Friday, September 2, 2011

Spice World: Part 1

The dessert pepper

The Chef Tools salt and spices department fascinates me. I’m always finding new and interesting seasonings hidden in there. I’m so fascinated that I think I’ll make it a regular feature of this blog to highlight the salts, spices, seasonings, chilies and more in the department. The Spice Girls reference is just serendipitous … .

Today: new additions to the spice department.

The lovely people over at India Tree have imported a couple of new and exotic items for our consumption. They were added to on Tuesday. Here’s a rundown and some facts about each spice and seasoning we added:

Green Peppercorns: These furious little balls of pungent spice are actually just unripe black peppercorns. Their youth gives them a vigorous flavor, slightly sour; a round flavor, as opposed to the square kick of black pepper.  Perfect for soups, stocks and pasta sauce.

Pink Peppercorns: The dessert pepper. That’s right, these mild peppers have a slightly (slightly) sweet flavor that complements sugary desserts, especially ones made with sweet and sour fruits like strawberries, rhubarb and raspberries. Plus they’re beautiful and sourced from a tiny island in the East Indies.

Turmeric: one of those miracle spices. Not only is it delicious and essential in curries and American yellow mustard, but it’s also renowned in holistic circles as a digestive aid. Turmeric is a great natural food coloring (yellow, of course) and is pungent and mixes well with salt (I always add turmeric to my home fries).

Mexican oregano: Like Italian oregano, except that it’s different. Mexican oregano is citrusy, as opposed to the Italian variety’s straight-up sweetness. In spicy foods, it holds its own better than its Mediterranean cousin (they’re actually biologically unrelated). Good in chili and salsa.

Cinnamon quills: What’s better than a stick of Ceylon cinnamon in a holiday drink? Delicious in apple cider on Halloween night or after Thanksgiving dinner; or in hot brandy or whiskey on Christmas Eve. Also, grind these sticks on toast, on desserts or in Mexican preparations.

Chilies: This is actually an offshoot of our spice department, and it’s entirely new. We’ve added chipotle, ancho, Thai (bird’s eye) and chilie de arbor chilies. For heat, shred the Thai or de arbors in any Asian or Mexican (or South American or Central American) dish. The chipotles and anchos are for depth and for condiments like salsa.

Mushrooms: Another new spice-related department. We now offer dry shiitakes, porcinis, morels and a mixed bag of mushrooms. Bring these dry ‘shrooms back to delicious life with a little hot water. My favorite among these fun-guys is the shiitake; a piping hot sweet and sour soup with just shiitakes and frozen tofu swimming around is excellent, and the perfect fall/winter dish.

Popcorn: actually, corn kernels.  This is a great fall snack. Just looking at the package reminds me of raked leaves, the smell of a billowing chimney and … scarecrows. This is a bag of several varieties of corn. Each has a slightly different flavor and produces a bowl of popcorn that has enough flavor without salt, sugar or butter.
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