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Spices, Recipes & A Last-Minute Checklist

24 November 2016  
Spices add a world of flavor to any dish.

The big feast is tomorrow, and you’ve purchased everything you need. Or have you? Here are a couple of things you might have overlooked.

Storage 

Ziplock bags are great for storing food that is left over after a big event. If you get the 2½ gallon size, it will even be large enough for your turkey carcass.

Don’t forget foil and plastic wrap!

You may also want to pick up some of those disposable plastic containers with lids. They’re perfect for sending food home with guests, too.

Speaking of disposable… Do you have paper plates, napkins, plastic cups? You can buy small plastic cups with lids which are perfect for creating fruit cups, parfaits and puddings for small children. 

Baking Supplies

For savory items, do you have onions and garlic? (Keeping pre-minced garlic on hand is a nice kitchen hack.)

Check your flour and make sure it doesn’t have weevils. (Here’s how to prevent weevils in advance.)

Yeast can go bad if not used in a timely manner. Be sure to proof it before baking, the last thing you want is to have to run to the store to purchase yeast.

Fresh and dried fruit, nuts

Fresh herbs and spices: Fresh is always more delicious. You can get fresh herbs such as dill, cilantro. But did you know you can also purchase fresh spices!?

Spices: So Many Uses

Spices—The very word conjures up visions of camels laden with fragrant bags moving slowly across the desert. Tastes range from fiery peppers to subtle mace, with everything in between.  They were highly prized in the ancient world for their ability to mask the off flavors prevalent  before refrigeration was common, and just for the wonderful aromas and flavors they bring.  Today we have access to most of the spices available worldwide, although some require a little extra effort. 

Do you remember the fad for “simmer pots”? Don’t see many of those anymore, but we can still use the principle to bring a variety of wonderful odors to our homes.  If you have a small saucepan, put in 2 cups of water and 3 or 4 of your favorite whole spices, a cinnamon stick, a few cloves, a few allspice, a couple cardamom pods, some dried ginger. You can even add apple cores, orange and lemon peel if you like. Put it on your back burner on very low heat, and wait for the aroma to develop. To perfume other parts of your house simply carry the pan around a little. In Arizona this has the additional benefit of putting a little much needed humidity into the air.

But, you may say, I don’t have most of those things.  You can use powdered spices in small quantities but they won’t last as long and will make more of a mess.  Avoid supermarket spices if at all possible. You have no idea how old they are, they are usually sold in largish containers, and they are way expensive. Instead look for markets with bulk spices. Sprouts is the main source in the quad cities. There are sometimes specialty shops such as The Spice Traveler on the square in Prescott (same building as Firehouse Coffee.) Of course if you think far enough ahead there is always on line. Penzy’s has a wide variety, fast shipping, and they sell most items in small amounts. Savory Spice also carries a complete line, and you can save money by buying in plastic bags instead of bottles. Just be sure to transfer ground spices to an airtight bottle as soon as possible. Plastic bags don’t seem to keep out air as well as most bottles. 

For many spices it’s better to buy whole spices and grind your own as you need them. An electric coffee grinder does a great job. Just don’t try to use it for coffee anymore unless you like coffee flavored with cardamom (mmm) or cumin (not for me.)  Also be aware that if your grinder has any plastic which is exposed during grinding, don’t grind whole cloves.  The powder will invade the plastic, can’t be washed off, and will eventually cause the plastic to deteriorate and break. If grinding you will need a small, fine sieve. You can shake the sieve over a paper plate, which makes it easy to empty into a jar by simply bending it into an impromptu funnel.

Nutmeg is different. Because of the size and hardness of the whole nutmeg, small grinders don’t work well. But luckily a nutmeg grater is easy to find, and many come with a little door at the top forming the perfect storage container for your nutmeg.  Nutmeg loses its flavor very quickly after grinding so only grate as much as you need for each use. Save the little pieces for your simmer pot!

Ground spices in general loose their flavor much faster than whole.  Most should be discarded around 6 months after grinding. Your nose knows. If the spice doesn’t have a strong smell, it won’t have a very strong flavor either. It might be good when you first start grinding your own to be a little cautious in measuring for your recipes. You might not need as much!

Here are some delicious spicy recipes.  Enjoy some this holiday season. 

Simple Potato And Green Bean Curry

Most currys require either a pre-made curry powder, or a whole boatload of different spices.  This is a “dry” curry. It is vegan, tasty, and a complete meal if served with spiced yogurt and soft whole wheat tortillas.

Ingredients 

About 2 pounds russet potatoes, small is better than large

About 1 pound fresh or frozen green beans

1 large onion, cut in half, then sliced very thin

2 to 3 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped very small

1 Tablespoon turmeric powder

1 tsp Chili powder to taste (New Mexico variety if available)

1 Tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1Teaspoon coriander, powdered

1 cup cilantro leaves, not packed down, divided

4 Tablespoons butter, divided

Wash potatoes, put them in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until done. If you stick a fork in one and try to lift it out of the water it should slide off the fork back into the water.  Drain the pot and set the potatoes aside to cool.

Meanwhile process the green beans. If using fresh, wash, cut off the ends and any bad spots, and cut into about 2 inch pieces. Heat sufficientt water to cover in a pot. When water is boiling add beans. Cook just until crisp tender. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet melt 2 Tablespoons butter. Add sliced onions. Cook over very low heat until soft and golden. Add ground coriander seed and whole cumin seed. Cook on low heat until fragrant. Add garlic only for the last minute or so of cooking.

Peel the potatoes, they should still be warm. Cut into pieces about 2 inches or a little smaller. Add the rest of the butter to the skillet and let melt.  Add tumeric and chili powder. Heat should be low medium. Place the potatoes and green beans in the the skillet with onion mixture. Stir gently until the potatoes have absorbed the butter.  Add half the cilantro leaves stir a little and turn off heat.

You can serve this with plain or spiced yogurt. See recipe below.

Spiced Yogurt

1 container 8 oz plain yogurt. (Only plain will do. if you have time to let some of the whey drain out, place the yogurt in a colander lined with cheesecloth and let it drip.)
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh green hot pepper (try Jalapeño or any other that suits your taste)
1/2 teaspoon finely ground coriander seed
1/2 cup cilantro (aka: coriander leaves)
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded and diced (optional) (you can get away without peeling but you must seed, otherwise it will make the yogurt too sloppy, it also helps if you sprinkle on
a little salt and let drain while preparing the rest of the meal.)
1/4 cup finely diced english or miniature cucumber, not peeled (optional)

If you use more than 8 oz of yogurt, increase the spices accordingly. Be sure to taste before adding more. It’s not always a simple matter of doubling.

Mix together yogurt, ginger, black pepper, and coriander seed. Let sit for at least 1 hr at room temperature. Add coriander leaves (cilantro) and vegetables just before serving.

Hermit Cookies

Hermit cookies are nice and spicy!

Use any combination of dried and/or candied fruits that appeals to you. A favorite is dates, dried cherries (tart or sweet), apricots and a ablespoon of dried candied ginger. Add some finely diced candied lemon peel for a little more kick 

Hermits are usually made as drop cookies, either large or small. They can also be made as bar cookies, just press the dough into a greased or foil lined 8x8 or 9x9 pan. Wait till they are cool before taking them out of the pan and cutting them.

If you don’t want to cook them all right away, drop some dough close together on a parchment covered cookie sheet and put in the freezer. For uniform size cookies roll into a ball and slightly flatten each. This is easier if you put the dough in the refrigerator for a while first. If the dough pieces are frozen, simply repackage them in freezer bags and store until needed.  This method works for most butter rich drop type cookies.

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1/8 cup (2 Tablespoons) honey (or use 2 Tablespoons of molasses for a darker spicier cookie)
1/2 teaspoon brandy (or lemon juice)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup golden raisins (halved or chopped)
1 cup other chopped candied or dried fruit—cherries, citron, apricots, citrus peel, pineapple etc.
1 Tablespoon finely chopped sugared ginger (optional.)
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, macadamias)

Place all dried and/or candied fruits except dates in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, add a couple Tablespoons of brandy. Let sit 10 minutes, then drain.

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.

In a small bowl combine honey, lemon juice or brandy, and vanilla. You may find it easier to mix if you heat it a few seconds in a microwave

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and all spices.

Add honey mixture and flour mixture alternately to butter mixture, stirring after each addition.  Fold in nuts and fruits.

Drop by teaspoonfuls (or other size of your choice) onto parchment covered or greased cookie sheets.

Bake in 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes (for small cookies.) Cookies should be set and just brown around the edges. Do not over bake. Let cool a minute or two on cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack for completer cooling.

These cookies keep very well in an airtight container.

Variations

Chocolate Hermits, substitute 1/4 cup cocoa powder for 1/4 cup flour.  May substitute 1/4 cup chocolate chips for 1/4 cup fruit.

Coconut Hermits, substitute 1/2 to 1 cup shredded coconut for an equal amount of nuts.

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Cindy LaMaster