Warming Up For Winter: The Classic Hot Toddy

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As the temperature begins to drop, it’s official. It’s time for bourbon. During the summer, the drink of choice definitely trends toward clear liquors, and clean flavors. Fruit and frosted glasses take center stage. But, as soon as the weather begins to turn drizzly, I find myself craving amber spirits and spices. It’s the season for mulled wine, hot buttered rum and, of course, my favorite winter warmer: the hot toddy.  This spiced drink is relaxing, invigorating, and somehow a mysterious cure all. Whether it’s at get together with friends, or just to sip by yourself on some blustery evening, this drink is always warming, and always a hit.

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The Dance of the Fish Fry, Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream

When I was young, my family would have a fish fry every few weeks. Whenever my mother would bring home a few pounds of fresh cod and buttermilk from the grocery store, I immediately knew I was in for a treat. I used to love the process of it all, dipping the fish in the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the flour again. I loved listening to the oil pop and sputter, being to short to watch my father place the battered fish into the pot. There is such theatre to a fish fry, the purposeful steps forming a dance of comestible intent. The flurry of these dancers’ movement is scored by the scents and sounds of sizzling spiced batter and hot snapping oil. No one person takes a passive role in this dance, while the surrounding viewers may only first stand and watch in anticipation, they later become eager participants in the eating. Food is about more than just the things that we digest, it is also about the process, the participants, and the community that create it. These food traditions become an act of modern story telling, a form of ritual that groups use unconsciously to pass on the customs and teachings that make up a heritage. Continue reading

Aleppo Pepper and White Pepper Honey Glazed Duck with Harvest Vegetable Biryani

Slow times, slow cooking; quickly guests fill the table; good food fills good friends.

Slow times, slow cooking; quickly guests fill the table; good food fills good friends.

Fall flavors start with the harvest of late summer’s produce, awakening some primal urge for slow cooked meals and poultry. Its the time when we dust off grandma’s cast iron dutch oven or our mother’s crock pot, and begin to plot meals laced with sage, starch, and plenty of butter. Fall brings layers of flavors and layers of clothing, layers that both increase and hide our bulging waistlines. A welcome reprieve from the dreaded swim suit season, allowing ourselves another helping of sweet potatoes under the security afforded only by woolen sweaters and understanding family. Yes, it is a pleasure to start to indulge in gastronomic overkill during a time when we all start to huddle around a warm dinner table as opposed to sitting on a warm beach. A time when it is more pleasurable to hold close to the unconditional positive regard of our loved ones, who are keen to set an open chair at the table, so long as we agree to sit and eat in their company. It is a ceremonial offering of the work and toil we all endure in the hot late summer months, a promise kept by our elders who kept the fires warm as the young return tired from their months of play. Fall is for family, fall is for food, and why shouldn’t it? So when the sun starts to set early, and cotton teeshirts give way to flannel button downs, please consider the duck. Continue reading

Chicken-Rub Laboratory, Mark I

The elusive perfect chicken rub.

The elusive perfect chicken rub.

We hear it all the time, “what's good with chicken?” Some workers at the Spice House fear this question, and for good reason. The difficulty here is not that it is difficult to find a seasoning that pairs well with chicken, quite the opposite. As most folks already know chicken's legendary culinary tagline: “good with everything”.  We have a great variety of seasonings we make in house that are wonderful with chicken. We have done the work for you, each blend may have as many as 33 ingredients, you just need to shake on or rub in. For those who like to experiment,  making your own rubs and seasonings from scratch  is both rewarding and a lot of fun. Mad scientist type of fun.  I have thereby taken it upon myself to test out my own personal spice mixtures and recipes, posting updates along the way. Continue reading

Cooking Restraint: Watermelon Gazpacho, salt-free edition

Flavorful and Salt-Free

Getting bored in the kitchen happens, and finding interesting ideas can be a handful. Limiting ourselves to pursue new culinary territory might seem like a good way to just get out of a rut, but it can also apply to real world nutritional needs. There are an awful lot of customers we see who can no longer have certain loved ingredients, due to health problems or newly discovered allergies. Yet the removal of an important ingredient doesn’t mean that bland or lifeless food is the only option, it just takes a little work and ironically, a little restraint. Continue reading

Pink Peppercorn Pear Sorbet

 I love making ice cream at home. I have had a love affair with my ice cream machine ever since I took it out of the box. It's a labor of love, creating layered and often downright wacky flavors of ice cream and sorbet that can be found in no grocery store freezer. Fanciful ice creams, flavors that combine sweet and savory, sorbets the more offbeat the better. Half the fun of cooking at home is the creative licence afforded there, and that ice cream machine and I have pushed that envelope all over town. Sure, not all of the flavors have been successful, but how can I know that Jamaican Jerk Peanut Butter ice cream is a bad idea until I try it myself? On a side note, Jamaican Jerk Peanut Butter ice cream is certainly a bad idea, but I had a lot of fun finding out why, the hard way. Mishaps aside, let me share with you one of my more successful creations, Pink Peppercorn Pear Sorbet.  Continue reading

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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Brewing with Spices

shutterstock_27267175The art of brewing may be the oldest craft invented by humanity. In fact, many anthropologists believe that brewing predates agriculture, and may have been the original impetus for the development of permanent agrarian settlements.

Today, the standard formula for beer is malt, water, yeast and hops. In fact, the reinheitsgebot purity law of Germany forbids the use of any other ingredients in beer. However, this has not always been the case. Historically, brewers have utilized a variety of spices to enhance the flavor of their beers. Long before the use of hops became widespread, a blend of spices known as gruit was the primary means of flavoring beer. Often, the spices in gruit also acted as a preservative to protect the beer's flavor. There are many versions of gruit, each using a variety of spices. Many include esoteric herbs such as sweet gale and mugwort, as well as some more familiar spices, such as juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, anise seed, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Although the use of gruit largely fell out of favor when hops became the norm, many craft and home brewers, as well as some historic breweries, still use gruit to create unusual and flavorful beers. Continue reading

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