Condiments Quickly: Making Mayonnaise

Some time back we hosted at our Old Town store a book signing with New York Times Food Columnist, Melissa Clark, who had been making rounds to promote her then-new cookbook, “Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make.” We entertained a small crowd as attendees had the opportunity to meet the author, get her autograph, and pick her brain as she fielded questions about cooking and beyond. The book’s release, and subsequently the event, landed in mid-Fall, so it was no surprise that many of the questions and much of the advice she doled out, centered on, among other seasonal topics, brining, stuffing, or otherwise preparing turkey. Melissa Clark, I realized then, is uniquely talented. Besides being a good cook, she has a way of making some perennially nightmarish kitchen projects sound and look surprisingly manageable. Case in point: I’d been trying for a good while with limited success to concoct my own flavor-infused mayonnaise when I stumbled upon some classic Melissa Clark wisdom in the form of a recent column, “Mayonnaise: Oil, Egg, and a Drop of Magic.”

Photo courtesy of BlackMasterPiece/Mona-Lisa

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Homemade Lavender Simple Syrup

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In the past couple of years, I have gotten the chance to work with some really wonderful spices. It’s always fun to rediscover old favorites in new and interesting ways, and play with delightful new spices. A few months ago we got in a spice that really wowed me: Ultra Blue Lavender. This gorgeous, deep violet lavender had incredibly strong color and fragrance, that made our normally wonderful lavender pale in comparison.  Continue reading

Seasoning Snafus: Hot or Spicy?

Sweet or Heat?

Sweet or Heat?

Some like it hot, while some might like it spicy, some could even go so far as enjoying it hot and spicy… But what's the difference between hot and spicy? As spice merchants, we regularly hear and sympathize with the confusion between the words “hot” and “spicy”. A lot of folks will hear the word “spicy” and immediately believe that a seasoning will be “hot”, which is a reasonable but not always correct assumption to make. In this edition of Seasoning Snafus, I'll try to clear up some of the semantic confusion between these two words and show the best ways to spice up or heat up a meal. Continue reading

It's in the Genes: the Biology of Food Preference

There might be a reason you love a good curry and can’t stomach spinach. A group of European scientists have begun work on a project that could eventually explain everything from your insatiable sweet tooth to your superhuman tolerance for spicy foods. New research on the “genetics of food preferences” suggests our tastes and distastes for certain foods may have their origins in our evolutionary histories, and that our genetic makeup may actually dictate which foods we find attractive, and which ones we abhor. The project – officially called Marco Polo (after the explorer who famously travelled the trade route centuries ago) – examines DNA from a number of cultures and communities along Eurasia’s historic Silk Road in an effort to determine how genetic variation translates to palatal differences within and across cultures. And while Marco Polo’s orchestrators still have significant work to do before the project sees its conclusion, early research has already turned up some interesting results which could, given time, lead to advancements in food science and changes in the direction of food industry research.

The Silk Road is home to ongoing research on the genetics of food preference.

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The Joys of Blending

One of the benefits of working at The Spice House is the opportunity to have new and unique sensory experiences on a regular basis. Just how our senses are stimulated depends on the nature of the task we are handling at any given moment, but the truth is there is very little work to be done at our store that won’t open the eyes, clear the sinuses, or intrigue the taste buds. Indeed, there is a lot to take in at our little shop, from exotic sights and scents to vibrant flavors and even sounds (our founder, the late Bill Penzey Sr., often proclaimed there was music in the spices themselves, although it might go undetected by the untrained or inattentive ear). Of all the work at The Spice House, however, there may not be a job that so deeply buries the hand in sensory stimuli as blending spices.

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns Gardens Tour and Lunch

The chef's eyes light up when showing us his new toy!

I was at a culinary conference in New York earlier this year, where I booked an optional tour to Blue Hill. Chef Dan Barber was to lead the tour;  following the tour, he was to engage in a discussion panel led by  former food columnist for the New York Times,  Molly O'Neill,   while we enjoyed a wonderful luncheon. This was a very expensive optional tour, which I attempted to justify to my husband by showing him that Food and Wine Magazine had honored this restaurant by including them in their list of the “world's top ten life changing restaurants.”

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You can definitely pickle that

Pickles.  Without a doubt my favorite food group. This briny treat is an excellent  accent to sandwiches, salads, bloody mary’s and (in my house) midnight snacking. The perfect pickle balances sourness, sweetness and spice in a way that makes them a truly addictive snack sensation. Typically I get my pickle fix from fine vendors across Chicago. But this fall I decided to try my hand at homemade refrigerator pickles.

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Congratulations, Dimitri and Naomi!

We at the Spice House would like to extend our sincerest congratulations to newlyweds Dimitri and Naomi Moore. Dimi and Naomi tied the knot on August 25th at Pilsen’s Living Room Lounge, following a seven-month engagement. It is always special to play a part in a story with a happy ending, and we were honored to learn that the Moores remember our store fondly as the place they began their romantic journey together.

Newlyweds Dimitri and Naomi Moore pose in front of the site of their first date, our Old Town store. Photography by Jonathan Zuluaga.

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Not Cooking for Summer

Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and great relaxers. At the end of a long day nothing feels better to me than getting in the kitchen and throwing together some food. However, after Chicago’s long stretch of hundred degree plus weather, I discovered a new favorite for summer: not cooking. Instead I turned to fresh and tasty summer staples that almost never required me to turn on the stove. These dishes are some of my summer favorites, that really pop with a couple of small additions.  Continue reading

Molecular Techniques, Spherification

Vanilla Caviar

The ultimate ice cream topping for vanilla lovers.

Food trends come and go, that which was hot one year will eventually fizzle. These trendy food preparations that wow diners of the worlds finest restaurants quickly become caricatures of modern cuisine. One chef creates an influential cooking technique, food writers swoon, other chefs begin to replicate the recipe, and before long there isn't a restaurant in town who has such a trend absent from their menu. The whole process becomes boring to diners as the market is flooded with shoddy reproductions of what might have started as a noteworthy original idea. Although, there is redemption for food trends that fall to the wayside, as that original technique finally becomes accessible to the home chef. Popular restaurant trends of yesteryear become fun home cooking fodder as complicated and expensive cooking techniques slowly find their way into cookbooks and grocery stores. One such trend of recent turnaround are the indubitably confusticated techniques of “Molecular Gastronomy”, specifically the once buzz worthy spherification. Spherification can now be a fun and inexpensive technique to impress guests at home, as what was once haut cuisine can now be constructive in the everyday kitchen. Here I'll provide some helpful hints on spherification with a easy recipe for sweet vanilla spheres, the perfect ice cream topping for the vanilla obsessed.  Continue reading