Archive for the ‘Herbs and Spices’ Category

Coffee grinder…spice grinder!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

coffee grinder

There are few tools and appliances that are worthy of sitting on my counter full-time.  My food processor is one of them and my coffee grinder is the other.  But I don’t use the grinder for coffee.  Of course you can use the grinder for coffee but mine is specifically designated for grinding whole spices.

I don’t think I would ever have the patience to use a mortar and pestle.  The one time I tried, it nearly killed me.  Way too much effort, it doesn’t work all that well and what a mess!  A $20 grinder is a much better solution.

Quite often a recipe will call for toasted whole seeds which should be cooled then ground.  That’s where the grinder comes in.  Just place the amount you need in the grinder, recap the lid and whirl till it gets to the fineness you want.  And that’s the other thing.  You can control the coarseness or fineness of the spice.  So many times I want cracked black pepper so I just pulse it one or two times and there it is.  I do use my peppermill for small amounts of black pepper but anything over ½ teaspoon needs to come from the grinder.

I have used the grinder for whole peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander, fennel (my favorite), anise and even cinnamon sticks.  I’m sure it could tackle others as well. Many East Indian dishes recommend toasting those spices first, and then grinding.  That is all possible in the coffee grinder (after they have cooled). 

In my experience the coffee grinder grinds most evenly if it’s not overloaded (up to ¼ cup).   Wipe it clean with a dry paper towel between changes and it that’s too much work just turn it upside down and gently tap it on the counter (that’s what I do).

If you enjoy barbequing I think it would be fun to create a signature spice blend for your meats using toasted seeds and passing them through the grinder.  That seasoning mixed with a little oil and fresh garlic would be an awesome rub for grilled items.

A bit about saffron

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011


There’s a lot of mystique surrounding saffron.  After all, it is the most expensive spice on the market today. Is it overrated or is it worth the price?

To appreciate why saffron is so expensive it helps to know where it comes from and how it’s harvested. Saffron is the yellow-orange stigma of a small purple crocus plant.  Each plant produces three stigma and those colorful threads have to be carefully hand-picked and dried. You need a quarter of a million threads to make a pound.  The last time I bought saffron was for the restaurant. I was getting a good price from one of the food purveyors in town and getting a very top grade of saffron.   I paid about 50 dollars for one ounce which should last most of my life.

If you’ve ever cooked with saffron you may have mixed feelings about it.  It’s very difficult to measure quantities and all too often we use too much and get mixed results. Saffron has a somewhat medicinal, woody taste, quite unique and different from any other spice. But cooks aren’t using saffron only for its taste but for its color as well.  It creates a striking, deep yellow that we don’t see too often in our foods. Many cooks use turmeric to substitute the color of saffron.  It’s also yellow and more affordable than saffron but lacks the brightness.

If you don’t see saffron on the shelf at the market it may be kept under lock and key or you may have to go to a specialty gourmet shop.  If you’d like to get acquainted with saffron, its taste and its strength, start by adding just a few threads to what you’re cooking.  Rice and mashed potatoes are a good starting place as well as some soups and sauces.  Add a few strands to the cooking liquid of rice or potatoes.  Use very little at first and gradually increase the amount as you get accustomed to it. Once you have worked with it a bit you will be better able to gauge amounts and strength and then you can decide if saffron is worth its price.

How do baking powder and baking soda differ?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

baking powder and soda

What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?  And when should you use one over the other in your baking?

Both baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavening agents that react with other ingredients to create carbon dioxide.  That reaction causes things to expand and consequently you get a rise in the food.  But they have some fundamental differences.  It’s important to know that baking soda is an alkali and baking powder an acid and here’s why.

When you bake with ingredients like buttermilk, yogurt, molasses and cocoa, you may have noticed that most recipes will call for baking soda as the leavening agent.  At least the recipe should call for soda as part of the leavening.  And that is because buttermilk, yogurt, molasses and cocoa are foods already high in acid.  In order to counteract those acidic foods they need a neutralizer and since soda is an alkali it helps neutralize the acid in those foods.

If you were to use only baking powder with those particular foods the end result would produce an overly acidic taste.  So when a recipe calls for an ingredient high in acid make sure at least a portion of your leavening is soda.  The other portion can be baking powder.  Look over some of your recipes.  If a baking recipe calls for only baking powder it shouldn’t call for any of those acidic ingredients.

Personally I do not care for the taste of a baked product when it only calls for baking soda.  The soda, when used alone, has a distinct taste.  If a recipe called for two teaspoons of soda I would use only one teaspoon of soda and replace the other teaspoon with one teaspoon of baking powder.  That minimizes the taste of soda alone.

Chipotle mayonnaise

Thursday, May 27th, 2010


If you are a connoisseur of southwestern flavors you have most likely discovered chipotle peppers and if you haven’t and if you like some heat and smoky goodness this is something for you.  Think of all the places you use mayonnaise: as a sandwich spread, as a salad dressing or as an ingredient in salad dressing, making coleslaw, mixed with potato salad, dipping artichokes and french fries….anything that you can do with mayonnaise you can do even better with chipotle mayo.


Chipotles are jalapenos that have been smoke-dried.  They are then ususally packaged in this smaller red and white can with something called adobo sauce.  The sauce keeps them moist and pliable. 


It is simply a combination of mayonnaise and chipotle peppers.  Even though it’s just my husband and I at the house when I make a batch of this mayonnaise I always make and use a full jar of mayonnaise because I know we’ll go through it in no time. 


For one quart of mayonnaise (which is now only 30 ounces, but oh well) use about 1/2 can of peppers.  BTW the peppers can be found on the aisle with all the Hispanic foods.  Transfer any unused peppers to an airtight container and keep in the fridge.  They will last for several months giving you ample opportunity to use them (see note at the end regarding other uses for the peppers). 


Transfer the mayo to a mixing bowl and take the peppers to a cutting board. 


Mince them finely with or without seeds, depending on how hot you like it.  Frankly, I think seeding the peppers is a little too much trouble plus you get those dangerously hot oils on your fingers which is nothing but trouble.  That ratio – one jar of mayo to 1/2 can of peppers provides subtantial heat.  Not a killer heat but certainly solid.  You might want to use less the first time around just to be on the safe side.  You can always add more.


Combine the two ingredients and then when mixed spoon it all back into the mayonnaise jar.  Keep it in the fridge and use as often as possible.  When you are barbequing the mayonnaise serves as a great basting oil as well.  So many uses….

Aside from the mayonnaise the chipotles can be added to all kinds of foods: chili, mashed potatoes, enchilada sauce, guacamole, marinades, salad dressings, soups, breads…. If you want just a teaspoon or two of heat then use only the adobo sauce as your heating element.  There’s lots of versatility in this little can.

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