How To Spice Things Up When Cooking

Large collection of metal bowls full of herbs and spices -How To Spice Things Up When CookingHerbs and spices are used to enhance the flavor of food, either it be for cooking spaghetti carbonara or baking an apple pie.

An herb or spice can be a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or leafy part of the plant. They are principally used for flavoring food among other uses. They can be used fresh or dried.

Herbs And Spices Through The Ages

It is said that by the Middle Ages, the most common spices and herbs being traded and used were black pepper, cinnamon (including the alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Herbs and spices are useful for many things, among others are medicinal uses, cosmetic or perfume production uses, and of course they are used add flavor to a meal.

By 1000 B.C. medical systems based upon herbs were found in China, Korea, and India. Also the Egyptians used herbs and spices for their embalming practices and their demand for exotic herbs and spices helped stimulate world trade.

Extracting A Spices Flavor

The flavor of an herb or spice is derived by exposing the volatile oil compounds of the seed or leafy part, that oxidize or evaporate when it comes in contact with air.

As an example, fresh ginger is usually more flavorful than its dried form, but fresh spices are more expensive and have a much shorter shelf life.

Flavor of herbs and spices can be maximized by storing them whole and grinding when needed, as grinding greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation.

If you decide to use dried spices, be sure to use them within 6 to 8 months of purchase. Ground spices are better stored away from light, as it also increases the oxidation of the volatile oils.

metal bowls filled with spices

How To Use Herbs And Spices

When using herbs and spices you’ll want to pick flavors that complement each other, such as the spice mix known as “pumpkin pie spice.” The ratios of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg add great flavor to the pie, and each spice doesn’t over power the other.

The key or rule of thumb to spicing things up is that less is more. Avoid adding too much all at once. Instead, add a little at a time and add more to taste.

A good example of over spicing and unable to fix it, is when you use oregano or cloves. Their volital oils are great for flavoring culinary and pastry dishes, but they are strong in flavor, and only require a small amount.

When using spices to flavor your meat or vegetables, use only 3 different types at a time. You can even use herbs and spice to replace salt. Choose your spice or spices, add a little lemon juice and unsalted butter.

Which spices pair well together for the best culinary dishes you can make? Let’s examine some of the most commonly used spices and which spices pair well with them.

National Maple Syrup Day

National Maple Syrup Day - Baked French Toast and Cream Cheese Casserole

Today December 17 is the perfect day to have pancakes or french toast topped off with some delicious, real maple syrup to celebrate National Maple Syrup Day.

Maple syrup is from the xylem sap of red maple or black maple trees.

Two French Toast recipes topped with Real Maple Syrup

In the spring, the maple trees are tapped by boring holes into the trunks of the trees, and the sap is collected in buckets.

After the sap is collected, it is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving only the concentrated syrup.

European settlers to the north american continent learned the process from the indigenous people, or native Americans. Up until the 1930’s the United States led the world in the production of maple syrup, but now Canada is collecting sap to produce maple syrupthe world’s largest maple syrup producer, were as Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States.

If you didn’t know, a production farm turning sap into maple syrup is known as a sugar-bush, sugar-wood or sugar-shack.

Wow too much talk about maple syrup is making our mouths water, so let’s get to our featured recipe, which is a twist on french toast, French Toast Cream Cheese Casserole, and here is what you will need.

French Toast Cream Cheese Casserole

8 eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

National Maple Syrup Day - Baked French Toast and Cream Cheese Casserole1 stick or 1/2 cup salted butter, melted

1 loaf of real sourdough bread, cubed into bite-size pieces (optional to use a loaf of French bread)

8 ounces cream cheese, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large mixing bowl, cream eggs and sugar, then add whole milk, cream, maple syrup, and vanilla. Mix together until well combined.

Next add the melted butter to the egg mixture and mix together thoroughly.

Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle butter with coconut sugar or brown sugar for some added sweetness (optional). Next, spread half of the bread over the bottom of the dish then sprinkle half of the cream cheese chunks over the top. Add the rest of the bread then sprinkle with the remaining cream cheese.

Pour the egg mixture evenly over the top of the pan making sure to get the entire bread wet.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cinnamon. You can use a mesh strainer to spread the cinnamon more evenly.

Cover the dish with foil.

Bake for 35 minutes then remove the foil from the pan and bake for another 10 minutes.

Let cool for a few minutes then serve with real maple syrup.

Check out our other French Toast recipes with real maple syrup…

French Toast Fruit Roll Ups

Breaded Coconut French Toast

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Curried Apple Pumpkin Soup

 

Curried Apple-Pumpkin Soup

We found this recipe Curried Apple Pumpkin Soup, in the October coconut sugar2012 issue of Prevention. This soup is a gluten-free and vegan food.

Pumpkin is full of cancer fighting properties, which includes beta-carotene (read more here: Pumpkins Ability to Fight Cancer). For better absorption of this phytonutrient, pair it with a healthy fat, which we did using coconut oil.

Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are natural occurring chemicals that help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats. In turn when you eat the plant food and its phytonutrient, you get that protection as well.

Okay, enough of the science, and on to the featured recipe. Oh, by the way, you will note we used coconut sugar in the recipe.

Coconut sugar is a perfect 1:1 replacement for refined sugar. It has naturally occurring nutrients like magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and 8 vitamins and amino acids.

Here’s a FACT: The coconut palm tree produces up to 75% more sugar per acre than cane sugar and uses only 20% of the resources.

Coconut sugar will not spike your blood sugar, making it a great food for diabetics.  Coconut sugar is a vegan food and great for gluten-free cooking and baking.

ingredients for Curried Apple Pumpkin SoupOn to the featured recipe, and here is what you will need:

1 large Granny Smith apple

1 tbsp. coconut oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 tbsp. red curry powder

2 tbsp. ginger, fresh, grated or chopped

1 tsp. garlic, minced

2 cups fresh water

2 cups pureed pumpkin

Himalayan salt and coconut sugar to taste

Preparing Instructions

Melt oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Next add chopped apple and cook until golden in color. Next add onion, curry powder, ginger, and garlic. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring until soften and when you are able to smell the onion and garlic.

Stir in the water and pumpkin (add more water if too thick). Simmer stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Season the soup with Himalayan salt and coconut sugar, if desired. Serves 4 soup bowls.

We found the soup has a warmer flavor of ginger when aloud to set for a day or two. Enjoy!!

 

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Wheat Free Alternative Grains and Other Plant Sources

Wheat Free Alternative GrainsWhole grains are a big part of a healthy diet. They make up a large part of the bottom of the food pyramid. But it’s not just whole wheat and brown rice. As you take on the wheat-free lifestyle, you soon discover the wide variety of grains to choose from.

In recent years there has been a frenzy of interest around quinoa. It’s just one of the grain alternatives you can choose from. All of these are healthy swaps in your favorite breads, pastas and side dishes.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah)

This is a nutritious super-food that’s actually a nut from Peru. Quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor. It cooks faster than rice, in about 15 minutes. It’s a versatile ingredient that’s good as a hot cereal or ground into flour. It adds moisture to baked goods. Try it in a dish like Autumn Root Vegetables with Quinoa.

Flax seed

This seed has a nutty flavor. They need to be ground to get the most nutritional fiber value, although they can be toasted whole first than Flax seed an alternative to wheat flourground for later use. Add them ground to add to salads, cereal and bread dough.

Liquid flaxseed oil is also available. Try this recipe Buttermilk Marinated Chicken Breast with Flax and Wheat Germ Breading.

Buckwheat

This alternative to wheat is not a member of the wheat family and it isn’t technically a grain, but it’s often used in place of grains. It’s a good alternative for those with wheat allergies. Diets rich in buckwheat seem to promote lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Buckwheat is sold both roasted and raw and used whole, cracked or ground into flour. Use as a flour in pancakes with this recipe Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes 

Amaranth plant and seeds

Photo Credit: news.nationalgeographic.com/

Amaranth

The amaranth is a broad-leafed, bushy plant that grows about six feet tall. It has brightly colored flowers that can contain up to 60,000 seeds. The seeds are nutritious and are ground into flour. Not a true grain, amaranth is often called a pseudo-cereal. Amaranth belongs to the plant family that includes beets, chard, spinach, and some weeds. Try these recipes made with Amaranth flour, like Amaranth Pasta , Amaranth Pancakes, or Traditional Amaranth Atole Recipe.

 

Rice flour

Rice flour is used to enhance other grains. Available in both white and whole grain brown, rice flour is finer than wheat.

Millet

Millet is a drought-tolerant grass. The seeds can be used as a sorghum substitute. It can be used like rice, served creamy or fluffy.

Oats

Oat flour alternative to wheat flour

Oat Flour

Oat flour is another great alternative to wheat. When using oats you should select gluten-free oats. These are specially-selected varieties that have eliminated the cross-contamination with wheat, barley and rye.

There is also Almond flour and Coconut flour that are becoming the top of the list alternatives to using wheat.

These are the most popular whole grains or other plant sources you can find to substitute for wheat. Each has its own unique flavor and can be used in many different ways to add variety to your cooking and baking.

 

 

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Healthy White Flour Substitutes

Healthy White Flour Substitutes

These days everyone, will almost everyone is concerned about their diet. One way to improve your diet is by pinpointing appropriate healthy substitutions to use in foods you love.

One of the biggest misconceptions in our society’s diet is based upon the nutrition values of white flour. It is used in all types of recipes, breads, baking and gravies.

White flour is high in carbs, has less nutrition than whole grain products, very fattening and harder for the body to digest. By using healthier flour choices you can avoid this unnecessary mess you are inadvertently creating for your body to handle.

The following are a few substitutions to white flour you can consider next time you are baking or cooking!

Whole Wheat Flour

Whole wheat flour is a healthier choice than white and can be used as a substitute in baking and cooking.

Check out our recipe using whole wheat flour and oat bran: Pumpkin Muffins with Pecan Streusel Topping 

Almond Flour

blanched almond flour This is a great option for people following a gluten-free diet. Its density and ability to rise can make it a perfect substitute for most baked goods. It also has a fraction of carbohydrates as compared to white flour.

Ideal for pancakes, muffins or cookies, this substitute could be what you have always been looking for in regards to a healthy alternative to white flour.

The natural almond flavor helps to add sweetness to your recipe. This is something unique to almond flour and a great food to keep in your pantry. Furthermore, if used in large quantity the flour can act like a cake batter and create a light cake like consistency for you to work with.

Check out our recipe that uses almond flour: Orange Almond Cake

Barley Flour           

This type of flour is an exceptional food for use in baking breads. Barley is rich in fiber and zinc and can be mixed together with other flours. Barley is also ideal for thickening gravies and sweetening sauces.

A little added trick is to lightly toast the flour before use to accentuate the hidden flavors that barley flour secretly has. Also, if used in the right way, it can add a little sweetness to your recipe as well.

Keep in mind that barley flour is not gluten free, but still makes a great wheat flour substitute for baking.

The following white flour substitutes are gluten free flours.

Buckwheat Flour

Despite the name, buckwheat flour is gluten free and wheat free. This makes it a good option for whole wheat substitutes. The thing that you need to watch out for in this product is its dense qualities and strong flavor.

This means it is great for use in products, such as, pancakes or pastas but you cannot use it as a thickener for a sauce because it will be too rich. Its earthy flavor can be good at times, but, can also overpower any good recipe, so try combining buckwheat with white flour in recipes.

Chickpea (Garbanzo) Flour

Chickpea (Garbanzo) Flour

Image Credit: Nuts.com

When it comes to gluten free substitutes, this is a common go to for vegans and those with Celiac disease.

This flour is high in protein and calcium which allows you to balance out your diet. Its uses are abundant, including, for crepes, flat bread or hummus.

Check out our recipe that uses Garbanzo flour: Gluten Free Zucchini Cranberry Bread

Oat Flour

This is probably your classic and most dependable option when it comes to healthy flour substitutes. Oat flour is all natural and helps to create a whole what product.

Depending on which company processes it, this product can be gluten-free or low-gluten. It is optimal for use in cookie and other baked goods recipes.

In summary, these are all great options for you to use as a substitute to white flour but it is important to remember that gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.

Unless you have Celiac disease, your body can naturally handle a bit of gluten on a regular basis, but, you should focus on the whole wheat and nutritional aspects of your diet if you are going to begin substituting for white flour. Remember, the key to being healthy is balance.

 

What Others are Saying About White Flour Substitutes:

Orange Almond Cake

Orange Almond Cake

Different uses for the citric peel like oranges or lemons are:

Oranges are candied.

Citrus fruit zest is added to flavor confectionery icing.

Lemon zest is used in cheese cakes.

Here is what you will need to prepare the Orange Almond Cake:

ingredients for Almond Orange Cake

For the cake
1 ½ cups dry roast almond pieces, processed to flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
½ cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

Candied Oranges and Syrup
1 ½ cup Sugar
¾ cup water
2 or 3 medium oranges, thinly sliced

We will start with candying the oranges first. Cut the ends off both sides of the orange and cut into thin slices.

Heat the sugar and water in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add oranges and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until candied.  Set aside.

Candied oranges for the Orange Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 8 inch cake pan or spring-form pan spreading butter on sides of pan and lining the bottom with parchment paper.

From a room temperature stick of butter, cut off one tablespoon. Stick it to the side of the spring-form pan; using  a spatula spread it out over the sides of the spring-form pan.

preparing spring-form pan with parchment paper and buttering the sides

Next roast the almonds. To toast whole almonds, spread on a light colored baking sheet and bake at 350°F, mix nuts around once, roast  7 to 9 minutes or until they start to smell fragrant. When you smell the fragrance of the almonds and continue to roast them, they will have a burnt flavor.  

roasting almonds to make almond flour

The 7 to 9 minutes depends on the calibration of your oven. Hint: gas ovens will roast faster than an electric oven. Roasting the nuts makes a finer flour. As the image shows here not roasting the almonds makes a gummier flour and will not work will to prepare the cake.

differenc of almond grind fromroasting and not roasting

After you have processed the nuts prepare to assemble the ingredients.

Orange Almond Cake step by step

Beat the 4 egg yolks, ½ cup honey, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Add the ground almond flour and beat on low until combined.

Beat 4 egg whites in another large bowl with the electric mixer on medium speed until very foamy, white and doubled in volume, but not stiff enough to hold peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. It is important that there is no hint of yolk in the whites or they will now whip up. The bowl cannot have any water in it or oil as well as the attachments to the electric mixer. The whites will not whip up.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture until just combined.

With the candied oranges fill the bottom and line the sides of prepared cake pan.

lining spring form pan with candied oranges

Next scrape the batter over the oranges evenly, taking care to not move the oranges slices.

Bake 38-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cake should have the appearance of golden brown.

Remove cake from spring form pan onto a large dessert platter by inverting it. Then pour syrup over the cake while it is still hot. Set cake aside to cool completely before plating and serving.

Orange Almond Cake

Orange Almond Cake

For the cake

1 ½ cups dry roast almond pieces, processed to flour

4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

½ cup honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

Candied orange and syrup

1 ½ cup Sugar

¾ cup water

2 or 3 medium oranges, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 ° F

Heat the sugar and water in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add oranges and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until candied.  Set aside.

Prepare cake pan spreading butter on sides of pan and lining the bottom with parchment paper.

Process dry roasted almonds pieces in a food processor or blender until finely ground.

Beat 4 egg yolks, ½ cup honey, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Add the ground almond flour and beat on low until combined.

Beat 4 egg whites in another large bowl with the electric mixer on medium speed until very foamy, white and doubled in volume, but not stiff enough to hold peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. It is important that there is no hint of yolk in the whites or they will now whip up. The bowl cannot have any water in it or oil as well as the attachments to the electric mixer. The whites will not whip up.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture until just combined.

With the candied oranges fill the bottom and line the sides of prepared cake pan. Next scrape the batter over the oranges evenly; taking care to not move the oranges slices.

Bake 38-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cake should have the appearance of golden brown.

Remove and unmold cake onto a large dessert platter by inverting it. Then pour syrup over the cake while it is still hot. Set cake aside to cool completely before plating and serving.

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