Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween




Happy Halloween!







Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holiday Spice, part 2

There are a series of Spices that are associated with the holiday.  I decided that I would share those with you in two posts.   I’ll give a small description of its uses and provide recipes to go with the spice.  Spices I have included are:
         Ginger
         Clove
         Saffron
         Cardamom
         Star Anise
        Allspice
        Nutmeg
        Cinnamon

The first half of the list was posted yesterday and the second half today. Enjoy! 


Star Anise (Illicium verum)

Star anise, probably the world's prettiest spice, is used widely in Asian cuisine. It also makes an unusual but delicious flavoring for poached fruits such as pears and plums.   I also use this spice in Backyard Patch Spice Cider /Mulled Wine Blend.

Buy star anise whole. One or two "stars" usually impart sufficient flavor to infuse an entire dish. To substitute star anise for anise seed in a recipe, reduce the quantity to one-half or one-third of the recipe's recommendation.


Coconut & Poached Pineapple Tartlets
Ingredients
3 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (such as Baker's Angel Flake, which has a fine texture)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups diced fresh pineapple (1/4-in. cubes)
1 cup pineapple juice
2 whole star anise
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon pink peppercorns (see Notes), lightly crushed
Preparation
1.                    Preheat oven to 325°. Put coconut and butter in a medium bowl and stir until coconut is moist. Divide mixture evenly among tart pans and press into bottoms and up sides to form a thin shell. Put tart pans on a baking sheet and bake until shells are golden brown, rotating sheet halfway through, about 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then gently remove shells from tart pans and cool fully on a cooling rack.
2.                   In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine diced pineapple, pineapple juice, and star anise. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until pineapple is tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pineapple to a bowl and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, increase heat to high and boil remaining liquid until thick and syrupy and reduced to 1/2 cup, about 2 minutes. Remove star anise and discard; refrigerate syrup, uncovered, until cooled to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
3.                   In a medium bowl, stir mascarpone and pineapple syrup together. In a separate bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form. Stir half the cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in remaining cream.
4.                   Divide cream filling evenly among tart shells, smoothing it with the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula. Spoon diced pineapple over cream filling, dividing evenly. Sprinkle the top of each tart with a pinch of crushed pink peppercorn. Serve immediately.
5.                   Note: You'll need six 4 1/2-in. fluted tart pans. You can poach the diced pineapple up to a day ahead, then chill it overnight and bring it to room temperature before serving. The tart shells can also be made up to a day ahead; once they're cool, store them in a tight-sealing container so they stay crisp. Wait to whip the cream and assemble the tarts until shortly before serving. Pink peppercorns may seem like an unusual ingredient for a dessert, but their gentle spice highlights the tangy sweetness of the pineapple, and they add a dash of color.

Thanksgiving Star Cider
Ingredients
1/2 cup dried hibiscus blossoms
4 cups pear nectar
2 cups red wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups star anise
1/3 cup honey
star anise, fresh pear wedges, if desired
Preparation
1.                   Pour 2 cups boiling water over 1/2 cup dried hibiscus blossoms (jamaica) and let steep 5 minutes. Meanwhile, warm 4 cups pear nectar, 2 cups red wine, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 star anise over low heat.
2.                   Strain hibiscus infusion into a large pitcher, add pear nectar mixture, and stir in 1/3 cup honey. Serve warm in mugs. Garnish each serving with a whole star anise and fresh pear wedges if you like.

Allspice (Pimenta dioica)

As the name suggests, allspice's flavor and aroma are a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg with a touch of clove. Allspice grows primarily in Jamaica, where it is simply called "pepper" and featured prominently in jerk seasoning paste. I also use this spice in Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend.

In addition to adding deep, warm flavor to savory dishes, use ground allspice in gingerbread and other cakes and cookies. It's a good idea to buy whole allspice, which stores indefinitely in an airtight container, and grind as needed in a peppermill.

Caribbean Pork
Ingredients
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 large yellow plantains, chopped (about 3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon habanero hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Preparation
1.                   Combine soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt, thyme, and next 4 ingredients (thyme through pork); toss well to coat. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork mixture; sauté 4 minutes or until done. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and butter to pan. Add onion, bell pepper, plantains, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper; cook 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until plantains are tender. Drizzle with hot sauce, and stir well. Sprinkle with cilantro.
2.                   Note: Use semiripe plantains--not green or soft, ripe black ones. The plantains brown better if not stirred too much as they cook. Look for bottled mango slices in the produce section of the supermarket.
Spiced Beef with Onion & Allspice
Ingredients
Beef:
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 (1-pound) flank steak, trimmed
Gratin:
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into (1/8-inch-thick) slices (about 1/2 pound)
Cooking spray
4 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Preparation
1.                   To prepare the beef, combine first 5 ingredients, and rub evenly over beef. Cover and chill the beef for 2 hours.
2.                   To prepare gratin, preheat oven to 400°.
3.                   Arrange potato slices in a single layer on a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray; coat tops of slices with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until soft. Set aside.
4.                   Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Stir in broth and next 5 ingredients (broth through 1/4 teaspoon pepper); cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
5.                   Add cream cheese to onion mixture; stir until well blended. Stir in sour cream. Add potato slices to pan; stir gently to combine. Place mixture in a shallow 1-quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, and spoon evenly over onion mixture. Lightly coat surface of gratin with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
6.                   Preheat broiler.
7.                   Place beef on broiler pan coated with cooking spray; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Cut steak diagonally across grain into thin slices.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)

Nutmeg is the kernel of the fruit of a tropical evergreen tree. Each kernel comes wrapped in a lacy covering that we use separately as the spice mace. Nutmeg and mace share a warm, sweet, musky flavor suited to cakes, cookies, and other desserts. Nutmeg has an affinity with dairy, too—it is excellent in milky desserts and drinks.

Use nutmeg freshly grated or milled. Nutmeg mills pass the spice over a sharp blade, shaving off minute amounts. Except in cakes, add nutmeg toward the end of cooking to retain its evanescent aroma and warm, spicy flavor. I also use this spice in Backyard Patch [Cinnful Dessert Blend].

Carmel Apple Cheese cake
Ingredients
Crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 cookie sheets)
1 tablespoon egg white
1 tablespoon water
Cooking spray
Cheesecake:
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light sour cream
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 (8-ounce) blocks 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
Topping:
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1 3/4 cups thinly sliced peeled Granny Smith apple (about 8 ounces)
Dash of nutmeg
Preparation
1.                   Preheat oven to 400°.
2.                   To prepare crust, combine the first 3 ingredients in a bowl; toss with a fork until moist. Press mixture lightly into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 6 minutes. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack. Wrap outside of pan with a double layer of foil. Reduce oven temperature to 325°.
3.                   To prepare cheesecake, place 1 3/4 cups sugar and next 7 ingredients (through fat-free cream cheese) in food processor; process until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time; process until blended. Pour cheese mixture into prepared pan. Place springform pan in a large roasting pan; add hot water to larger pan to a depth of 1 inch.
4.                    Bake at 325° for 1 hour or until cheesecake center barely moves when pan is touched. Remove from oven; let stand in water bath 10 minutes. Run a knife around outside edge of cheesecake. Remove pan from water bath; cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
5.                   To prepare topping, combine 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons water, and lemon juice in a small, heavy saucepan; cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Cook 4 minutes or until golden (do not stir). Remove from heat. Add butter to pan; gently stir until butter melts. Stir in half-and-half. Cool slightly.
6.                   Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add apple to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in sugar mixture and nutmeg. Serve topping with cheesecake.
7.                   Note: Granny Smith apples lend a pleasant tartness, but you can substitute Rome, Braeburn, or your favorite apple variety. Make this cake the night before your gathering.

Fresh Fruit Salad with Nutmeg-Cinnamon Syrup
Ingredients
2 cups thinly sliced Granny Smith apple (about 1 large apple)
2 cups thinly sliced ripe pear (about 1 large pear)
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup orange sections (about 1 orange)
1/2 cup sliced banana (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preparation
1.                   Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with juice; toss gently.
2.                   Combine syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon over fruit, and toss gently. Serve immediately.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zelanicum)

Cinnamon comes from the aromatic bark of a tree native to Sri Linka, India, and Burma.  It's a traditional ingredient in gingerbread, cider or mulled wine, and chocolate cakes & desserts. Cinnamon is also good with apples and pears, and tempers savory dishes like this lamb tagine. This is the main spice in Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend.

You can buy cinnamon as sticks, or ground; however, cinnamon sticks have a sweeter, subtler flavor and a longer shelf life than ground. Whole cinnamon is best ground in a clean coffee mill.

Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon
Ingredients
1/4 cup diced seeded Anaheim chili
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, minced
Cooking spray
1 (1 1/2-pound) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cubed
3 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup tomato purée
2 1/2 cups water
2 3/4 cups green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch-thick strips
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1 cup cubed carrot
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2/3 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 1/2 cups cooked couscous
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
Preparation
1.                   Preheat oven to 325°.
2.                   Combine first 8 ingredients.
3.                   Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add lamb; cook 8 minutes on all sides or until browned. Remove lamb from pan. Add onion to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in half of chili mixture and tomato purée; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lamb and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes.
4.                   Wrap handle of skillet with foil, and bake, covered, at 325° for 1 hour. Stir in bell pepper, squash, carrot, saffron, and cinnamon. Cover and bake an additional 40 minutes. Stir in remaining chili mixture and apricots. Cover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick; serve over couscous. Sprinkle with cilantro.
5.                   Note: Adding the spice paste in two stages gives depth and brightens the flavor. Leaving the cinnamon whole keeps its influence subtle. Moroccan tagines tend to be warmly and sweetly spiced rather than hot.
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
Ingredients
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup cake flour (about 4 ounces)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (or brown sugar))
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preparation
1.                   Place granulated sugar and butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add corn syrup, vanilla, and egg; beat 3 minutes or until well blended.
2.                   Lightly spoon cake flour and all-purpose flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; stir until just combined. Wrap in plastic wrap; chill 1 hour.
3.                   Preheat oven to 375°.
4.                   Combine turbinado sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough into 48 balls, about 1 teaspoon each. Roll balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 12 minutes or until golden on bottom. Cool on wire racks.
5.                   Note: If you prefer a slightly chewier cookie, reduce baking time to 10 minutes. A sprinkling of large-grained turbinado sugar makes a pretty presentation to attract bake sale buyers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Holiday Spices, part 1

There are a series of Spices that are associated with the holiday.  I decided that I would share those with you in two posts.   I’ll give a small description of its uses and provide recipes to go with the spice.  Spices I have included are:
             Ginger
             Clove
             Saffron
             Cardamom
             Star Anise
             Allspice
             Nutmeg
             Cinnamon

The first half of the list will be posted today and the second half tomorrow. Enjoy! 

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger's warm, slightly woody flavor makes it one of the world's favorite spices. By and large, fresh ginger is used in savory cooking, while dried or ground ginger is favored for sweet dishes. Unusually I also use this spice in Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend.

Choose the freshest, youngest-looking ginger you can find—old rhizomes tend to be fibrous, tough, and not so flavorsome. It will keep two to three weeks in the refrigerator. Or store whole fresh ginger in a refrigerated jar of sherry, and use both ginger and sherry in Asian dishes. Ground ginger loses its aroma and flavor quickly, and it should be used within two or three months.
Pear & Ginger Crisp
Ingredients
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 1/2 pounds pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
Cooking spray
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 (1-ounce) slices white bread
1/4 cup slivered almonds, ground
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add first 6 ingredients; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Place pear mixture in a 2-quart casserole lightly coated with cooking spray.
  4. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, and salt; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  5. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until crumbs measure 3/4 cup. Stir breadcrumbs and nuts into flour mixture.
  6. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over pear mixture. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden.
  7. Note: The slight heat of ground ginger brings out the sweetness of the pears. Ground gingerroot is far more intense and peppery than fresh. If you prefer only a hint of ginger, omit it from the topping.
Ginger – Lemon Pinwheel cookies
Ingredients
Ginger dough:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg yolk
6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/3 cups)
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of ground allspice
Lemon dough:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg white
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preparation
1.                  To prepare ginger dough, place 1/4 cup butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined (about 3 minutes). Add molasses and egg yolk; beat until well blended. Weigh or lightly spoon 6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 6 ounces flour, ginger, and next 4 ingredients (through allspice); stir with a whisk. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.
2.                  To prepare lemon dough, place 5 tablespoons butter and granulated sugar in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended (about 3 minutes). Add egg white; beat until blended. Beat in rind and vanilla. Weigh or lightly spoon 6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 6 ounces flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.
3.                  Unwrap ginger dough. Roll ginger dough between sheets of plastic wrap into a 13 x 8 1/2–inch rectangle (3/16 inch thick); chill 10 minutes. Unwrap lemon dough. Roll lemon dough between sheets of plastic wrap into a 13 x 9–inch rectangle (3/16 inch thick); chill 10 minutes. Carefully stack ginger dough on top of lemon dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border along one long edge. Starting with the long side without a border, roll up dough, jelly-roll fashion. Seal edges (do not seal ends of roll). Cover with plastic wrap; freeze 30 minutes.
4.                  Preheat oven to 350°.
5.                  Unwrap dough. Cut with a sharp knife into 40 slices (about 1/4 inch thick). Reshape rounds, if necessary. Arrange slices 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake, 1 batch at a time, at 350° for 8 to 9 minutes or until set and lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.

Cloves (Syzyium aromaticum)

Cloves are an ancient spice, used for millennia in China and imported by the Romans. Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree with an intensely sharp, slightly bitter taste. Use sparingly as they can overpower other flavors. In holiday cooking, cloves traditionally appear ground in gingerbread and fruitcake, and whole in mulled wine or for studding baked and glazed hams. I also use this spice in Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend.

Use cloves whole or ground. If you use whole cloves to flavor a dish, make sure to remove them before serving, as in this fresh ham recipe. Cloves don't need toasting before use.

Baked Ham
Ingredients
1 (8-pound) 33%-less-sodium smoked, fully cooked ham half
2 teaspoons whole cloves
Cooking spray
2 cups apple juice, divided
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Preparation
1.                  Place ham in a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Cover with water to 2 inches above ham; cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain; rinse well with warm water. Drain.
2.                  Preheat oven to 325°.
3.                  Trim fat and rind from ham. Score outside of ham in a diamond pattern; stud with cloves. Place ham, skin side down, on the rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Place rack in pan; pour 1 cup apple juice over ham. Cover ham loosely with foil. Bake at 325° for 2 1/2 hours, basting occasionally with remaining 1 cup apple juice.
4.                  Remove ham from oven (do not turn oven off); uncover ham. Combine sugar and mustard; brush over ham. Bake, uncovered, at 325° for 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 140°. Place ham on a cutting board; cover and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
5.                  Note:  Soaking the ham in water draws out some of the sodium so the ham won't taste too salty.
Chai-Buttermilk Spice cake
Ingredients
1/2 cup boiling water
6 chai tea bags
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (3 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup fat-free buttermilk
2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cooking spray
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Preparation
1.                   Preheat oven to 350°.
2.                   Pour boiling water over tea bags in a bowl; steep 5 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags; cool to room temperature.
3.                   Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, stirring with a whisk. Place the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until well combined. Beat in brewed tea and vegetable oil. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition.
4.                   Using clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently stir one-third of egg whites into batter; gently fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon batter into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Saffron (Crocus sativus)

Saffron has always been the world's most expensive spice, but you need only a few dried stigmas to color a dish and impart an aromatic and slightly bitter quality. Best known for its use with rice, saffron also combines well with honey, pears, rosemary, garlic, and onions, and ginger and cardamom.

For most dishes, saffron is best soaked in a few tablespoons of warm liquid to allow the color and flavor to develop fully before adding to the rest of the ingredients. It is easy to use too much, which gives an unpleasant medicinal tang to the dish.

Holiday Saffron Cake
Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup golden raisins
10 almonds
1 teaspoon pearl sugar (sugar crystals)
Preparation
1.                    Preheat oven to 350°.
2.                    Place butter and all but 1 teaspoon sugar in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add egg; beat until well combined.
3.                    Heat milk in a small pot over medium heat. Crush saffron with remaining 1 teaspoon sugar in a mortar or small dish. Remove milk from heat; add saffron sugar to pot, and stir. Cover and let steep 5 minutes.
4.                   Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
5.                   Add flour mixture and milk mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, blending well after each addition. Stir in raisins.
6.                   Scrape batter into a lightly greased 8-inch round cake pan. Arrange almonds on top of batter; sprinkle evenly with pearl sugar.
7.                    Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove cake from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.
8.                   Learn About Saffron: These yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple crocus make up the world's most expensive spice because it is extremely labor-intensive--each flower provides only three stigmas, which must be hand-picked then dried. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way. This spice is integral in many traditional dishes such as the Swedish saffron buns mentioned, risotto milanese, bouillabaisse, and paella. Powdered saffron loses its flavor and can often be adulterated with imitations. Buy a small quantity of high-quality threads, and crush or steep just before using. Store saffron airtight in a cool, dark place.
9.                   Note:  This cake isn't overly sweet, but it is topped with pearl sugar, which you can sometimes find among the icing and cake decorating items in the grocery store. Regular granulated sugar would work in a pinch, but we highly recommend using either pearl or turbinado sugar. Make sure to use high-quality saffron threads.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

Cardamom comes from the same family as ginger and turmeric. The best pods will be pale sage green and have sticky black seeds inside. They are intensely aromatic and have an orangey flavor that works well in sweet and savory dishes.

Cardamom's essential oils are volatile, so ground cardamom's flavor dissipates quickly. Bruise whole pods before using to allow the flavor to escape—press down on them with the blade of a knife until the pod opens. If the seeds are dry and light brown, they are old and have lost their flavor and aroma. Discard those pods.

Orange with Carmel and Cardamom Syrup
Ingredients
1/2 cup water
2 cardamom pods, crushed
6 tablespoons sugar
5 medium navel oranges (about 2 1/4 pounds)
1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon orange-flower water
Mint sprigs (optional)
Preparation
1.                    Combine 1/2 cup water and cardamom in a small, heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve over a small bowl; discard solids.
2.                   Combine 1 tablespoon cardamom water and sugar in pan over medium heat, and cook for 9 minutes or until sugar is melted and barely golden (do not stir). Increase heat to medium-high, and cook for 1 minute or until mixture darkens to a deep amber. Remove from heat; carefully pour remaining cardamom water down the side of the pan. Return pan to medium-high heat; stir until well blended. Remove pan from heat.
3.                   Peel oranges. Cut each orange crosswise into 6 slices. Arrange slices on a rimmed platter; pour hot syrup over oranges. Cover and chill overnight.
4.                   Combine yogurt, honey, and orange-flower water in a small bowl. Serve yogurt mixture with oranges. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.
5.                   Note:  Orange-flower water infuses this simple dessert with Moroccan flair; look for it in gourmet markets or Middle Eastern grocery stores. Chilling overnight is crucial for imbuing the oranges with flavor. When adding the cardamom water to the caramel, pour down the side of the pan to prevent the caramel from sputtering too much.
Cardamom Rolls
Ingredients
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering pans
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
4 1/2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cardamom
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Preparation
1.                   In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water (about 110°). Let sit until foamy bubbles form on surface, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 1/2 cup butter in a pan over low heat and let cool just until warm. Let remaining 1/2 cup butter soften in a warm place until spreadable.
2.                   To the yeast, add melted butter, granulated sugar, eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 4 1/2 cups flour, and salt. Stir or mix in a standing mixer with a dough hook until smooth, 5 minutes. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
3.                   Butter two 9-in. cake pans. When dough has doubled, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 2-ft. square, spread with softened butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar and cardamom. Roll dough into a log, pinching the seam to seal. Cut log into 16 pieces and arrange, cut sides up, in a single layer in cake pans. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
4.                   Preheat oven to 350°. Remove plastic wrap from rolls and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes.
5.                   Meanwhile, make glaze: Whisk together 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a small bowl. Remove rolls from pans and drizzle with half of this thin glaze. Add remaining 1/4 cup powdered sugar to remaining glaze and drizzle over rolls. Serve warm.
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