Chef Dina

Now available for Bay Area full service catering in conjunction with "A Fork Full of Earth" organic catering, intimate dinner parties and weekly meal preparation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Spice blends- you can do it!

I want to encourage everyone to have a few of their own spice blends on hand, it really is so easy to do. It will also give your quick weeknight meals a sense of self satisfaction knowing you didn't have to pound loose one of Emeril's store bought seasonings from the large clump that has formed in the  shaker. You know how long that has been sitting in the back of that spice cabinet?! There isn't enough sodium silicate in the world...

Take my blackening seasoning for example. Pull that blend out of the cabinet, coat one side of some boneless-skinless chicken thighs and put them face down in a smokin' hot cast iron pan for about 5 minutes. Turn them over and cook for another 5 or so. Lay them on a bed of brown rice and sautee some onions and bell peppers to put on top and Voila! You have the easiest weeknight dinner ever, and can pat yourself on the back knowing you added a certain level of complexity with hardly any work at all.

Not only are spice blends easy to make, but making your own uses up spices that you already have on hand.  They (whoever "they" are...) say spices have a shelf life of 1 year, and I am willing to bet most of your spices are nearing the end of their season.  Keep your rotation fresh by making your own blends to help use up the stuff faster. Plus, no preservatives and no clumping either. Save that $5.99 you are about to spend on that shaker full of Montreal steak seasoning or whatever and buy yourself a new spice or herb to add to your own blended creation. Below are a few blends to get you started. Some are easier than others, but the more complex ones will be well worth your time.

Blackening seasoning
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 t oregano
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tbs paprika

Spoon it all in a jar and shake it up real good. I usually triple or quadruple this so I have plenty on hand.  Store in an airtight jar.

Blacken up that chicken I mentioned earlier. You can also do the same with fish (snapper, tuna, tilapia...) and top with a herby garlic butter or even just a simple drawn butter is great with blackened tuna or mahi-mahi. Be sure to get that cast iron smokin' hot and turn on the exhaust fan! Once you put the seasoned side down, just leave it there with out touching it until it is ready to turn. Throw the mix in some red beans and rice or even some chili to kick things up a notch. This will be your husband's favorite spice.

House Curry
3 tbs turmeric
2 tbs garam masala
2 tbs ground coriander
2 tbs brown mustard seed
1 tbs yellow mustard seed
1 tbs poppy seed
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp anise seed
1/2 tsp crushed red chilies

This one is courtesy of my good friend, Angela, at a Fork Full of Earth catering.
Put all the seeds/whole spices in a pan and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly. Grind in a spice grinder, blender, mortar and pestle...whatever ya got.  Combine all ingredients and mix well. store in an airtight jar.

You can use this in place of a traditional, store bought yellow curry. Mix it with some plain yogurt and a little honey to marinate chicken for kebabs.  Need a sauce? Puree some roasted red pepper, a tiny bit of vinegar or lime juice and a touch of coconut milk.

This is one is a little more complex than just spooning some dry spices into a jar, and I feel obliged to mention that it is sure to keep your dwelling smelling like the Taj Mahal all week...yum.
Vadouvan is based in onion and garlic and is a derivative of an indian curry but with french influence. It is used a lot in gourmet cooking and I've seen it popping up a lot on restaurant menus. This particular blend is from Epicurious. Keep this one in an airtight container in your freezer.

2 lb onion
1 lb shallot
12 cloves garlic
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp brown mustard seed
3/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ground clove

Pulse onion, garlic and shallot (probably in batches) in your food processor. Sautee the mixture in oil until golden in spots. Grind the whole spices and then add all ground spices to the onion/garlic mixture. Transfer the spicy goodness to a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at a low temperature until well browned and barely moist. Stir it very often and break up any clumps.  This may take up to an hour or a  bit more, depending on your oven.

I have a wonderful recipe for red lentil soup on this blog. Make that and stir in a couple tablespoons of the vadouvan.  Experiment by throwing it in a curry dish you might use a store bought curry paste or a traditional yellow curry in.  Mix it with some butter or oil and rub it all over a leg of lamb to roast.  I also like to make a creamy leek vadoum sauce to top chicken or salmon (this recipe adapted from Epicurious):

Clean and chop 3 large leeks (pale white parts only) and sautee with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Add 1/4 cup white wine, 2 tbs vadouvan and 1/3 cup heavy cream. Simmer 10 minutes or until thickened.

I know I don't always have specific measurements for recipes...but that's how we learn, right?? Be intuitive and do it till it tastes good.  I am hoping these blends will get your creative juices flowing!

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