahh so many to choose from!

Beth said...

I'm curious to know what you think of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". After I saw Julie and Julia last summer, I rushed to a bookstore to buy it, but then decided not to, after flipping through it and realizing all of the recipes have meat! I'm not a vegetarian (I eat meat a few times a week) but I don't eat red meat, and that book is way heavy on the beef!

Shannon (The Daily Balance) said...

cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice, for sure!

But I also love basil -- yummm

chow and chatter said...

garam masala !! oh you have some good spices there lol

Unknown said...

Goya, Old Bay for sure and garlic! Goes great on pasta or rice!

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