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:
         Star Anise

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

This post was updated in Autumn 2018.  Some recipes were removed to be rewritten and the photographs were replaced.  If you are looking for a recipes that seems to be missing check out this post from 2018.

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. 

Thanksgiving Star Cider
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 

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.
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
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 

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.
 Note: Use semi-ripe plantains--not green or soft, ripe black ones. The plantains brown better if not stirred too much as they cook. 

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].

Fresh Fruit Salad with Nutmeg-Cinnamon Syrup
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
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with juice; toss gently.
Combine maple 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 and 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.

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
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

 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.
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.
Preheat oven to 375°.    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.

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.

I hope you enjoyed this exploration of spices.  We will report some of the removed recipes in Fall 2018.

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:
             Star Anise

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

NOTE - This post was updated in Autumn 2018, new information was added, pictures were replaced and some recipes were removed to be rewritten.  

If you are looking for a recipe you think was here before, please see this post in 2018 with relocated recipes.

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. 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 and Ginger Crisp
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
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

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add first 6 ingredients; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place pear mixture in a 2-quart casserole lightly coated with cooking spray. 

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.

Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until crumbs measure 3/4 cup. Stir breadcrumbs and nuts into flour mixture.  Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over pear mixture. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden.

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.
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
1 (8-pound) 33%-less-sodium smoked, fully cooked ham half
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 cups apple juice, divided
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 

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. Preheat oven to 325°.

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.

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.

NOTE: Soaking the ham in water draws out some of the sodium so the ham won't taste too salty.
Saffron (Crocus sativus)
The yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple crocus make up the world's most expensive spice. The prices comes from the extremely labor-intensive way it must be harvested.  Each crocus flower provides only three stigmas, which must be hand-picked then dried. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way, only a few dried stigmas are needed to color a dish and impart an aromatic slightly bitter quality. This spice is integral in many traditional dishes such as the Swedish saffron buns, risotto milanese, bouillabaisse, and paella.  Best known for its use with rice, saffron also combines well with honey, pears, rosemary, garlic, and onions, and ginger and cardamom.  

Powdered saffron loses its flavor and can often be adulterated with imitations, so for best flavor buy a small quantity of high-quality threads, and crush or steep just before using. 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, so never double the amount, even if you double the recipe, without tasting it with the original measurement first. Store saffron airtight in a cool, dark place.

Holiday Saffron Cake
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) 


Preheat oven to 350°.   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.
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.

 Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Add flour mixture and milk mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, blending well after each addition. Stir in raisins.

Scrape batter into a lightly greased 8-inch round cake pan. Arrange almonds on top of batter; sprinkle evenly with pearl sugar. 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.

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
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 water or orange juice
Mint sprigs (optional)

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.
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. When adding the cardamom water to the caramel, pour down the side of the pan to prevent the caramel from sputtering too much.  Return pan to medium-high heat; stir until well blended. Remove pan from heat.

Peel oranges. Cut each orange crosswise into 6 slices. Arrange slices on a rimmed platter; pour hot syrup over oranges. Cover and chill overnight.

Combine yogurt, honey, and orange-flower water in a small bowl. Serve yogurt mixture with oranges. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.

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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Seasonal Recipes for Bread & Butter

I am a bit behind, but have finally updated the Seasonal Recipes Page.  For this season I decided to share Herb Bread recipes and Herbal Butter recipes. 

One of the favorite items I prepare for holiday meals is home made breads.  Sometimes I do not have the time to make bread from scratch and buy frozen bread loafs from the store and augment them with herbs,othertimes I take the time to make bread or beer bread.  And when I am very busy, I make herbal butter ot spread on French and Italian bread I get from the bakery.  Please enjoy the recipes with your family and freinds.

I also like Quick Breads.  Those are the ones which do not have yeast so you merely blend, pour and bake.  I thought I would share a seasonally appropriate one.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons BYP Cinnful Dessert Blend (my version of Pumpkin Pie Spice)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 (15 ounce) can Pumpkin
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1.      Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.
2.      Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, vegetable oil and orange juice in large mixer bowl; beat until just blended. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.
3.      Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Herby Cheese Bread
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon Backyard Patch Italian Seasoning
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1.      Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan and set aside.
2.      Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and Cheddar cheese together in a large bowl. Whisk in half-and-half cream, milk, and vegetable just until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
3.      Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Upcoming Programs and Advent Holiday Recipes

Holiday Decorations with herbs seems to be very popular this fall.  I am doing two programs this year on that subject.  One on Satuday December 3, from 10 to 12 noon, entitled Herbal Holiday Gifts at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL and the other for Decorating with Herbs for the Holidays, at the
Palos Park Library.

This fall I am updating those programs, not just because they are scheduled, but also because I am putting together a Advent Calendar of herbal recipes, gifts and ideas that will begin being posted on Sunday November 27.  As a result I have a long list of recipes to try and share so I placed a number of them in these upcoming programs.  The rest will be in the Advent Calendar.  To whet your appetite for the calender, here is a recipe of the style I will be sharing during November and December.

Basket of Light and Pine 
  • 1 willow twig basket 
  • Pine cones (You can use the scented cones recipe for these.)
·  6 fresh cedar branches or fresh pine sprays
  • LED light strings (the ones that don’t get hot)
  • a few poinsettia stems
  • 1 1/2 yards of wire edges ribbon
1.     Fill half the basket with pine cones.
2.     Place your string of LED lights in the basket.  Be sure to put the plugged end over the back of the basket so that you don't loose track of it later.
3.     Add more pine cones (pulling sections of your lights upward so that you don't cover them all with cones.)
4.     Add pine sprays to the basket.  Using them to camouflage the wires of the lights. 
5.     Tie on a ribbon bow. 

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
If you choose to use the sugar beads, you can edge these cookies to add fun holiday glitter.  But plain they are a wonderful thin tasty sweet. These cookies have great shelf-life.  You can make them ahead for holiday events or give them as gifts, because in an air-tight container at room temp. they will stay fresh for 1 to 2 weeks.  And Lavender is believed to be the herb used by Mary to gently scent Jesus drying clothes.
• 1⁄2 cup blanched whole almonds
• 3 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
 2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
• 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
• 1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
• 1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
• 1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• About 2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling on cookie tops
• About 1⁄4 cup Royal Icing, optional
• 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup small (2mm) silver dragées (sugar beads), optional

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind almonds with lavender and 2 tablespoons of flour until nuts are finely textured, but not pasty. Sift together remaining flour and salt and combine with ground nut mixture. Set aside. Place softened butter and sugars in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Cream mixture until light and fluffy. Turn mixer to low speed, and gradually add flour-nut mixture, blending until just combined. Stir in vanilla extract. Flatten dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill at least 3 hours, or until very firm.

Place a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two 15-by-10-inch cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to 1⁄4-inch thickness. Cut with 2-inch round or oval cookie cutter. Carefully transfer cookies to prepared cookie sheets, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle cookie tops evenly with remaining sugar and bake about 30 minutes, or until the shortbread is firm to the touch and lightly browned on the bottom. Immediately transfer to cooling racks and cool completely before storing.

To add a sparkly border, pour silver dragées into a shallow bowl. Paint Royal Icing on cookie edges using a small craft brush and immediately roll edges in sugar beads to evenly coat. Set cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet to dry icing before stacking or moving cookies for storage.

Until the Advent calender is unveiled, check out the Christmas Decorating ideas I shared last year:

Holiday Decorating #1  (herb dough)

Holiday Decorating #2  (gift tags and door decorations)

Holiday Decorating #3  (cranberries)

Holiday Decorating #4  (Scented pine cones & rosemary walnuts)

Holiday Decorating #5  (yule logs)

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