What Spices Up Your Life?

As I continue to play in the kitchen, as I read cooking magazines, when I hit the occasional restaurant, when I walk through the grocery store (I’m one of the people who loves that — I have friends who dread it), I think about the flavors I love the most.  I often think about the spices I could not do without.

I have a top two, a solid third, and then two more that cater to the baking side (more sweet than savory).

*I recently took a Smartphone photography class to sharpen my food photo skills since I take all my blog pictures via my iPhone.  So, this was also a great way to start working on these and play with my new olloclip.  If you’re in the DC-area, check out Washington Art Works & Washington School of Photography and Adam S. Lowe‘s Smartphone class — I give them huge props (and all their other classes) — they have food stuff, too — oh, I just found out they have wine tastings, as well.

Anyway, my top spices:

1.  Cumin — give me cumin or give me death.  You can use it in so much stuff, and it’s very convenient that I love (tex)mex food.  Maybe there’s a correlation here…hmmm.

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2.  Coriander (dried cilantro) — will ALWAYS take the fresh stuff.  Where’s the guac when you have the fresh stuff?  I can be caught using this in near everything.

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3. Fennel (seed)!  What’s funny here is I can’t stand black licorice (it’s not a like of many).  Though they aren’t super close to the same, that’s always what I think of when I know that I love this stuff.  So, give me fennel, the spice or fresh stuff and I am in heaven!

IMG_23794.  As we move down to the lower half of the top five, the next two are sort of tied, so I’m going to put them in alphabetical order for safety sake.  So, cinnamon, bring it on!  You’re in my baked goods, and sometimes ‘cooked’ ones.

IMG_23825.  Last but not least, nutmeg.  From baked goods to sprinkling it on fruit.  Has some great health benefits, too.  I definitely won’t say no.

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So, what spices up your life?  What are your favorite spices?  Are they more savory or sweet?  Let everybody know.

Mole de Pistache (Pistachio Mole)

Wanted to make a new (to me) recipe the other day and did some Mexican food research in a great cookbook — Mexico The Beautiful Cookbook.  Wanted something fairly unique versus the normal tacos, etc.  Found a recipe that sounded great — Pistachio Mole.  Had to give it a try.  I had to alter it a bit because of some of the dairy factors.

The quick mention:

Martha Chapa puts together the unusual and delicate combination of pistachios and avocado leaves in this new version of mole.

Ingredients:

8 chicken legs with thighs (I used chicken breasts)
3 cups white wine
3 cups water
2 onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic
4 avocado leaves, fresh or dried**these are pretty much non-existent in the States — the best substitute I found based on research is a combination of bay leaves and cracked anise seed
salt
6 tablespoons butter (I used olive oil)
2 tablespoons oil (sort of brought this and the above together)
1 chile poblano, roasted, peeled and membranes removed
10 oz shelled pistachios, skins removed
freshly ground pepper

Garnish

1/2 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
fresh avocado leaves (optional)

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Directions

First, the fun part was roasting the chile — I no longer have a gas stove so tested the ability of doing this on an electric (coil) one.  Quite interesting.  I turned on all fans and opened all windows.

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-In a large covered saucepan over medium heat, simmer the chicken in the wine and water along with 1 onion and the garlic, avocado leaves and salt until tender, about 30 minutes.  Drain the chicken, reserving the stock, and return to the saucepan.

-While the chicken is cooking, heat the butter and oil in a skillet.  Add the chile, remaining onion and the pistachios and saute until lightly browned.

IMG_2303In a blender or food processor, grind this mixture with a little of the reserved stock, then simmer in a covered saucepan over very low heat for 30 minutes.  Pour over the chicken and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.  Before serving, add pepper and more salt if needed.

-In a small skillet, saute the onion in the butter for 5 minutes or until translucent. Garnish with the onions and, if you like, fresh avocado leaves.

The end results was quite unique.  I love pistachios so you can never go wrong.  It could have used a touch more salt and I would say maybe a hint of lemon.  I would definitely recommend trying this.

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Pasta Sauce on a Whim

Last Saturday was just cold, snowy and blah here in DC and all I wanted was some great pasta sauce.  Why buy the stuff?  Decided to grab a bunch of stuff and see what I could put together based on the rough research I did on cooking the stuff.  Came up with the following ingredients (don’t have exact measurements on any of these):

-canned tomatoes
-onions
-olives
-garlic
-spices
-bay leaves
-fennel seed (almost forgot that one)
-red wine
-S&P
-olive oil

IMG_2237[1]IMG_2240[1]Threw them all in a pot and brought them to a boil then simmered them over medium heat for about 30+ minutes.

IMG_2314[1]Final result was a delicious, chunky sauce with tons of flavor.

IMG_2264[1]Served it over spaghetti squash with some seared shrimp.

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Oh, Chateau

A couple years ago I visited Sonoma and one of the wineries my friend and I checked out was Chateau St. Jean.  After the initial tasting, they of course give you the rundown of their Wine Club.  My friend told me to treat myself and sign up.  Their wine is amazing and I deserved it.

So last weekend there was just bad weather going on and I decided to open up a nice bottle of wine, just because.  There was nothing happening, there was really nowhere to go/there was no way I was going to go do anything.  I pulled a bottle of Chateau St. Jean (2009) Syrah out of my wine rack.  I opened it.  It had a nose of berries and bark — yes, bark, ok, maybe some would say wood, but I got bark.  The taste just made me stand still.  I can barely explain how good it was.  Raspberries, blackberries, that bark, and tiny bit chocolate.  Some darn, darn good wine.  The best part is that I know exactly why I have the bottle and enjoyed it all the more because of it.  Cheers!

Do you have a favorite bottle for some reason?  Do you remember a bottle you bought for a specific reason?

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Say Cheese!

I’m always on the lookout for cheese I can enjoy.  Saw the mention of a new goat cheese at Trader Joe’s in their Fearless Flyer the other day.  A goat cheddar (though I realized later it might not have actually been the one advertised — oh well).  So, had to check it out.  It’s a white cheddar, a bit soft, and lots of flavor.  It had a bit of the goat-cheese ‘flavor,’ but definitely a great option for those who are lactose intolerant can’t take cow’s milk cheese.  It paired very nicely with red wine, crackers and veggies.

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Veggie Hybrid

You can rarely say no to samples when you to into grocery stores!  So, when doing my weekly shopping at Trader Joe’s the other day they had these green leafy things out to lure you in.  Hmmm…let’s investigate.  They mentioned the name, sounded safe, took the bite, SOLD!  They were sampling Kale Sprouts.

IMG_2214It’s essentially a hybrid between delicious kale and amazing Brussels sprouts…how can you go wrong?  You’re getting great taste and all the (insert loads of info) health benefits in one bite!  The official rundown on them per the package:

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When pulled out of the bag, so cute!

IMG_2215Based on how they cooked them in the store (and tips on the back of the bag), I sauteed/steamed them.  I also added garlic, of course.  So, just put a bit of oil a pan, added garlic, tossed the kale sprouts in there for a bit, added some water then covered the pan and waited about 3 minutes.  Then just sprinkled some lemon juice over top and some S&P.  Voila!  Delicious little ‘things’ — don’t know what else to call them.  Give them a try if you see them in your local TJ’s.

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Bidwell

Recently found out about a newish (one year old) restaurant in DC at Union Market.  It’s a growing area and Union Market alone has tons of great little (food) shops.  The restaurant is Bidwell, and there is also a restaurant by the same chef in NYC. They have a garden on the rooftop and in the summer grow their own herbs and veggies — nice!

IMG_2189Our ‘table’ was great — right in front of the kitchen so we got to watch all the action take place.  It was a busy night, they didn’t expect it, so stuff was a bit under par, but that just meant we got to watch more of the fun take place.

It took awhile to get our cocktails because they had one bartender but I eventually received my City Sage.

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Quite unique.  I’m not a huge bourbon drinker but that sage intrigued me.  Was totally worth trying it!

For an appetizer, we tried some of the highly-kitchen-rated Brussel sprouts.  So nice and crisp and crunchy — give me more!

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We then had to try the kale salad, just super fresh, with pine nuts and a nice vinaigrette (that had anchovies in it to give it a perfect saltiness).

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To cap it off, went with the salmon served over cauliflower.  Again, very good — after I received it 3 times over.  They initially told me there was no dairy, but that white stuff at the very bottom is mostly dairy.  The second time I got it, the cauliflower should be outside right now (freezing), the third time, delicious!

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Overall, I will totally check this place out again.  The manager apologized for the slow service but the food was delicious.  If you’re in DC and can make it to Union Market, check this place out.

Some tahini here, some lemon there, and kale everywhere!

Had some friends over for dinner and was going on an Asian theme.  Was making some stir-fry like chicken dish and was looking for a salad to go with it.  I found a great Cooking Light recipe to pair with it based on a whole page of kale salad ideas they had.

I went with the Tahini-Lemon Dressing — quick, easy and refreshing!

Ingredients

1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 cups thinly sliced stemmed Lacinato kale
3/4 cup cooked quinoa (I did not include this)
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Prep:
Combine water, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, soy sauce, and pepper in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.
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Add kale (and cooked quinoa; toss) — I did this in a more normal salad way.  After making the dressing, I dressed the salad/kale.
IMG_2130[1]Delicious, I’m addicted.  I’ve made it twice since they’ve been over.  And the dressing keeps/holds well, so you can make a good amount and just keep it in the fridge.

Beet Me!

Found some lonely beets the other day that I had to use.  Didn’t find anything exciting while researching recipes, so decided to just throw some stuff together.

So, first the fun — taking those innocent beets and peeling them.

IMG_2102[1]And getting some beautifully colored hands in return (didn’t have any gloves).

IMG_2109[1]I hadn’t used my toaster oven for ages so decided to put it to good use since I didn’t have a ton of beets.  Warmed that up to about 425 and then tossed the beets with some olive oil, oregano, basil and a couple other spices.  Covered the toaster oven sheet in foil and put the (quartered) beets on there.

IMG_2110[1]Roasted them for about 30-40 minutes, until they were done enough for me.  When they were finished, I tossed them with some hearts of palm and pistachios.  So good!

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Ommegang

Was at a happy hour the other day and found a new (to me) brew on tap, so that of course meant I had to try it.  Ommegang was the wonderful producer, out of Cooperstown, NY (also the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame).  The beer proper was their Rare Vos Amber Ale.

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Very nice.  Matches the name by color, light hops, some herbs & fruit and nice & smooth.  ABV is 6.5%.  Totally worth checking it out if you’re an amber beer fan, or just a beer fan, in general!  Cheers.

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