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Archive for the ‘spices’ Category

When I was a young ‘tweenager’ my mother started to get me cooking meals. She taught me about preparing all the basics, selection vegetables, different meats and their cuts and about flavouring things with herbs and spices. Later I would find my own ways of experimenting with simple recipes.  One herb which fascinated me was the Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis). Imagine my surprise when I saw True Bay Laurel trees growing in front of my sisters place on Government street!
The clipped Bay Laurel in front of my sister's place.

The clipped Bay Laurel in front of my sister's place.

It seems very appropriate to be writing about this plant as it is closely associated with   athletic games held in ancient Greece The event winners would receive a Bay Laurel wreath as a prize. The games called the Pythian Games and were held to honour the god  Apollo.
This Laurus noblis is a multi-stemmed shrub which is regularly clipped.

This Laurus nobilis is a multi-stemmed shrub which is regularly clipped.

Apollo was amorous of Daphne who did not return his feelings, she ran off and asked her father (Pereus the River god) for help. He turned her in to a laurel tree which was located near  the bank of a river. In this disguise she was able to escape from Apollo. Apollo found the tree and made himself a wreath from it’s branches in the memory of her beauty. The Laurel tree was one of Apollos’ symbols.
These two True Bay lead into the formal herb garden at Government House, Victoria.

These two True Bay lead into the formal herb garden at Government House, Victoria.

Wreaths were also given to important poets and this is where the term Poet Laureate comes from.  The source of ‘baccalaureate’ is the laurel berry.
Christians held the Bay tree to be a symbol of the resurrection of Christ and triumph of humanity.
The Bay tree even is spoken of in Chinese folklore in the famous story of Wu Gang. Wu Gang was a man who wanted immortality but neglected his work. When the deities found out about his neglect they tricked Wu Gang by making him think that by cutting down a Laurel tree he could join them. Every time he cut the tree down it would miraculously regenerate and never could be fell.
These wonderful True Bay leaves have a spicy scent if rubbed up against.

These wonderful True Bay leaves have a spicy scent if rubbed up against.

The Bay tree and it’s parts are found symbolized in many places as diverse as the American one dollar bill, ten yen coin of Japan, the shield and flag of the Dominican Republic and strangely is the clan plant of the Scottish clan Graham.. It naturally is very important to the country of Greece where it is found in the national emblem of the country.

This Laurus noblis has set flower busd which will bloom later in the year.

This Laurus nobilis has set flower buds which will bloom later in the year.

For most of us it is a flavouring used in stew and other savoury dishes. It can be harvested as single leaves or as branches and used right from the tree or bush. It also can easily be dried and used later. As my mother taught me one leave goes a long way, so care must be used with this flavouring.
The only part of this herb garden which were not replaced was the three True Bays.

The only part of this herb garden which was not replaced were the three True Bays.

The California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia Californica) is sometimes sold as the True Bay. The leaf margins on the plant are smooth whereas those of the True Bay tend to undulated. I would not use the California Bay in place of True Bay in food preparation as it has much stronger volatile oils which are not the same.
Just another happy Laurus noblis growing in a Herb garden.

Just another happy Laurus nobilis growing in a Herb garden.

In its native habitat of the Mediterranean, Laurus noblis has been cultivated for thousands of years where it  grows to about 18m (60ft). Here it more commonly grown as a clipped, shaped shrub which can be used as a formal hedge, container plant, accent or specimen plant. Buy them as a small trees in a container and then shape it as you please. The True Bay like well-drained soil and full sun. It tolerates short droughts very well and does not like to be over-watered. Bay’s live in zones 8 through 11 and tolerate temperatures down to freezing for short periods.

More about Bay Trees:

Wiki has a good page:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_leaf

A good article from Flooridata: http://www.floridata.com/ref/L/laur_nob.cfm

Now on to Kim’s yummy recipes!

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Well…we’ve come to our last post for the year 2009, can hardly believe that! So…we saved our last herb for this time of the year where it is appropriate to use – Sage. A very robust herb who’s flavor can stand up to any herb or spice and it seems to have a personality all of its own. It’s one of those spices we don’t use much until the holidays although if you’re like me, you keep it around your cabinet all year.

What I like best about sage is that you don’t need much of it to enjoy its flavor to the dish – and therefore I never run out of it as I do with say parsley or basil. Sage has diverse roles in cooking, and can be used in savory dishes, soups, even desserts. So my menu this month features it used in all these types of meals. And you’ll notice when you read the recipes just how much sage is needed. It blends so well with other herbs like thyme, rosemary as a spice rub so when I have something with multiple uses, I try to get all I can out of it! LOL!

As Jen mentioned in her post Sage (Salvia Officinalis) sage is known to be used it in many medicinal ways. Its best known property is that it can reduce perspiration, this is useful for those persons dealing with night sweats. It is also well known as an astringent which has commonly been used as a gargle for tonsillitis, laryngitis and sore throats. Salvia tea in the past was also prescribed for  problems such as nervous conditions, trembling, depression and vertigo. Crushed fresh leaves are used help relieve insect bites.


Fruit Sage Leaves

As an herb, sage has a slight peppery flavor. In Western cooking, it is used for flavoring fatty meats (especially as a marinade), cheeses (Sage Derby), and some drinks. In the United States, Britain and Flanders, sage is used with onion for poultry or pork stuffing and also in sauces. In French cuisine, sage is used for cooking white meat and in vegetable soups. Germans often use it in sausage dishes, and sage forms the dominant flavoring in the English Lincolnshire sausage. Sage is also common in Italian cooking. Sage is sautéed in olive oil and butter until crisp, then plain or stuffed pasta is added (burro e salvia). In the Balkans and the Middle East, it is used when roasting mutton. (Wikipedia.org)

I normally use the dried version because for the most part, I’m usually roasting turkey or chicken and so dry herbs can stand up to the heat whereas fresh of course would burn. However, one of the items on my menu calls for fresh sage! Sage is also not to everybody’s liking. Its strong flavor should not be overdone, otherwise like tarragon if you use too much all you’ll taste is sage. It is definitely an “acquired taste”.  The dried herb can be chopped (cut) into pieces to yield “whole” sage or finely ground, which you can do by rubbing the dried herb between your fingers hence yielding rubbed sage. But, once you use it a lot you’ll learn to really appreciate its aroma! So, I’m sure you’re ready to get away from the facts and down to the menu right?

So we have for you ladies and gentlemen:

Roasted Pork Loin with Sage
Roasted Chicken with Sage
Sage Potato Leek Soup
Parmesan Parsnip Sage Bread

In trying to be a bit different, I opted for the soup rather than stuffing and I thought you might be sick of turkey so I opted for the pork loin instead! Though I like traditions, I also like to mix things up a bit and so for my holiday that was my goal. But, in posting this month I thought I’d tell you this in case you were wondering why I omitted turkey and stuffing!

So let’s first get started with our two main courses:

Roasted Pork Loin with Sage

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. ground sage
2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp. black pepper
5 lb. boneless porkloin roast
Preparation:
The night before: in a small bowl combine sugar, sage, marjoram, salt, mustard and pepper. Thoroughly rub roast with the herb mixture; refrigerate. Then on the next day, tie and set the meat in a shallow baking pan with a rack. Insert a meat thermometer. Roast uncovered at 325 degrees for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until thermometer reads 170 degrees. Let meat rest for about 15 to 20 minutes before you cut it.

Roasted Chicken with Sage

Ingredients:
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried rosemary
2 tsp. dried sage
1 chicken, 5-6 lbs., thoroughly cleaned
2 tbsp. soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
Minced zest of 2 lemons
Preparation:
In small bowl thoroughly mix butter, oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and lemon zest. Beginning at the neck opening, slip your fingers between the chicken skin and flesh and loosen the skin on one side of the breast, leaving the skin attached at the cavity opening.
Next work your fingers under the skin of the thigh and leg, leaving the skin attached at the end of the leg. Repeat on the other side of the chicken. Evenly rub the reserved mixture directly onto the meat and in the cavity. Rub the outside surface of the chicken with soy sauce and sprinkle with pepper. Roast uncovered for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 and cook, basting with pan drippings every 15 minutes, until done, about 20 minutes per pound. Let meat rest for about 15 minutes before cutting.

Sage Potato Leek Soup


I adore potato leek soup!
Ingredients:
2 tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
2 tsp. dried sage
2 tbsp. flour
4 c. chicken stock
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
salt and pepper to taste
1 c. low fat milk
Preparation:
Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and leeks, sauté gently until soft. Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in stock.
Add potatoes and sage, bring to the boil, simmer gently for 30-40 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Stir in milk and seasonings. Puree soup in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. (be sure that the soup has cooled first before adding it to the blender, you can always return it to the stove to reheat.) Serve with crusty bread on the side OR try your hand at making the parmesan parsnip sage bread below!

Parmesan Parsnip Sage Bread

Ingredients:
175 g parsnips (peeled weight)
50 g parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) cut into 5mm cubes
1 rounded tbsp. chopped fresh sage
225 g self-rising flour
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1 tbsp. milk
For the Topping:
25 g parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) shavings whole small sage leaves
a little extra flour for dusting
1 tsp. olive oil
small solid baking dish that is very well greased.
Preparation:
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/375F/190C. Sift the flour and salt into a large roomy bowl. Put a grater in the bowl and coarsely grate the parsnips into the flour then toss them around.
Add the cubes of Parmesan and chopped sage and toss that in. Lightly beat the eggs and milk together then add this to the bowl a little at a time mixing evenly with a palette knife. What you should end up with is a rough rather loose sticky dough so dont worry what it looks like at this stage. Transfer this to the baking sheet and pat it gently into a 15cm rough round then make a cross with the blunt side of a knife.
Scatter the Parmesan shavings over the surface followed by a sprinkling of flour. Spoon the olive oil into a dish dip each sage leaf in the oil and scatter them over the bread. Now it should go into the oven on a high shelf to bake for 45 to 50 minutes by which time it will be golden and crusty. Place on a wire rack and either serve it while still warm or reheat it later. A wonderful bread to serve anytime!
Well…that’s it for 2009! So from Jen and myself we wish you a very Happy and Safe New Year! We’ll be back in 2010 with more wonderful herbs and plants to tell you all about so stay tuned …..until next month!
Kim

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Star Anise is our Spice Choice for June!

In my volunteer job I have cataloged the plants of a very large property in the Victoria area. This entails comparing the on hand information with what I know and can find out from various reputable sources that are available to me. The plant collection was mostly planted nearly 100 years ago and this has lead me to become interested in other similar collections of the same age in the area. One such collection is very close to where I live and i was lucky to meet a lady who had done exactly the same job there. She briefly told me about the collection and then showed me a plant which does not grow anywhere else that she or I knew of. It was the Star Anise(Illicium vernum) the wonderful sweet licorice-like spice plant.

The interesting Illicuim vernum flowers which are related to Magnolias.

The interesting Illicuim vernum flowers which are related to Magnolias.

Here in the Victoria area Star Anise are absolutely at the coldest limits of where it can survive. Normally these plants grow into trees up to 5m (18ft) tall, yet here and in the in warmer areas of Great Britain it can only muster up a lumpy 3m (9-10ft) shrub form.  This shrub is a common site in many areas of Asia including Vietnam north through China and Korea. It was imported into Japan by Buddhists and is often found growing beside temples and in grave sites. It is now grown in southeastern U.S.A. as a spice crop.

Illicium vernum Also Known as Star Anise or Aniseed.

Illicium vernum Also Known as Star Anise or Aniseed.

Medicinally Star Anise has many useful properties. It has commonly been used as a carminative(reducing flatulence and other internal gases) , stimulant and as a stomachic which strengthens and tones the stomach. It is useful in promoting digestion and appetite which is not surprising as that is what the other ‘Anise’(Pimpinella anisum) is used for. It has also been used for colic in babies and a treatment for rheumatism. With it’s wonderful and strong flavor, it is often added to medicines to make them more palatable.  Homeopaths make a weak infusion or prescribe a stronger tincture which is diluted in a liquid.  This will be made using the crushed seeds. the bark is pounded and used to make fragrant insense.

Star Anise Seeds are starting to develope from a recent bloom.

Star Anise Seeds are starting to develope from a recent bloom.

To grow one of these interesting plants you will need to live in a warm climate to produce the best specimen.  Zone 8 or above is a must to produce one a healthy Illicium vernum. It likes light sandy to medium loamy soil which is well drained. It grows best in a shaded position which is protected from cold winds to protect it’s glossy dark green evergreen leaves. As a shrub it has many uses such as in a shrub boarder or as a screen or fragrant hedge. it also works well as background shrub which can be used in a shady area.

Star Anise with it's star-like seed capsules.

Star Anise with it's star-like seed capsules.

The Latin name of ‘Star Anise‘ is Illicuim (meaning allurement) vernum (which refers to spring).  As you can see the fruit capsules are formed into a star-like structure which is where the plant gets it’s name. There are even better examples that the above picture, maybe the cold effects the fruit structure.

The flowers of Illicium vernum are very primitive.

The flowers of Illicium vernum are very primitive.

To find out more about Star Anise:

The Wiki page is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_anise

The best place to learn about any spice: http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Illi_ver.html

Until next month….

From Kim: Star Anise – June’s Herb of Choice!

This month we’re featuring a great spice very well known in Asian cooking. I admit I am still a novice in Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine but I do love to dabble with herbs and learn all I can. All over China, five spice powder (Mandarin wu xiang fen [五香粉], Cantonese ngh heung fan [五香粉], according to dubious sources also hung-liu) is known and valued. This spice mixture contains star anise, cassia (or cinnamon), cloves, fennel and Sichuan pepper usually to equal parts. Optionally, ginger, galanga, black cardamom or even liquorice may be added. These spices should be kept whole and powdered before usage.

Illicium verum: Star anis flower
Star anise flower – www.botany.hawaii.edu © Gerald Carr

Five spice powder is often added to a batter made from egg white and cornstarch, which is used to coat meats and vegetables to keep them moisty and succulent during deep-frying. Meat is also frequently coated with a mixture of corn starch and five spice powder and deep-fried. Lastly, it is often contained in marinades for meat to be stir-fried. Since the mixture is very aromatic, it should be used with care. The subtle aroma of five spice powder is particularly effective in steamed foods. Steamed pork belly can indeed be a delicacy, even if it is, of course, never low in fat. For this recipe, the so-called five-flower cut is used that consists of three fatty and two lean layers. The meat is marinated in soy sauce and garlic, coated by a mixture of five-spice powder and ground, toasted rice and steamed until very tender (wu hua rou [五花肉]). This pork dish is very mild, but highly aromatic and pleasing. For more examples of star anise in Chinese cookery, see orange about the Sichuan-style beef stew au larm and cassia about master sauce. Outside China, star anise is less valued. In the North of Vietnam, it is popular for beef soups (see Vietnamese cinnamon). Star anise is also used in Thailand: In the North, it is often employed in long-simmered stews; elsewhere, especially in the tropical South, it is a common flavourant for ice tea. Thai iced tea (cha dam yen [ชาดำเย็น]) is brewed from black tea and flavoured with star anise powder, sometimes also cinnamon, licorice, vanilla and orange flowers; it is enjoyed with crushed ice, sugar and evaporated milk. To obtain a bright orange colour, azo dyes (typically, tartrazine) are usually added.
Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages | see Jen’s page also for more information on Star Anise

So for my menu using this wonderful herb, I’ve chosen 2: Beef Noodle Soup – Taiwanese-Style and Red Cooked Beef! I think you’ll love using this herb and trying either dish. Plus soups just smells so good when cooking.

When you purchase star anise, get the dark brown and not other anise powders which have a gray color.

Beef Noodle Soup – Taiwanese-Style

Ingredients:
5 c. water
1 c. soy sauce
1 c. Chinese rice wine
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 (1-inch) cube peeled fresh ginger, smashed
1 bunch scallions, white parts smashed with flat side of a large knife and green parts chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
10 fresh cilantro stems plus 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs
2 (2-inch-long) pieces Asian dried tangerine peel*
4 whole star anise
1/4 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
2-1/2 lbs. meaty beef short ribs
1-3/4 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 ounces)
10 ounces dried Chinese wheat noodles* or linguine
1 c. fresh mung bean sprouts
4 tbsp. Chinese pickled mustard greens**
1 (4-inch-long) fresh red chile (optional), thinly sliced

Preparation:
Bring water, soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, ginger, white parts of scallion, garlic, cilantro stems, tangerine peel, star anise, and red pepper flakes to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart pot, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add short ribs and gently simmer, covered, turning occasionally, until meat is very tender but not falling apart, 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours. Let meat stand in cooking liquid, uncovered, 1 hour.

Transfer meat to a cutting board with tongs and discard bones and membranes, then cut meat across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Pour beef broth through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl and discard solids. Skim fat from cooking liquid and transfer liquid to a 3-quart saucepan. Add chicken broth and meat and reheat soup over moderately low heat.

Meanwhile, cook noodles in a 6- to 8-quart pot of (unsalted) boiling water until tender, about 7 minutes (14 to 15 minutes for linguine). Drain noodles well in a colander and divide among 4 large soup bowls.

Ladle broth over noodles and top with meat, scallion greens, bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens, cilantro sprigs, and red chile (if using).  Note: Meat and beef broth can be cooked and strained three days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill meat in broth, covered. Skim fat before adding chicken broth.

Next Up: Red Cooked Beef!

Ingredients:
2 lbs. chuck steak boneless
2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 scallions cut to 2 inch length
4 slices ginger root
2 pieces Star Anise
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 c. water
2 dried red chilies, optional

Preparation:
Cut beef into 1 inch cubes and sear on all sides in hot oil in a heavy pot. Add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook covered on low heat about 2 hours or until meat is tender. This should reduce liquid to approximately 1/2 cup. If more than 1/2 cup liquid remains, uncover and increase temperature to boil liquid away to approximately 1/2 cups. Serves 6.

Be sure the beef is fresh and has a good expiration date. I don’t like to buy any beef with less than 2 days expiration date. And boy when this dish is done the meat melts off the fork and is so flavorful! Try using star anise in your next meal if you haven’t tried it. I would always caution too that if you’re using a spice for the first time, try a little at first. You can always add more, but you can’t take out! ENJOY! Until next month….

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