A Spicy Life

The history of spices is a fascinating tale for sure. They have been a catalyst for some of the greatest adventures of all times.

Christopher Columbus would never have discovered North America if he wasn’t trying to get to India to find the precious spices. Spice has cast a spell on our imaginations since early times. They flatter our senses with their vibrant colors and smells. They can turn a mundane dish in to one fit for a king!

The British East India Company turned London, England into one of the greatest spice markets in the world for over 200 years. Since the 10th century spices were added to the dishes of the great and powerful courts of Europe. They came from the Orient, overland through Arabia and the Red Sea, across Egypt and to the ports of Venice and Genoa until they reached Britain.

Today, spice empires may have disappeared, but spices still light our imaginations, are inexpensive and readily available. It’s hard to believe in this day and age, that wars were waged and new lands were discovered all in the name of finding spices.

So the next time you are preparing food for your family or friends, remember there is a whole lot of history that made it possible for you to add some wonderful and delicious flavors to your favorite recipe.

My Favorite Chai Tea Recipe

Chai is basically a black tea brewed with selected spices and milk. Each ingredient adds subtle flavor changes and brewing methods can vary widely.

Boil together the following for about five minutes and then let sit for around 10 minutes to steep.
1 Tbsp fennel or anise seed
6 green cardamom pods
12 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/4" ginger root, sliced thin
1/4 tsp black pepper corns
2 bay leaves
7 Cups water

Bring the mixture back to a boil and add 2 tbsp of your favorite black tea (mine is Darjeeling). Turn down the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Then add 6 tbsp of honey or brown sugar and 1 cup of milk. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Must Have Herbs and Spices

A well stocked kitchen needs to have an assortment of herbs and spices. Whether you are a new cook just starting out or a seasoned cook, making sure you have fresh herbs and spices on hand can only enhance your recipes.

Basil: is one of the most popular herbs. Mostly grown in California, Basil can be added to many different dishes. Try fresh basil in your home made tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce. It also makes a wonderful pesto sauce to add to your favorite pasta.

Oregano: a popular spice found in most Greek, Mediterranean and Southwestern cooking. Oregano is also a key herb in Italian style pizza. Add to baked chicken or fish or your favorite tomato sauce.

Chili Powder: this little spice makes for a great addition to your favorite Mexican or your favorite chili recipes. Most chili powder is made from the ancho chile which has a deep maroon color and a sweet flavor.

Paprika: belongs on such classic dishes as goulash, chicken paprikash, stuffed bell peppers and as well on devilled eggs, in potato salads, and baked chicken or fish.

Rosemary: is a classic spice and is historically associated with remembrance. In ancient times, Greek students would wear rosemary wreaths when they were writing exams. Brides have presented their grooms with a bunch of rosemary on the morning of their wedding as a remembrance of faithfulness. Rosemary is used extensively in French, Spanish and Italian cooking on lamb and chicken. Add it to your favorite tomato sauce recipe or to soups, stews and foccacia bread.

Thyme: the list wouldn’t be complete without Thyme. This great herb can be found in soups, stews, clam chowder, stuffing, gumbos, sauces, roast chicken and pork as well as many vegetable and fish dishes. Thyme is the main ingredient in Bouquet Garni (including parley and bay leaf). Medieval roman knights would wear scarves with an embroidered spring of thyme as a symbol of their bravery.

Storing Herbs and Spices

Spices and herbs will lose their color, taste and aroma over time. To retain peak flavor and color, store spices and herbs in a cool, dry place, away from being exposed to intense light, heat, moisture or oxygen. If possible, avoid storing spices and herbs too near the stove, oven, dishwasher or refrigerator, where they could come in contact with steam or heat. Dampness can cause ground spices to cake together.

Store herbs and spices in airtight containers, such as glass jars, plastic containers or tins, to protect against moisture and preserve oils that give spices their flavor and aroma.

Red-colored spices, such as chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika can be refrigerated to prevent  them from losing their color and flavors. It is best to store your herbs and spices around 70 degrees F. Any temperature fluctuations could cause moisture to get into the spices or herbs and cause mold.  It is also a good idea to store spices in the freezer or refrigerator.

The shelf life of herbs and spices will vary depending on the kind of spice or herb or the plant part. Spices and herbs that have been cut or powdered have more surface area that is exposed to the air and so they can lose their flavors more quickly than whole herbs and spices.

Creamy Potato & Leek Soup

3 tablespoons butter
1 green onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups leeks, white part and a little green, sliced thinly
3 white potatoes
6 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme or basil
Dash of nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add green onions and leeks and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add potatoes, stir to coat with melted butter. Add the stock, bay leaves and thyme or basil and cook until potatoes are very soft. Puree soup in a blender or food processor, adding nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

I know, I know. This has nothing to do with spices and herbs! However, I couldn't resist telling the story of this famous Old Spice ad. After all it is "spicy"! Enjoy!

The Making of a "Spicy" Commercial

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