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.

Orecchiette with Chorizo and Chickpeas

Orecchiette with Chorizo and ChickpeasThe first time we used pasta Orecchiette was around 2009. We had seen a recipe in a food magazine using the pasta, so to the store we went. We had a hard time finding it, but our local co-op (sell’s all natural – organic foods) had the pasta. When we described the pasta (as we had forgotten the name) the sales lady new right away what we wanted. She referred to the pasta as little pope hats. Ever since Orechiette has become a staple in our pantry.

About.com talks on Italian food and describes Orechiette as a distinctive Puglian type of pasta shaped roughly like small ears, as orecchio in Italian means eat, and Orecchiette means little ears. The pasta is roughly 3/4 of an inch across, slightly domed, and the centers are thinner than the rim of the pasta. The pastas texture is soft in the middle and more chewy along the rim or outside of the pasta.

Barilla (store brand that sells Italian products) says that Orecchiette is the signature pasta of Puglia, describing Puglia as a humble farming land situated along the southeastern coast of Italy.

Here is a video posted to You-Tube of Italian women in Italy making fresh Orechiette pasta.
Now for our featured recipe: Orecchiette with Chorizo and Chickpeas, and here is what you will need.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small shallots, chopped

3/4 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casings removed

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups chicken broth

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed

12 ounces Orecchiette

Garnishes:

Fresh chopped cilantro or parsley

Finely grated Parmesan and lemon zest

cooking Mexican chorizoHeat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute, stirring often, until beginning to brown and smell fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add chorizo to pan and break up with a spoon, and cook meat until browned and cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.

adding chickpeas to meat sauceNext add tomato paste and red pepper flakes to meat mixture and mix in. Next add the broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened a bit, about 15-20 minutes. Next add the can of chickpeas, and mix in, cooking 2 minutes more to heat the chickpeas through.

adding orechiette to meat sauceMeanwhile, cook pasta according to packaged instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

Next add the pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to meat sauce. Continue to cook until sauce thickens and coats pasta, about 3 minutes. Add the pasta liquid as needed. You might use the whole cup, and possibly less.

Orecchiette with Chorizo and Chickpeas in the panServe pasta topped with cilantro or parsley (your choice), Parmesan, and lemon zest.

Orecchiette with Chorizo and ChickpeasWe have had this for left overs a few times, and each time we add cilantro, cheese, and lemon zest. The zest adds great flavor to this dish. Be sure to use it.

For the side salad using candy cane beets, see our recipe here: Shredded Candy Cane and Green Apple Slaw with Pecans.

What Others Are Reading:

Roasted Yams with Cilantro and Lime Juice 

Roasted Yams with Cilantro and Lime Juice 

The softer, orange-fleshed variety of sweet po...

The softer, orange-fleshed variety of sweet potato, commonly referred to as a yam in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? In some parts of North America, including Canada, the yam and sweet potato are enter twinded or in other words people think they are same.

The fact is, they are not. They both are tubers, and that is as far as it goes to being similar.

The yam are monocots related to lilies and grasses. Were as sweet potatoes are related to or we should say the unrelated morning glory family (Wikipedia ).

Yam in a market

Yam in a market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to About Foods, yams are mostly sold in chunks sealed in plastic wrap, as they can grow up to 7 feet in length and weigh up to 150 pounds. (Home Cooking – About Food).

Better Homes and Garden (BHG) suggests storing yams in a cool dry place. Much like you would do with potatos.

BHG says do not store yams in the refrigerator as they will dry out (BHG).

Before we get on with our featured recipe, here is a link to a pdf file from the University of California on yams and sweet potatoes: LINK HERE.

Our featured recipe is: Roasted Yams with Cilantro and Lime Juice, and here is what you will need.

2 medium yams, washed and diced with skin on

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 to 2 teaspoons dried cumin

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lime

diced yams with olive oil in a large bowel Add the oil, cumin, and salt to a large mixing bowel. Mix together, then add died yams and toss to coat.

Roasted Yams with Cilantro and Lime Juice  - close upSpoon yams onto a baking sheet spread out evenly. Place baking sheet into a preheated 425 degree oven, and roast the diced yams for 30 to 40 minutes or until a fork can pierce them, turning once during the roasting process.

Remove from oven and let cool about 5 minutes. Add yams to a serving bowel along with chopped cilantro and lime juice. Mix gently to coat roasted yams.

Eat the dish as is or as a side dish with your favorite meat.

What Others Are Reading:

Greek Marinated Chicken with Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad

Greek Marinated Chicken with Butter Lettuce Salad

We have been trying out some new flavors lately, and they are really an excitement to the palate. Greek food is a Mediterranean cuisine. Contemporary Greek cooking uses a lot olive oil, including lemon juice, vegetables, herbs, grains, bread, wine, fish, lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork. We have to say the use of rabbit in their cuisine was new for us.

It is very important to never forget olives, cheese, eggplant, zucchini, and yogurt. Greek desserts also are known for their use of nuts and honey. Some of the desserts are Baklava, Greek Rice Pudding, and a Quick and Easy Greek Yogurt Dessert, that consists of only 4 ingredients, strained Greek yogurt, sweetened condensed milk, lemon zest and juice, biscuits Petit beurre.

Wow that all sounds so delicious, doesn’t it? All of those wonderful desserts including main dish meals found their way into Greek cooking, as Greece has a culinary tradition of some 4,000 years. Yes, 4,000 years to perfect their flavorful culinary meals and treats (dessert).

Ancient Greek cuisine rarely included meat (lamb, poultry, pork, and rabbit) in their food preparations as it was not readily available. But fish was always available, as well as today, their more common source of animal protein.

Their favorite beverages are Portokalada (orangeade) and Lemonada (lemonade). These beverages have been popular in Greece since 1971. These refreshing beverages are served everywhere, in Greek homes, cafes, taverns, and restaurants. They are made with fresh strained orange juice or lemon juice, and mixed with the choice of carbonated water or flat mineral water, and sugar is added to taste.

What do you know about the Greek history of food? Let’s know by leaving your response in the comment section below this article, thanks.

Now for our featured recipe: Greek Marinated Chicken with Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad.

First let’s prepare the marinade for the chicken, then set it aside to prepare the salad dressing. Here is what you will need.

Greek Marinated Chicken

1 cup Greek strained yogurt, plain

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ tablespoon dried oregano

1 medium lemon

½ teaspoon Himalayan salt

Freshly cracked pepper corns

¼ bunch fresh cilantro

3½ to 4 pounds chicken (mix of drumsticks and thighs)

adding lemon juice to marinade for Greek Marinated ChickenFor the marinade, mix together in a large bowl the yogurt, olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, salt, and freshly crushed pepper corns. After mixng ingredients thoroughly, add lemon zest and lemon juice, and mix in.

adding chopped cilantro to marinade for Greek Marinated ChickenChop a big handful of cilantro, or about ¼ bunch, and stir it into the marinade. You can use parsley, if cilantro doesn’t agree with your palate. We could not find any history of the use of cilantro in Greek food, though cilantro is cultivated in Southern Europe where Greece is found.

marinating chicken

Add the chicken pieces and marinade to a large glass bowl, making sure all chicken parts are covered with marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or albumin foil, and place in refrigerator for a least 30 minutes.

While the chicken is marinading, let’s make the Herbed Goat Cheese and Pear Dressing for the salad. Here is what you will need.

Herbed Goat Cheese and Pear Dressing

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons pear nectar

1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon sweet garlic Dijon mustard

One half of a 6-ounce ripe red Bartlett pear, cored and diced, do not peel

1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese, with herbs

1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly crushed pepper corns

ingredients in a nutri-bullet for Herbed Goat Cheese and Pear Dressing

Herbed Goat Cheese and Pear Dressing

 

Blend together in a blender, or food processor (we used our Nutri-Bullet) the oil, pear nectar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, diced pear, cheese, salt and pepper until smooth.

Pour into your favorite dressing server, or a jar and set aside in the refrigerator.

ready to bake  Greek Marinated ChickenNext preheat your oven to 375 degrees. If it has been 30 minutes, remove chicken from glass bowl and place into a 9 X 13 glass baking dish. Bake chicken for 45 to 60 minutes or until chicken is cooked (about 165 degrees internal temperature) and golden brown on top. Set aside to cool about 5 minutes, meantime prepare the Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad.

Here is what you will need.

1 head butter leaf lettuce, cut into 4 wedges

1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced

1/2 half of a 6 ounce ripe red Bartlett pear, quartered lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced

1/3 cup pecan pieces

1/3 cup dried fruit mix, such as blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and raisins

Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese and Pear DressingPlace the Butter leaf lettuce wedges on 4 salad plates or one side of a dinner plate. Arrange the avocado slices, pear slices, pecan pieces, and dried fruit over the lettuce. Drizzle with the dressing.

close-up Greek Marinated Chicken with Butter Leaf Lettuce SaladNext add to each plate two pieces of cooked Greek Marinated Chicken and serve.

What Others Are Reading:

Red Kale Beets and Sweet Cilantro Vinaigrette

Red Kale Beets and Sweet Cilantro Vinaigrette

Your diet has a large impact on nitric oxide (N-O) production. Beets, spinach, kale and any leafy greens are rich in nitrates. As you chew these foods the good bacteria in your saliva converts the nitrates into nitrites. Once in the stomach, the digestion continues acting on the nitrites and converts them to nitric oxide, among other compounds.

The antioxidants contained in these vegetables react with the nitrogen dioxide produced by the digestion process, scavenging the oxygen molecule, to reduce it to still more nitric oxide. Once completely digested, the N-O is then absorbed through the intestinal tract and pasted into the bloodstream.

Why should all of this be of interest to you? Because nitric oxide circulates through your body helping to keep it alive.  Your heart uses it to keep pumping vital nutrients and oxygen throughout your body.

N-O is also produced in the lining of our arteries, but as we age the body does not produce as much nitric oxide. Studies show as you complete your 4th decade of life, your body is only making about half, if not less then half of what it made when you were 20.

That is why it is important to eat a variety of nitric oxide containing plants, and our featured recipe fits the bill.

Our featured recipe is: Red Kale Beets and Sweet Cilantro Vinaigrette, and here is what you will need.

Sweet Cilantro Lime VinaigretteWe’ll start with the vinaigrette. 

1 cup packed cilantro

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lime juice ( 1 small lime)

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt (or sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch of minced garlic or 1/8 teaspoon of powered garlic

2 – 3 teaspoons of coconut sugar (optional)

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor, and blend or process until smooth.

Place into a jar with a tighten lid, and store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

For the salad you will need:

2 cups red kale, about 3 steams

1/3 cup beets, steam, and diced ( 1 small beet or 3 baby beets)

2 -3 tablespoons pine nuts

3 – 4 tablespoons goat cheese

Remove leaf parts of kale from steams and wash under fresh cool water. Next cut kale into smaller bite sizes portions with a pare of kitchen shears and arrange on a dinner plate.

You have the option to use canned beets (preferably organic grown), dicing the sliced beets into 1/2 inch squares. If you chose to use fresh beets, slice the beets, about 1 inch slices, and place into a steamer, until slightly soft. Remove, and cool a bit, and dice into 1/2 inch squares, making a 3rd of a cup. Arrange the beets over the kale.

Next add the pine nuts and goat cheese. Drizzle with Sweet Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette, and enjoy with slices of olive bread (we used an olive bread made with olive oil and black olives, no canola oil) or your favorite bread .

What Others Are Reading: