Grenadine for Grownups

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In my former life I was a bartender. That’s where I developed an understanding of flavor, the way flavors work together, how to balance them. When I started tending bar, longer ago than I care to admit, drinks generally ran sweet. It’s what people knew. It’s what they expected. That changed over time and people came to expect a balanced cocktail, one that balances sweet, sour and bitter.

The two worst perpetrators of overly sweet cocktails are sour mix and grenadine.

Never—I repeat NEVER—buy sour mix. All you need is lemon juice, water and sugar. Make it yourself. Or better yet, make simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water and use that and lemon juice. It’s easy, will taste better and isn’t full of unnecessary ingredients. (A quick internet search reveals that one of the most common brands contains only 3% juice, preservatives, artificial color, and oddly, milk solids.)

Most store bought grenadine is the same as sour mix in that they contain very little actual juice, just a ton of corn syrup and food coloring. The Spanish word for pomegranate is granada and grenade in French. Any guesses the etymology of grenadine?

Actual, for real grenadine has levels of flavor and a brightness missing in the store bought stuff. It’s for grown-up cocktails.

I spent a few years mixing drinks at a place that made grenadine with pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is by slightly sweetening pomegranate juice and then reducing it. The cooking process brings out darker, more complex flavors than straight pomegranate juice would yield.

Use this in cocktails like a Clover Club, a Jack Rose or a Ward 8.

Grenadine
(Makes 1 pint)

In a medium sauce pan combine pomegranate molasses, sugar and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. Add orange flower water. Refrigerate.

Thanks to my friend, and former co-worker, Cristi DeLucca for helping me to confirm the ratios for the recipe. If you’re in Chicago go see her behind the bar at Bangers and Lace. Ask her to make you a Ward 8.

Just Do It

mustardSome things aren’t nearly as hard as we think they’re going to be. Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, for instance. Or programming the VCR. Or particle physics. Or making mustard.

Mustard is crazy easy to make. It’s so easy we don’t buy mustard in our house anymore. We just make it. It takes few days, so a little planning is needed, but not a whole lot of attention or active time is called for.

(Tangent: According to Wikipedia, mustard is “commonly paired with,” among other things, pizza and sushi. That’s wrong on so many levels…)

The recipe below is a very basic recipe. It works fine on its own, but use it as a starting point for experimentation. Play around with the ratios of mustard seed (the brown is spicier than the regular yellow), add some dried tarragon, throw in some honey or brown sugar, or try red wine or a splash of bourbon. The only thing I would caution against experimenting with is the ratio of liquid. Nobody likes runny mustard.

The finished mustard will be bitter, but let it sit for a day or two and that will dissipate.

Coarse Mustard

Combine all ingredients and let sit for two days. Blend to desired consistency. Refrigerate for a day or two before using to allow bitterness to dissipate.

Yes. Another pickle related post.

cranberry-sauceLike the vast majority of people these days (or least of Americans), I grew up on cranberry sauce that came out of a can. We had certain, unspoken rules about it in our house. It needed to maintain the shape of the can when put on the serving dish; it needed to be sliced with a knife and not scooped with a spoon; and the kind with whole cranberries was certainly NOT allowed. But, sometime in my early-20’s, I saw an actual, for real recipe for cranberry sauce and was absolutely astonished by how easy it was. It’s ridiculously easy. Like, I-can-make-it-in-the-time-it-would-take-me-to-find-a-can-of-it-in-the-supermarket easy.

We’ve got a few good, simple cranberry sauce variations in our archives, but there’s always room for one more, right?

I came up with this recipe last year at my wife’s behest. It’s slightly more complicated than the above recipes, but is still pretty simple and doesn’t involve a whole lot of active prep time.

pickledcranPickled Cranberries

Place spices in a muslin bag, or tie in cheese cloth. Add vinegar, spices and sugar to a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and cook until berries just begin to burst. About 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to a nonreactive bowl. Cover and let sit overnight. Remove spice bag and refrigerate. As with so many other recipes, after a couple of days the flavors will become really good friends.

Post Script: I just showed my kid a picture of sliced, canned cranberry sauce.  She thought it looked ridiculous.

Spice of the Month: Caraway

Caraway tastes like home. At least, it does if home was Polish like mine, or German, or any sort of northeast European. The warm, toasty balance to sour fermented cabbage; the potent, aromatic, bitter kick in akvavit or kummel; the satiating richness of a good rye loaf: all owe their powerful emotional associations to this humble little fruit. And caraway also tastes like fall; the smoke of burning leaves, damp October earth, and even a little bit of minty chill are all present in its flavor for me. Since the cold weather is coming soon in our part of the world, I’d like to share some of my favorite ways to use this warming spice, along with a bit about it’s biology, history, and even (bear with me) its chemistry.

Carum_carvi_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-172We think of caraway as a seed, but it’s actually a dried fruit; the tiny seeds are nestled within the familiar, deeply-grooved ovals we see studding a loaf of rye. Part of the incredibly diverse and flavorful parsley family, or Apiaceae, which also gives us anise, cumin, coriander, celery, fennel, dill, and carrots, caraway has often been confused with its cousins – especially fennel and cumin. In fact, around Europe many names for caraway mean something like “German cumin” or “wild cumin.” But though they look somewhat similar (caraway is much darker – a burnished, glossy brown like stained walnut), you’d never confuse them in a side-by-side taste test. In fact, stop by our store and try it!

Although no one member of the Apiaceae is a straight substitute for another, it can be illuminating to dial a recipe along a chain of family relationships; a bread or sausage recipe that calls for one will likely be wonderful – and wonderfully different – with another. Also, since so many members of the family have different useful parts, I find that caraway pairs beautifully with its cousins: roots like carrot, parsnip, and celeriac, braised celery stalks, and sautéed carrot greens. My recipe for Pork Stew with Caraway, Apple & Sweet Potato (below) makes use of a generous helping of celery for this reason.

Caraway really shines when it’s visiting another powerhouse food family. It’s association with members of the cabbage family (or Brassicaceae) is long-standing; it’s essential for sauerkraut and boiled cabbage, but try it with roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts; the caramelization of dry heat cooking really brings out the best in these much-maligned veggies, and caraway pushes them to hitherto unsuspected levels of deliciousness. Or top a turnip puree with some browned, crispy nuggets of slab bacon fried with a bit of whole caraway – winter won’t stand a chance.

775px-S-carvone-stickModelAs a final enticement (at least to an admitted spice geek like me), caraway’s essential flavor is tied up with a fascinating chemical mystery. The principle flavor compound in the spice is known as carvone (taking it’s name from the Latin for caraway, carum carvi), but carvone is what’s known as a chiral molecule, meaning it comes in both a right-handed or a left-handed form. This means that identical combinations of atoms with identical bonds come together in two mirror image arrangements. Through mechanisms still poorly understood, the caraway plant produces mostly the left-handed version of the molecule. Even more wonderfully, our tongues can instantly tell the difference between the two versions; right-handed carvone is the principal flavor in spearmint!

I’ll leave you with my favorite caraway recipe; one that really showcases how well it fits with other fall flavors.

Pork Stew with Caraway, Apple, and Sweet Potato

2 lbs pork shoulder, cut in ¾ inch cubes, trimmed of excess fat (reserve the fat)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 stalks celery, cut into ⅓ ince slices
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed
3 small onions, peeled and diced
¼ cup dark rye flour
3 tsp. caraway seeds, divided
½ tsp. ground caraway
2 tsp. french thyme
salt and pepper to taste
40 fluid ounces chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth

Dice the reserved fat and put it into a dutch oven with a sprinkle of salt and a little water. Render the fat over medium-low heat, stirring and adding a little water as necessary. You should be left with golden-brown, crunchy nuggets of crackling and some clear pork fat in the pan. Add one teaspoon of caraway seeds and toast until aromatic; then remove the cracklings and most of the caraway with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel to drain.*

Mix the rye flour and ground caraway. Season the pork cubes with salt and pepper, then dredge them in the rye flour, shaking off any excess. Brown the pork in batches in the rendered fat, being careful not to crowd the pan (you don’t want to cook the pork, here, just sear the outside). If necessary, add a little oil to the pan as you go. Transfer the pork with your slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate.

Sweat the onions in the remaining fat with a little salt, being sure to scrape up any yummy brown bits clinging to the pan (the moisture released by the onions will help you do this). When onions have softened, add celery, the remaining caraway seeds, the browned pork, the thyme, and the stock or broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 25 minutes.

Add apple and sweet potato, then cook for 15-20 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender, the stew is thickened, and the sweet potatoes and apples are soft. Adjust salt and pepper, then ladle into bowls, topping each with a spoonful of the reserved cracklings and toasted caraway. Serve with hearty slices of (what else?) caraway rye.

* you can omit this step if you don’t have any reserved fat, would rather just use vegetable oil, or don’t like yummy, golden brown pork cracklings for some reason.

Caraway and Apple Pork Stew

Shopping at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar 101

Spice stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Spice stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

There are many bazaars and market places to explore in Istanbul. One of the most popular and well known is the Spice Bazaar. While many markets have a shop or two selling spices, there is a certain magic that the Spice Bazaar possesses. Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, since it initially was economically sustained by the fees placed on Egyptian goods, it was built in 1660 as part of the New Mosque complex. Around the time of its establishment, the market was conveniently situated at the end of many trade routes. In addition to spices (which were the main commodity) it sold various goods and rarities from across the globe. Today, the bazaar is geared towards tourists, but it never fails to be a crowd pleaser. It is certainly nothing like buying a container of spices at the grocery store. As those who have been inside and shopped at the Spice House know, buying your spices fresh from specialists is an experience not to be missed! For those who have not been to the Spice Bazaar, and or have not yet visited one of our Spice House locations here is what you need to know to shop like a pro.

Tip 1: Who goes to the Spice Bazaar?

Tourists make up the vast majority of the patrons as many flock to find gifts for friends and family. However, you will see Istanbul locals passing through and carrying on with their routine including men with trays swiftly maneuvering through the crowds to deliver teas and coffees. You will see the bargaining that goes on between merchants and you will observe some of the cleverest methods to lure people into shops.

Tip 2: What can you find at the Spice Bazaar?

The market offers a lot of desired treats and gifts. You can find nuts and dried fruit, sweet confections (especially Turkish delight) and various souvenirs around every turn. However, the herbs and spices are the real show stealers. There is nothing quite like being surrounded by clusters of stands and displays of jewel colored spices and their enticing aromas. The spice merchants make sure the mounds of their products, usually arranged neatly into pyramids, are in easy view of shoppers.

Tip 3: What spices are sold?

As a spice market, almost any pure herbs and spices you can name are sold. Naturally, those that are considered “classic” to Turkish cuisine such as cumin, sumac, cinnamon/cassia and dried oregano are readily available. Numerous varieties of chile flakes can be found (the difference between them can become very confusing, especially since the same chile may be labeled by a different name from store to store). They are crucial to Turkish cuisine, and finding a good chile pepper is worth the search and tastings. Some of the names will be unfamiliar to an American, but the product will generally be recognizable. For example, the spice labeled as “Indian saffron” or curcuma is none other than our good friend turmeric.

The market is also known for its blends, sometimes referred to as “Ottoman spices” due to their attempt at replicating “Ottoman recipes”. While locals prefer to make their own mixes, the market’s blends are popular amongst tourists because they are flavorful and user friendly. They are typically named for specific uses such as “Ottoman chicken spice”, salad spice or soup spice. Each vendor will most likely have a blend for kofte (Turkish meat balls) which commonly have cumin (a classic spice for kofte). You might be surprised by the more “foreign” blends offered including “Indian curry” (frequently a turmeric based mix) and Ras El Hanout (a North African blend). It just goes to show how various influences continue to develop within Turkish cuisine.

Dried fruit stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Dried fruit stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Tip 4: The shopping experience

Every spice shop has employees to assist customers throughout the entire process including sampling (which is highly encouraged), providing information (some stores are better with spice novices and tourists than others) and measuring out the product. Customers may also be offered tea while shopping, especially since most spice stores also sell tea. While friendly, customer service at the Spice Bazaar (and elsewhere in Istanbul) is typically very targeted and the sales pitch is hard.

Tip 5: Enjoy and take it all in…oh and make sure you get a sample of Turkish delight from one of the confectionary shops (no further details needed)!

In a Pretty Pickle

cornichonSo, my mother-in-law found my pickle stash.

I don’t know how it happened.

So, the only thing I can do is to make more pickles and hope there will be enough to get through the next nine months until cucumbers are back in season. My fingers are crossed that 100 jars will do it. That’s not crazy, is it? Rational people who live in smallish apartments do that sort of thing all the time, right?

The thing is it’d be a shame to throw away all that brine once the pickles get eaten. Reusing the brine for more pickles is fine for refrigerator pickles, but I can my pickles. Reusing brine to can is a dicier proposition because science. Besides, I don’t have the space to store it.

It doesn’t mean, however, that leftover canning brine can’t be used for something other than pickles. Like fried chicken. It’s not as weird as it sounds. We’ve all seen buttermilk fried chicken, where the chicken is marinated in buttermilk. The acidity in the buttermilk tenderizes the meat. There’s plenty of acid in vinegar, so…

Place 4 chicken breasts in a gallon Ziploc bag along with the brine from a quart jar (or 2 pint jars) of pickles. Remove as much air as possible and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours. When you’re ready to cook, remove from brine, and pat dry. Then prepare as you normally do.  Obviously, that’s going to include includes our Ozark Fried Chicken Seasoning, right?

Reverse Root Beer Floats

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I needed an assistant. I needed someone who would handle the mundane grunt work. Someone to write recipe notes for me; to scrape vanilla beans for me; to do the dishes for me.

The hitch, though, is that I don’t have the money to pay a decent assistant. But, with a little perseverance on my part I found someone who was willing to work for Pop Rocks.

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Granted, she needs to be in bed with the lights out by 8:00, but who am I to argue with the price?

This time of year the canister for our ice cream maker basically lives in the freezer. After every batch of ice cream or sorbet, it gets washed and put right back into the freezer so it’ll be ready for the next recipe. Recently, with an itch to make something frozen, and in the mood for something different I hunted down the root beer extract we had left over from a horribly failed attempt candy making venture.

Middle age, being the jerk that it is, has required that we look for alternatives to dairy in our house. While the original recipe (from America’s Test Kitchens The New Best Recipe) calls for whole milk and heavy cream, I used soy creamer and coconut cream in place of whole milk and heavy cream respectively. This recipe makes for a good base for most ice creams (just substitute another extract flavor), but works best with heavier flavors that can stand up to the coconut.

My newly hired assistant also expects a certain amount of entertainment and fun, so what we really needed was a vanilla soda so we could make Reverse Root Beer Floats.

We carry three different vanilla beans at the Spice House, but I settled on the Mexican beans. In contrast to the others, especially the Madagascar, I get earthier notes off the Mexican beans (think coffee and bitter chocolate), that I figured would work better with the root beer flavors.

Root Beer Ice Cream

  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 ½ cup soy half and half (or whole milk)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tsp root beer extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste

Position a strainer over a medium bowl set in a larger bowl containing ice water. Heat the coconut milk, half and half and ½ cup of sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until steam appears and the milk is warm (about 175 degrees), about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl until combined and pale yellow. Whisk half the warm mixture into the beaten yolks, ½ cup at a time, until combined. Whisk the milk-yolk mixture into the warm milk in the sauce pan; set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until steam appears, foam subsides and the mixture is slightly thickened or an instant read thermometer registers 180-185 degrees. (Do not boil or the eggs with curdle.) Immediately strain the custard into the bowl set in the ice bath, stirring occasionally to help it cool. Cover and refrigerate until and instant-read thermometer registers 40 degrees or lower, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Add root beer extract and vanilla paste and stir well. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine canister and churn, following the manufacturer’s instructions, until the mixture resembles soft-serve ice cream. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container, press plastic wrap flush against the surface, cover the container, and freeze the ice cream until firm, at least 2 hours.

Vanilla Bean Soda

Combine sugars, water in salt in a medium sauce pan. Split vanilla beans lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Using the back of the knife scrape the seeds from the pods and add them to the saucepan. Add the pods to the saucepan.

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Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugars are dissolved. Let cool a bit and pour into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

Strain and discard pods.

To serve combine ½ oz. (2 tbsps) with 8 oz. (1 cup) chilled club soda. Add syrup slowly to avoid foaming. Stir well. Or, add 4 oz. (½ cup) syrup to 1 liter of chilled club soda. (Again, add syrup carefully to avoid foaming.)

My trusty assistant forgot about the Pop Rocks altogether. She was too bugging me to taste the ice cream.

Chile Peppers In Turkey

Chile peppers hold a very special place in Turkish cuisine. Varying in flavor and heat levels, they are frequently sprinkled onto dishes at the end of cooking and offered as condiments. Their hot red peppers, while providing heat do not by any means compare to Ghost Chiles on the Scoville scale (the chiles I discuss below do not even rival cayenne in heat). In Turkey, chiles are typically used in savory dishes, especially meat dishes; however, Turkish peppers are very versatile and compliment many dishes ranging from vegetables to soups. After Christopher Columbus discovered chile peppers in the New World (in a failed attempt to find westward routes to India for peppercorns) the use of chiles was adopted by cultures across the globe. Introduced to present day Turkey via Greece, Anatolia (the Asian side of Turkey) provided dry, warm and fertile soil that was very hospitable to chiles. Certain areas of Turkey such as Maras (pronounces Marash) and Urfa became known for their peppers. There are so many chile peppers (and different names by which they can be labeled) that it can be rather tricky to navigate your way through them. Below, I have attempted to scratch the surface by selecting three very specific chile peppers; the pul, maras and urfa peppers (or as they call peppers in Turkey biber); as well as generically reviewing paprika (which is complicated in its own way). These are popular chiles that are commonly found throughout Istanbul.

Pul Biber at a spice shop in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Pul Biber at a spice shop in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Pul biber is a common red chile found in Istanbul spice shops. It is also called, and more commonly known in the US, as Aleppo pepper. This fruity chile offers a moderate heat level and has a beautiful red hue. This pepper has become increasingly popular within America. It has served me well as a reliable “go to” whenever a Turkish recipe calls for red pepper and I personally favor it over standard crushed red pepper.

Maras biber is another red chile pepper that is sometimes referred to as Turkish red pepper. Similar in flavor to pul biber and of a medium heat level, it is frequently used throughout Turkey. Many restaurants have small dishes of maras biber on the table alongside the salt and pepper. Many list it as a must for kebabs and kofte (Turkish meatballs).

Urfa biber flakes have a beautiful dark color (almost black) with purple hues. At some Istanbul spice shops, you may find it labeled as “black chile pepper”. While it is a red pepper, the dried Urfa chile develops its darker coloring during the drying process. Its flavor is mildly smoky, with raisin tones and its heat level is medium. While popular in savory dishes in Turkey, many are touting its use in desserts and sweet dishes, including pairing it with chocolate. I am very fond of Urfa pepper and particularly enjoy it on eggplant.

Hot paprika at a spice shop in Istanbul

Hot paprika at a spice shop in Istanbul

This might be a surprise to you, but paprika really is a chile pepper and it is popular in Turkish cuisine. Used when a sweeter and milder flavor is desired over red pepper flakes, paprika’s’ heat level and strength can vary between regions in Turkey. One fun tale, for all you romantics, about how paprika came to be in Hungary involves the Ottoman Empire. As the story goes, during the Ottoman domination of Hungary, a Turkish pasa (a Turkish man of prominence, pronounced pasha) fell for a beautiful Hungarian woman and moved her to his harem (forcing her to leave behind her Hungarian lover). This harem had a garden in which red peppers, used by the Turks as a spice, grew. The woman took seeds from these peppers and gave them to her lover who she met using a secret passage. Her lover planted the seeds which eventually spread all throughout Hungary.

It is impossible not to be exposed to chile peppers when eating Turkish dishes. A crucial element in Turkish food, it took root in Turkey’s cuisine as perfectly as it did in Turkey’s soil.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have a confession to make: Last summer I went on a pretty hardcore bender. In the process I became a living Portlandia sketch. I pickled everything I could get my hands on. Working a couple of days a week at a farmers market meant I got my hands on plenty.

See, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested (okay, obsessed) with preservation and the surprising number of foods we still eat that came about simply to avoid spoilage and to have something to eat in February. Cured or smoked sausages, ham and bacon, jams, dried fruits and herbs all began as a way to avoid spoilage. So did duck confit. Beer and wine likely started as a means to lengthen the shelf life of barley and grapes. As did pickling.

Roughly defined, pickling involves using a liquid base that inhibits bacterial growth. Acid, salt brine and vegetable or olive oil all do the trick. My bender resulted in putting up far too many jars of pickled fruits and vegetables for a normal family of three to eat, and a kitchen that perpetually smelled like vinegar. (Although, between my pickles and the jam my wife made we would have been set if that brutal Midwestern winter dragged on any longer. So, it’s not all bad.)

The Spice House carries a great pickling spice blend that makes a great base for dill pickles, but I think my favorite style is the sweet bread and butter pickles. My mother-in-law agrees and did her part to move a few jars. She started asking politely a few months ago when I’d be making more. Now that cucumbers are showing up at the farmers markets, she’ll be relieved to know that I can start making them again.

After trying a few recipes I found online, I made one that was close to what I was looking for, but was a little heavy on the celery seed, so I pulled back on that. If memory serves, I also had to adjust out of necessity. I think I was short on white vinegar and/or white sugar and made up the difference with cider vinegar and/or brown sugar. The changes not only made a huge difference, but gave me the exact pickles I was tasting in my head.

I made a batch of these last week. Somehow, though, three jars went mysteriously missing. Curiously, my mother-in-law had been over to babysit.

Bread and Butter Pickles
(makes approximately 7 pint jars)

  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • ¾ cups brown sugar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 4-4 ½ pounds of cucumbers

Wash and sterilize 7 pint jars, lids and rings.

Slice cucumbers into rounds about ⅛ inch thick.

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In a heavy sauce pan combine vinegars, sugars and salt over medium heat. Stir periodically until sugars and salts are dissolved.

To each sterilized pint jar add:

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Pack each jar tightly with sliced cucumbers, leaving ½ inch head space.

Fill each jar with hot brine and cap. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel. Place in refrigerator for at least two days to allow flavor to develop, but try to allow them to refrigerate for at least two weeks.

Alternately, instead of refrigerating, process the jars in a water bath and store in a cool, dark space where your mother-in-law can’t find them

 

The Intersection Between Turkish Spices And Culture

spice bazaar photo blog 1I fell in love with Turkish cuisine during my first visit several years ago to Turkey. Its emphasis on simplicity and skillful use of spices makes it a delight. Many adore the cuisine for these very reasons, and the coveted herbs and spices are popular commodities with tourists visiting Turkey. Locals and tourists crowd the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, which are filled with spice merchants and their shops trying to entice the crowds. When I first traveled to Istanbul, I was enamored by the spices’ bright colors and sumptuous aromas and flavors. I was hooked, and wanted to know more! Continue reading