Thursday, August 14, 2008

More spicy living

One of the scariest and most enjoyable nooks in my house is the spice cabinet. I've got a friend who's a contractor/builder, and one of these days I'm going to have him custom make the spice rack to end all spice racks.

I love the aroma of herbs and spices. It's fun to cook with my daughter (who got her first set of kitchen basics for her 6th birthday Wednesday) and let her sniff all the jars, one by one, as we use them in recipes. It's a joy to see her eyes light up as she notices the difference between cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace. And to see her wrinkle her nose when she bites into a whole fennel seed. You can't cook with something if you don't know what it tastes like.

Into this new awareness of spices comes research indicating the psychological and psyiological benefits that culinary herbs and spices bring to our lives. I mean, you have to be heartless not to get an emotional boost from the smell of cinnamon rolls or banana bread (laced with nutmeg) wafting through the house.

Physiological benefits are still emerging, but there are certain spices and herbs that pack quite the anti-oxidant punch. We've tapped into spice giant McCormick for some new ideas.

Continuing our theme from this week's Your Table on exotic cuisines, let's go to North Africa:

Cinnamon Beef Tagine
Long, slow cooking brings out the layered flavors of North African spices, such as cinnamon, bay leaf, cumin, ginger and red pepper, in this Moroccan stew. Cinnamon and beef is actually a classic combination in Africa.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Makes 8 (1-cup) servings.

2 pounds top round beef, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) beef broth
1 medium onion, cut into small wedges
1 tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/8 teaspoon Ground Red Pepper
1 bay leaf
4 cups cubed butternut squash (3/4-inch cubes)
3 cups cubed sweet potatoes (3/4-inch cubes)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup raisins

Coat beef cubes with flour. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add 1/2 of the beef; cook 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat with remaining beef and oil. Remove beef from pan; set aside.

Stir broth, onion, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, sea salt, ground red pepper and bay leaf into pan. Bring to boil, stirring to release brown bits in bottom of pan.

Return meat to pan. Add vegetables; mix well. Return to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in raisins. Serve with couscous, if desired.

Apple Fennel Bulgur with Sausage
Bulgur, the nutritious Middle Eastern staple, is impressively combined with apples and kielbasa to create a unique and delicious dish.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Makes 6 (1-cup) servings.

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) chicken broth
1 cup uncooked bulgur (available locally)
1 teaspoon Rosemary Leaves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Thyme Leaves, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Sage, Rubbed
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
1/2 pound kielbasa sausage, halved lengthwise and cut in 1/4-inch slices
1 Gala or Golden Delicious apple, cut in thin wedges
1 1/2 teaspoons Fennel Seed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pour broth into liquid measuring cup. Add water to measure 2 cups.

Pour broth mixture into medium saucepan. Add bulgur, rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon of the thyme, salt and sage; bring to boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender. Set aside.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until caramelized, stirring occasionally. Add sausage, apples, remaining 1/4 teaspoon thyme and fennel seed; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add balsamic vinegar and herbed bulgur; mix well.

Back home in the South, with classics from the neighborhood:

Peach Watermelon Salsa with Cinnamon Tortilla Chips
For a change of pace, try a fresh fruit salsa with lightly sweetened tortilla chips at your next cookout. The no-cook salsa is also great as a refreshing topper for simply grilled fish or chicken.
(photo above)

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Refrigerate: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings (1/4 cup salsa and 8 chips each).
Peach Watermelon Salsa

1 cup chopped peeled peaches
1 cup chopped seeded watermelon
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon Thyme Leaves

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl until well blended. Cover. Refrigerate 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
6 flour tortillas (6-inch)

For the Chips, preheat oven to 375°F. Mix sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Spray tortillas lightly with no stick cooking spray. Cut each into 8 wedges. Place on baking sheet. Sprinkle wedges with cinnamon sugar mixture.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely on wire rack. Serve with Peach Watermelon Salsa.
More recipes are available and the combinations are endless.