Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Search of Spice

The dregs of winter are upon us, friends. As with every season, there's a bright side and a Deathstar side and while winter seems more frequently placed in the stormtrooper's camp, I'm not about to write it off so simply. We're just digging out of the biggest blizzard in at least a decade and just when you think that aforementioned light might be buried the deepest, you remember it is snow after all. My neighbors seem to shine the brightest when reflected off all that white.

Everyone's smiling like third graders with their rusty shovels and their shiny stories. Digging each other's cars out, complimenting canine footwear, making snow creatures. We're at our best when winter's at its worst. This is where we secure the bragging rights that take us through the rest of the year and we'll all be tuckered if New York is going to hijack our rightful, wintered glory.

It's not all ponies though, there's the cabin fever, as well. Cabin fever and its deeply disturbed cousin complacency. Get off my couch, complacency. For the last few weeks it hasn't mattered as much because I've been running around the country so the couch and its sleepy occupant were left to their own devices while I was in Denver and Nashville (oh be still my heart after all this time). I head to DC on Monday and Montreal next week and Orlando a week after that. I'm taking in a lot of views like this one (on descent toward Denver).

The truth is, I am so much happier when I'm speeding around trying new things and places and people. That need not be relegated to when I'm on the road- is anyone else prone to constantly finding greener grass in other pastures? Because I spent an evening at No. 308 in East Nashville and had myself convinced for days that there wasn't anything like it in Chicago. And while that might be true for Robert's, I can get my Mumford & Sons/Jackson 5 dance party on at the Whistler (or anywhere else in Logan Square) not 10 minutes from my wicked front door. It's not the same but it's a similar breed of smoke. Now I'm rambling (HA- you probably called that 10 minutes ago). Blame it on the Deathstar but I need to be spicing things up on the home front a little more and I am nothing if not overly literal.

On a snowy Sunday in Old Town after many lists and recommendations, I bit the bullet and totally refreshed my spice rack at The Spice House. I had a coupon for 15% off and was already partial to their simple labels and careful quality. Most of my spices had been traveling with me since my four year stint in Oxford, Ohio. Ground spices are only meant to last for a year according to Cooks Illustrated so I was pushing my luck seven times over. Felt really good to just toss everything and start fresh and for less than $70, I managed the following:
  • Garam Masala Curry Mixture
  • Ground Ginger (China Number One)
  • Aleppo Pepper, Crushed
  • Ground Cumin
  • Ground Organic Turmeric
  • Whole Coriander Seeds
  • Granulated Garlic Powder
  • Saffron, Spanish Superior Grade (1 gram- a little goes a long way)
  • Spanish Smoked Paprika, Hot
  • Hungarian Sweet Paprika
  • Curry Powder, Sweet
  • Organic Saigon "Cassia" Cinnamon
  • Mustard Powder, Medium Heat
  • Ground Cloves
  • Whole Fennel Seeds
  • Whole Black Tellicherry Peppercorns
  • Dried California Parsley Flakes
  • Organic Dill Weed
  • Ukrainian Village Seasoning
Now what to do with all this bounty? A few ideas.

My favorite snack/salad topper. Chickpeas rinsed, patted dry and roasted for 12 minutes at 400 in a very light coating of extra virgin olive oil. Once they're out, spice as you like but my personal blend is Aleppo pepper, sweet paprika, curry powder, turmeric and Maldon smoked salt (which I put on everything these days). If you line your baking sheet with foil, cleanup is a breeze. These are the best.

Another new neighborhood favorite- The Butcher & Larder - has opened its doors and relieved us of what was once a neighborhood desert for sustainable, ethically raised meat. I took home two of their house sausages, broke them up then sauteed with tomatoes, Aleppo pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley and some sage I found clinging to our plant in the garden (very hearty plant, noted). Served with a pillow of fresh Pecorino atop roasted spaghetti squash.

My other B&L purchase- a lean shoulder cut of beef. Covered in Ukrainian Village Seasoning, seared on all sides in a cast iron pan then popped in the oven till medium rare (about 7 minutes at 425).

And finally, an actual recipe. Because this is about to change your roasted sweet potatoes and then it will move on to charm everything else it touches like fat slices of toasted Italian bread or root vegetables. Based on a recipe of Paula Wolfert's. I got really lucky and discovered it just in time for dinner with my friend Janine, the brains/beauty behind Rustic Kitchen.

Moroccan Spiced Butter

½ teaspoon of Maldon smoked salt
4 spring onions, white part only, chopped (reserve the green bits for something lovely)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
½ teaspoon of hot chili powder
Small handful of parsley, chopped

½ cup of unsalted butter, room temperature

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the sea salt, spring onions, garlic and spices to make a paste. Add the parsley, and pound until quite smooth. Chop the butter roughly and pound it into the paste until well combined. Form the butter into a log, wrap tightly, and place in the fridge to rest till it gets its bearings.


Jenn Sutherland said...

Beautiful post, Jessie! You are so right that we are at our best when we're bravely facing this weather together. I've been bouncing around with a smile on my face all week - I love a good snow storm...what's not to love in a city where you really don't need a car?!

Bravo on getting the spice rack refreshed - you picked up many of my favorites! Dust some garam masala, salt & smoked paprika on some sweet potato wedges, toss with olive oil and roast at 400F for 40 minutes, turning halfway through, and you'll have one of my favorite winter dinner side dishes. Can't get enough of sweet potatoes this time of year. And your spiced butter sounds divine!

maren said...

Your food looks so fab! I'm not familiar with Aleppo pepper. What does it taste like? Those chickpeas sound fabulous! I'll have to try!

TKTC said...

Jenn- thank you so much, again. That made my day. And thank you for the spice advice too, glad you noticed that I took it! Will be following suit with the sweet potato wedges...

Maren- Thank you!! Aleppo pepper is a less intense red pepper that is slightly fruity. I use it instead of Cayenne when I want a little heat but not a lot.

Kelly said...

That all looks fantastic dear. I too am in love with the Chicago Spice House, though I still have lots of carryover Penzey's love. When I was there I purchased everything in the molecular gastronomy section (they had it in Evanston, not sure about the old town location) though I have yet to use it all.