Raw Sugar-free Cinnamon Cookies

I know that title seems like a bit of a joke, or maybe something you’re thinking “there’s simply no way those can taste good.” One day when I brought a batch of these to work, a co-worker sarcastically asked me “are they cookies made of cinnamon and air?” No, I know it seems strange, but I swear by these cookies. They’re healthy and have a great balance of sweet and salty. They’re served chilled and are perfect for hot summer days when you’re craving something sweet but don’t want something too heavy.

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Ingredients:

2 cups almond meal/flour

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon shredded coconut flakes (skip if you don’t like the coconut flavor)

1 teaspoon China Cassia cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

zest from 1 lemon, juice from 1/2 of the lemon

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients (almond flour, coconut flakes, cinnamon, salt and lemon zest). Add the lemon juice, honey and butter, and mix in thoroughly, using your hands at the end to make sure it’s all incorporated together. Using your hands, shape about a tablespoons-worth of dough into a ball (or any shape you want!) and put onto a piece of wax or parchment paper on a plate. (Don’t worry if you don’t have special paper, just put them directly on a plate and be careful when you remove them.) Stick the plate in the freezer for about an hour to set. Store them in an airtight container in the freezer if you want them on the hard side and in the fridge if you’d like them softer. These area great on a hot day, and the lack of sugar and traditional flour makes them easy on your stomach. I love grabbing two of these for breakfast on busy mornings – they’re sweet but healthy and quite filling.

Warming Dal for a Winter Day

spice house dal recipe

What’s better on a cold winter’s day than a hot bowl of soup for dinner? Not a whole lot, except maybe a bowl of hot dal. There are many variations of this creamy lentil dish throughout India, with each region having their own recipes and methods. The recipe below is somewhat of a mish-mash of a few recipes, accounting for what I had on hand. This dish is great with basmati rice or a hearty naan, roti or other bread.

This recipe makes enough for 4 or 2 with some leftovers.

 

Ingredients

2 cups yellow or green lentils (or a combination of both). Soak these overnight. If you don’t have time, soak for an hour or two while you prepare the other ingredients.

3-4 large carrots, diced into small pieces

1 large yellow onion, diced into small pieces

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 cloves garlic, diced into small pieces

2-3 tablespoons hot curry powder, to taste (or swap out sweet curry powder if you don’t want too much heat)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne (heat-averse people should skip this ingredient)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

5 cups water

1 avocado (optional – not a traditional ingredient)

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and some salt. Stir for a few minutes, until the onion becomes translucent. Add all the spices and stir occasionally for the next 5 minutes to bring out their flavor. Drain the lentils from their water and add them and the carrots and the rest of the salt to the pot. Add the water. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let the dal simmer for the next hour and ten minute to hour and a half. If the water is gone after an hour and ten minutes and you have a nice, thick consistency, try a spoonful and decide if the carrots and lentils are soft enough to be eaten. If they’re not, add another half cup of water and let simmer for another 20 minutes.

Although it’s in no way traditional, I love putting a sliced avocado on top of my dal. I also use making dal as an excuse to buy some Indian beer – Kingfisher is my favorite.

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.

 

Simple and Versatile Thai Curry

I am a huge fan of simple, delicious meals that are easy to make a ton of and make great left overs, aiding in that endless quest for more time during the business of life. Of the various meals I make with the intent of eating a few times throughout the week and freezing a portion of for later, Thai curry is one that stands out from the crowd due to the fact that it gets even better with time. It’s great the day you make it and even better a few days later, when the spices have had time to seep into the coconut milk and become more rich and complex.

Thai curry is also a favorite because of its versatility – almost any vegetable that’s in season and available at the farmer’s market will fit in nicely, and you can even rely on it in winter when we’ve got little more that potatoes and carrots lining the tables of the winter markets. You barely need a plan when going into it, and the only thing you really need to worry about is buying the right amount of cans of coconut milk for how much you want to make. And, of course, that you have some Thai Red Curry Powder on hand. This is a great seasoning with medium heat, and it’s the only thing I use in my curry recipe other than a generous helping of salt at the end (for things like this I like some good old standard Kosher salt).

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Summertime Guacamole and an Ode to Local Tomatoes

TIMG_0001omatoes have finally arrived at the markets, marking a period of time that I’ll spend plotting my week around visiting Chicago’s markets and co-ops on various days of the week, knowing that each tomato purchase is only going to last me a day or two. Tomatoes – especially those mixtures of summer sungolds, purple zebras, and baby romas – may just be my all-time favorite local food.

I went my whole childhood adamantly hating tomatoes, picking them off of sandwiches and ignoring them in salads, only to realize, my sophomore year of college, how much I had been missing out. The problem was that I had been eating pale, flavorless, ghosts of real tomatoes my whole life. I was an active Slow Food UW member during my time in at UW-Madison, and was there that, finally, not willing to be called out my cool local food-obsessed friends, I had my first in-season, locally-grown tomato. It was like a warm little piece of sunshine that exploded its flavor in my mouth – it was the ghost of tomatoes past reincarnated into a living, breathing, incredibly flavorful, naturally sweet little piece of happiness.

Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with tomatoes, and look forward to them arriving at the markets and dread their inevitable disappearance. While they’re here, I find ways to work them into almost everything I make. In my opinion, tomatoes are among a small number of foods that easily illustrate the difference between local and non-local food. Potatoes or broccoli seem roughly the same regardless of how far away they came from or when they were grown, but tomatoes are different.

Guacamole, of course, begs to have tomatoes included, but this brief period of the summer is the only time I actually include them. Few things are better on a hot Chicago summer day than some fresh chips and guacamole with a refreshing beer – except, of course, that same guacamole with some locally-grown tomatoes thrown in.

Summertime Guacamole with Local Tomatoes

Ingredients:

3 avocados

1/2 of a purple onion, diced into small pieces

10 small tomatoes of any variety (such as sungolds, purple zebras or baby romas), halved or quartered depending on size

2 tablespoons ground Cumin Powder

2 teaspoons salt

3 – 5 sprigs of cilantro (to taste), chopped

1/2 of a lime (for juice)

3 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)

Directions:

Slice open the avocados and remove the pits (an easy way to do this is to use a heavy knife to strike the middle of the pit, hard, so that the knife gets stuck in it, then pull the knife away pit and all. Scoop the flesh out and put it into a large bowl, then mash with a fork. Mix in the salt, cumin and lime juice. If you’re going to add sour cream or yogurt (which give the guacamole a wonderful creaminess), stir it in at this point. Finally, gently stir in the onions, tomatoes and cilantro. Taste by trying on a chip. Enjoy on a patio or deck with a refreshing summer beer.

Chorizo Hash Breakfast Skillet

Sunny side up eggs with chorizo hash, breakfast of champions.

Sunny side up eggs with chorizo hash, breakfast of champions.

We had long been receiving requests to develop a Spice House chorizo blend. Not long ago, after what seemed like ages of tedious research and development, we finally created a Mexican style chorizo blend that we can proudly put the Spice House seal of approval on. Our Chorizo Casero Mexican Sausage Seasoning recreates the popular mexican sausage that folks throughout Chicago know and love, all with that same Spice House quality we give all of our blends. As a transplant to Chicago, I had not been aware of this popular mexican staple until I sampled it at some local Mexican restaurants. Sadly, not all of our readers have had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago and dining at any of our city’s fantastic Mexican restaurants and taco joints. So I though it might be a good idea to explain a bit more about Mexican chorizo and how you can use our new blend to make some of your own at home. Continue reading

Healthy Dinner for Two, Kale and Soy Glazed Shiitake Sushi

The trendy superfood, Kale, served as a romantic Japanese inspired dinner for two.

The trendy superfood, Kale, served as a romantic Japanese inspired dinner for two.

I have long enjoyed a lesser-known kind of sushi called battera, it is rarely seen in the States, even at the most traditional of sushi restaurants.  This sushi is comprised of sushi rice, densely pressed into a square wooden form. A layer of rice is pressed down, and then a layer of Japanese mint leaves are placed on top. This is followed with a second layer of rice, pressed, then a layer of salty mackerel and finally topped with sweet pickled kelp. The whole lot is pressed one last time and then cut into rectangular pieces, approximately one inch wide by three inches long. This sushi is  to be eaten in two bites, unlike most maki or nigiri. Each bite of battera fills ones mouth with sweet sticky rice, expanding as one chews. The salty mackerel dances in a sea of rice, perfectly complimented by the sharp mint. I’ve used this experience as an inspiration for the following recipe, featuring soy-glazed shiitake and blanched kale.  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