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 Spaghetti Day

National Spaghetti Day - Little Girl Eating her spagheti dinner and making a mess

Today January 4th is National Spaghetti Day (USA). Were you aware that 1.3 million pounds of spaghetti was sold at the turn of the 21st century (USA)? All those packages together would circle the Earth nine times. Now that’s a lot of spaghetti.

Wikipedia writes that there is controversy in respects to the origin of spaghetti.

There are records in the Jerusalem Talmud of itrium, writing about a kind of boiled dough, being common in Palestine from the 3rd to 5th centuries A.D.

A 9th century dictionary written in Arabic describes itriyyaas, string-like shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking.

Record keeping was done for Norman King of Sicily in 1154, and itriyya is mentioned being manufactured and exported from Norman Sicily.

By the 14th century pasta became popular, and was even taken on sea voyages due to its easy storage. A century later, pasta was present around the globe during the voyages of discovery. In Italian spaghetti means “little lines.”

Pasta has always been associated with the Italians, who have established the dish by inventing a wide variety of pasta shapes. These include farfalle, conchiglie, rotini, penne, tortellini, and, of course, spaghetti.

Spaghetti with anchovies and sundried tomatoes

Spaghetti with Anchovies and Sundried Tomatoes – By Il Cuore in Pentola

Spaghetti dishes are traditionally served topped with grated hard cheeses such as Pecorino Romano, Parmesan and Grana Padano.

March of 2009 The world record for the largest bowl of spaghetti was set in March 2009, and beaten in March of 2010 when the Italian RestaurantBuca di Beppo” in Garden Grove, California  successfully filled a swimming pool with more than 13,780 pounds of pasta.

Just about anyone loves a good plate of spaghetti. Here are some great spaghetti recipes to enjoy this day – National Spaghetti Day.

Spaghetti bundles

Spaghetti Al Pesto Genovese

7 ounce spaghetti

Spaghetti Al Pesto Genovese2 tablespoons pesto alla genovese

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/3 teaspoon salt

Pinch of pepper

Pine nuts (optional)

Have some pesto alla genovese basil paste on hand. If frozen, break off the amount you’ll need and thaw. The basil paste is similar to basil pesto, but prepared without the olive oil, and cheese.

Boil spaghetti in a large pot of salted water. Follow the directions if using packaged spaghetti, making sure to stop when it’s still al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix prepared basil paste with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, stirring until smooth. The amount of oil, cheese, and salt can be adjusted to your taste.

Add the spaghetti to the bowl and toss with a pair of forks until well coated.

Put on plates and sprinkle with whole pine nuts and more Parmesan cheese, if you like.

Recipe credit: The Delectable Hodgepodge 

Spaghetti bundles

Close-up of spaghetti bolognese in a cast iron frying panSpaghetti Bolognese

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 onion, finely diced (1/2 cup)

1 carrot, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

4 ounces pancetta, finely diced (optional)

1 pound ground beef, or a combination of beef and pork

Coarse salt

1/2 cup red or white wine

One 28-ounce can best-quality tomatoes, pulsed in a blender

1/2 cup cream or milk

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

1 pound spaghetti or other pasta

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a saucepan over low heat. Add the olive oil, onion, carrot, and celery and saute over low heat until lightly caramelized, about 12 minutes. Add the pancetta and beef and cook, separating the meat into small pieces, until browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain off most of the fat. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt.

Pour the wine into the beef mixture to deglaze the pan; stir to loosen the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir in the cream, black pepper, and red-pepper flakes. Gently simmer for about 40 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Start cooking the spaghetti when the sauce is within 10 minutes of being done. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Stir the butter into the bolognese sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the pasta and serve with grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Recipe Credit: Martha Stewart 

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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.

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Tomato Basil Chicken

Tomato Basil ChickenYou have some chicken breasts and are looking for a new idea to prepare them? Well you have arrived to the right place for a quick and easy recipe. It’s our Tomato Basil Chicken entrée. Besides being healthy with all fresh ingredients that include tomato, basil, and garlic, this recipe is reminiscent of warm weather and luscious Mediterranean summers.

According to Spice Pages by Gernot Katzer, basil is native to India, though it is not used as a culinary herb, but rather is considered sacred and use in religious rites. Besides the most common Mediterranean type basil sold in the Western world, there is also varieties from the Asian world, such as Thailand‘s sweet basil with a licorice flavor, and a lemon basil which has a distinct balm-like flavor. Katzer states there are also verities introduced to European gardeners from Africa as well (Spice Pages: Basil).

Now for our featured recipe: Tomato Basil Chicken, and here is what you will need.

Tomato Basil Chicken - ingredients

1 lb boneless chicken breast (about 2-3 medium sized pieces) with the skin on

1 teaspoon of rock salt, Himalayan or Sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon if salt is ground

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 handfuls of fresh chopped basil, about 1 1/2 cups

1 ½ -2 cups fresh diced tomato

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 cloves of garlic

Fresh chopped ingredients for Tomato Basil ChickenDice the tomatoes, and chop the garlic. Tear the basil apart by hand.

adding salt and pepper to chicken breastNext, season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper. You may use the ground salt, but the rock salt lends a more rustic appeal to the dish.

adding chicken meat to a preheated pan with olive oilIn a preheated ceramic coated pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil and place the chicken skin side down.

adding garlic and browning the meatNext add the garlic and allow the chicken to brown on both sides, turning once.

adding tomatoes and basilOnce both sides are adequately cooked, add the tomatoes. Sauté for about 3-5 minutes until the tomatoes have softened and some of it has formed a sauce with the olive oil and garlic. Next add the basil and cook for another minute.

adding cheeseNext add the grated Parmesan cheese and remove from the heat.

plated- Tomato Basil ChickenPlate and serve. Makes 2 to 3 servings. Add a side of cooked Mediterranean vegetables or a Greek salad.

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Baked Spinach Stuffed Tilapia

Baked Spinach Stuffed Tilapia

Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish found in shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes. Tilapia were one of the three main types of fish caught in Biblical times from the Sea of Galilee.

Tilapia have very low levels of mercury,as they are fast-growing, lean and short-lived, with a primarily vegetarian diet, so do not accumulate mercury found in prey. Tilapia are low in saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates and sodium, and are a good protein source. They also contain vitamin B-12 and trace minerals such as phosphorus, niacin, selenium, and potassium.

Black pepper adds more than just flavor, it is also good for digestion. Spinach is a cruciferous vegetable, and 4 servings a week of this class of vegetable helps ward off cancer causing cells.

As a side note, this recipe is great nutritional support for those who suffer with Schizophrenia (Read More Here: Nutritional Hope for Schizophrenic Patients).

Here is what you will need for our featured recipe:

8 oz. spinach leaves, trimmed

4 oz. Feta cheese

1 ½ lbs.Tilapia fillets, cut 6 ways

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. black pepper

6 tbsp. butter, melted

Heat oven to 400 degrees

Cook spinach in large saucepan on low heat until just wilted. Drain and cool. Squeeze excess liquid from spinach; chop finely. Combine spinach and feta in medium bowl.

Cut lengthwise pocket down 1 side of each cut Tilapia, being careful not to cut through. Pack 1/3 cup spinach mixture into each pocket. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Baked Spinach Stuffed TilapiaBake in heated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until done. Plate and serve with your favorite side dish, such as we have here with a Bacon Cornbread or Baked Parmesan Potato.

Source of information about Tilapia: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

 

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