The rich and toasty taste of our Besar blend makes an ideal complement for the pop of fresh cranberry in this exotic twist on a holiday classic. Candied ginger and dried apricots round out the fruity flavors, and the result is an intensely flavored chutney that you can serve well past Thanksgiving. You can try variations too- add an apple to mellow the flavors or some chopped walnuts for a little crunch. Any way you make it, the bright flavor of cranberries add a bit of sunshine to a winter feast. Go cranberries!
We’ve had a bumper crop of jalapeño peppers from the garden this year and that means POPPERS! Autumn is chile season, though Jalapeños are readily available at the grocery store year round. The flavor buzz from these was well worth the effort of seeding all those little suckers, but do wear gloves! The warm bite of jalapeño with smoky paprika in the cheese, and the Voodoo sprinkle on top of these poppers goes down well chased by a rich porter. Enjoy a whole platter by yourself while you watch the game like we did, or serve them up at your next fall fête.
The Autumn Equinox brings many things around the Pacific Northwest: our infamous drizzle begins anew, the few maples and oaks color aflame in between the miles of evergreen, the oysters are firm and plump again, garden kale stems grow thick and tough in preparation for wintering over, and, perhaps less famously but no less excitingly– my spice cabinet gets its quarterly makeover! Fall is when my cooking gets hearty, and I rely the heaviest of blended spices to warm my belly and my soul through the short, grey days, and the long, cold nights. It should come as little surprise to anyone who follows my blog-y musings that I delight in the unexpected, so here I’ll share a few of my top, must-have-on-hand blends that add cheer, color, and interest to my standby fall dishes.
The man who shares my life also shares with me an almost unnatural love of Harissa. At once familiar and unexpected, Harissa adds such depth and warmth to everything it touches. Instead of the traditional thyme and rosemary, I rub harissa on a chuck roast before sealing it in my dutch oven and slow-roasting it overnight. The juices from the meat mingle with the exotic spice, and makes the most sumptuous little pan sauce- after you’ve pulled your tender roast, just reduce the liquid by half, and add a pat of butter. Our cous cous with roasted vegetables and Harissa sauce is a year-round classic in my house, too.
My family is a bit “leftovers-challenged,” which is a nice way of saying that even the meals that get raves on night one, die slow deaths in the refrigerator if not re-imagined in to other things. When I make our Turkey Mole, the first night I’ll use the meat to make enchiladas or tacos, while the second, I’ll thin the sauce with chicken stock until it’s just thicker than broth consistency, and add chopped tomatoes, white beans, corn, and onion, and simmer for half an hour to make the world’s fastest and most delicious chili. Soul satisfying, and infinitely more interesting that your traditional “bowl of red.”
Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Hubbard, Kabocha, Spaghetti, Turban… Gardens and markets abound with scores of winter squashes — to say nothing of the dozens of pumpkin varieties — all delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and begging for a roasting. A dash of cinnamon, a grate of nutmeg- fine, I suppose, but who settles for “fine” when “amazing” is available? I stock Kashmiri Curry and Besar for just these occasions. Both have the toasty, sweet spices that bring out the inherent sweetness of the squash, but add so much more, whether you’re roasting whole to mash, or cubing and caramelizing your gourds.
The easiest side dish at this time of year is roasted root vegetables. Heat a sheet pan in a 450 degree oven, toss a sampling of carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and onions in a bit of oil, spread in an even layer on your hot pan, and roast until tender and golden. It may be natural to reach again for the rosemary, or even the Italian Herbs, but I prefer the savory crunch of Svaneti Seasoned Salt. This eastern European blend is so versatile that I find it pairs no matter how I’ve seasoned the main dish — European, north African, Middle Eastern, or Indian. I go through quarts of the stuff, I just can’t get enough.
I have to preface all of this by saying that I do not consider myself a baker. I usually find the excessive measuring and strict orders of operations stifling, and too math-like to be enjoyable to my free spirit. However, creatively spicing puts the joy back in. Pumpkin pies abound at every gathering this time of year, and though I love them, I do grow weary. I prefer this pie, adapted from a very traditional Southern recipe, using sweet potatoes and Sri Lankan curry. Deeply toasted and just a bit spicy, this warm, sweet blend has all but replaced Pumpkin Pie Spice in my kitchen, for sweet potato and pumpkin pies.
This Apple-Carrot pie has also become a standby in my kitchen. When I first posted it, great Seattle food blogger cook.can.read commented that “Cinnamon is the gateway drug. Chinese Five Spice is the destination.” I couldn’t agree more! Try using Chinese Five Spice anywhere your autumn baking calls for cinnamon- I’m talking pumpkin or zucchini breads, muffins- even toss it with sugar to coat the outside of your snickerdoodles!
So, if you’re open to any advice from your humble spice merchant, although nature may be hunkering down for the chilly months ahead, use this time to re-awaken your spice stash. Grab a few unfamiliar and exotic blends, and turn over those spices that have been languishing for six months or longer. The bright flavors of fresh spices will all but erase the dreary skies from your psyche. We’ve got an entire display dedicated to these blends and a few other fall staff favorites, (as well as a bunch of new books!) so drop by for a sniff and a chat!
Well, it happened. First she was a year old, then two, and then sometime in about the last light-second, my little baby grew a foot, got an opinion about backpacks and footwear, and I became aware that it’s somehow time to send her to kindergarten. Despite all the chaos of uniform-buying and restraining myself from purchasing my own personal 64-color box set of Crayolas, (why do they get all the fun?!) I am still most concerned about what we’ll EAT. For us, dinner has to be delicious to all of our palates (read: one five-year-old, one ex-chef, and one onion-crazy man), satisfying, and quick to prepare with “help” from a small set of hands. Ideally, leftovers could go in school lunches, too. That’s a tough bill to fill, but thankfully, we have some great books here in the shop to guide me down the right path.
The “Gastrokid Cookbook- Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-Food World,” is the holy grail for parents like me. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a kid who voluntarily eats things like kale and beets, but I get weary of the same old ways that she chooses to eat them. Enter, Gastrokid! Grilled Asparagus, Fennel, and Parmesan salad? Yes. Pork and Mushroom Ragu? Sign me up. Authors Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans ask parents to forget about hiding vegetables or tricking kids in to eating healthy food, and instead opt for recipes that are “straighforwardly delicious.” Constructed with the help of their four children, all of the recipes in this book boast small ingredient lists and relatively quick prep-time, with tips on how to integrate kids in to the meal making. I foresee many dog-eared and stained pages in our copy!
There’s few things that my kid- or most kids- love more than meatballs. They’re tender, easy to eat, delicious, and just plain fun. “The Meatball Cookbook, Great Balls of Fire,” features recipes from The Bowler Meatball Truck in London. Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Balls for Meatless Monday? Sold. Lamb, Rosemary, and Garlic Meatballs, and of course… Bacon Meatballs. The list of must-tries is seemingly endless. I love this book for the inventive ingredients, the awesome sauces and sides- way beyond spaghetti and marinara- but also because of how easy it is to get the kids in on the prep, and, wonder of wonders, make lots and freeze the rest for quick meals during the week.
“Real Snacks- Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats Without All The Junk,” is going to be my weekend sanity saver, I can already tell. Fall and winter drag on and on here in the Pacific Northwest, and we need plenty of indoor activities to wait out the drizzle. How much better when those activities become school lunch fillers? Practice coordination and math skills while measuring ingredients for your own animal crackers, Oreos, cheesy fish crackers, potato chips, and cheesy popcorn. The best part? (Okay, second-best… I did just say “cheesy fish crackers!”) All of the recipes include vegan and gluten-free options.
Finally, when I feel all alone in my struggles to encourage new foods without daily battles, while maintaining a little time for myself, I can fall back on the humor of local author Matthew Amster-Burton. His book, “Hungry Monkey, A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater,” chronicles his life and times- and culinary ups and downs- with daughter and precocious pint-sized critic, Iris. Dotted with dozens of delicious global recipes and tips, all Iris-approved, Amster-Burton’s writing is refreshing and fun- and helps to remind we over-stressed back-to-school parent types to take it easy.
Good luck in these next few weeks, parents! With the right resources, you can eliminate at least one battle- the food one- in the Back to School War. And, when it’s not even October yet and you already need a vacation, come on by for an exotic spice to whisk you to faraway lands after the minions are in bed. Together, we’ll make it!
Rule #1 of the Spice Merchant’s Camping Handbook: Just because you are sleeping on the ground, doesn’t mean you have to eat franks and beans! We took Chimichurri sauce camping this weekend, and the results were fantastic! We had Chimichurri flank steak for dinner plated up with Voodoo grilled zucchini and followed by Dutch Oven peach and huckleberry cobbler, cause that’s how we roll. (For great information on using a Dutch Oven click here.)
Classic Argentinian Chimichurri sauce combines the almost apricot flavor of the Aji Mirasols, the peppery sweetness of guajillo and New Mexico chiles, the earthiness of oregano, cumin and bay (all from our Chimichurri Spice) with fresh herbs, citrus, plenty of garlic, vinegar and oil, to create a sauce that you’ll find excuse after excuse to use. It couldn’t be easier to make– just throw the sauce ingredients together in a blender, and voila! You’re headed down, down to flavor town.
When used as a marinade, the grill fire tames the acidity of the vinegar, enhances the sweetness of the citrus, and intensifies the heat of the chiles. Another drizzle of sauce to finish leaves any cut of meat, beef especially, perfectly balanced in that sweet-tart-spicy-meaty union that screams “summer food” the world over. The flavors of Chimichurri sauce bloom over time, melding together and becoming even more cohesive, so make enough to keep in the fridge for about a month. Insider tip: A “month’s worth” is double what you think it is.
I love making gravlax because it is such a versatile dish. The cured salmon slices can be used to make elegant hors d’oeuvres, they can be served with a few simple sides to make a nice cool lunch on a hot day, the scraps are great in an omelette for breakfast, and being “cured-but-not-cooked” makes gravlax perfect for coaxing a timid diner into trying more adventurous raw dishes. Most recipes call for fresh dill, and while that works just fine, using dill pollen creates explosive “pops” of dill flavor that are hard to imitate with other methods. Using some beet powder in the sugar mixture adds a beautiful reddish hue to the outer crust of the filet, and the transition from bright salmon orange to deep beet red allows a creative cook to arrange the slices into stunning displays. Rinsing the cure off after 24 hours instead of 48 or 72 leaves the fish raw toward the skin side. This can create the greatest contrast in colors, but the trade off is the fish won’t keep nearly as long as if it’s fully cured, and, of course, the usual caveats about consuming raw seafood apply. So this summer when you come home from your fishing trips, try a salmon recipe that just can’t be beet!