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.”
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
The pungent mixture of curative spices, served as delectable fine dining.
Throughout history, many herbalists, doctors, and chefs have touted the health benefits of spices in the kitchen. Nearly every individual spice and herb we carry has at some point been used as a holistic remedy. Cultures the world over have long turned to the healing properties of spices to ease pains, fight deseases, and slow aging. Even now, every few months we hear about a new study proving the long known health benefits of a particular spice. Here, at the Spice House, we are far from doctors or herbalist healers, we are but humble spice merchants. It is from this perspective that I've noticed that there is one thing that isn't always mentioned in these modern medical studies of spices or holistic herbalist books. Cooking with spices isn't just healthy, it is also delicious. Continue reading
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.
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
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
Shrimp are often treated as the frozen boneless chicken breast of the sea. The natural sweet flavor of these tasty crustaceans are often masked in complex sauces and over seasoned breading, or worse to be lost completely as an overcooked and flavorless seafood in a poorly made fried rice. When grilling with friends in the summer, I all to often see the sad offering of over seasoned grilled shrimp skewers, it is a sad fate for the lowly shrimp to be reserved as an appetizer. “Bland” needn't be the last word on our lovely decapod friends, a simple marinade of Harissa and Preserved Lemons can change shrimp from the surf and turf sideline to an addicting grilled main coarse. Continue reading
Last week, a kind gentleman representing the fine spiced liqueur, Bénédictine, stopped by the shop. He was looking to procure a wide variety of herbs and spices, each representing prime flavor notes in Bénédictine's closely guarded secret recipe. Using these, he would create an aroma kit, like those used by wine tasters, to demonstrate his liqueur's depth to costumers. With the aid of Bridget, Old Town's manager, the gentleman was so pleased with the Spice House that he offered a bottle for us to enjoy. So the question was posed, “how best to honor such a fine gift?” With a custom cocktail, that's how! This is how the “Spice House Sling” was born. Continue reading
Featured in the May 2012 issue of Saveur is a neat piece on artisanal breads and the surging popularity of bread-making in America lately. William Alexander’s “American Bread” is a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the craft of baking delicious bread or the business of selling it. The 18-page spread is pretty far-reaching, as it not only introduces some of today’s premier artisan bread bakers and shop owners from coast to coast, but also includes a variety of recipes, tutorials, and enticing photography. All of this is a great source of the necessary know-how, and maybe even some of the motivation, to get you in the kitchen to try your own hand at artisan-style bread baking.
Everyone gets bored in the kitchen now and again, from a Michelin star chef to a teenager
just looking for some different leftovers to microwave after school, we have all felt the touch of creative culinary stagnation. Cooking and eating the same things gets boring, but trying to come up with new things to cook can seem daunting, scary even. But it can be done, it just takes a little work and ironically, a little restraint.