Spice Island

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Zanzibar spice nursery

Fresh from a rare side sojourn to Zanzibar—pinch me, Zanzibar!—after a work trip to Tanzania, I can still almost feel the hot East African sun on my face and taste the delectable Swahili delicacies that I could not try fast enough when I was there. Oh, but for more hours in the day—or for the wisdom to take vacation time when I travel.

Still, I did have the presence of mind to sign up for a tour of one of the spice plantations just outside of Stone Town. And I skedaddled home with a glorious trove of ingredients to recreate my Africa experience as well as energize some of the dishes on regular rotation here.

Over the coming weeks, I will be pulling out the stops with fresh nutmeg, cinnamon bark, lemon grass, curry blends, saffron and other lovely flavors as I channel inspiration from one of the world’s original fusion cuisines: Swahili. (First up: prawn curry.) But for now, here’s a little visual tour.

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Chocolate Kissed by a Rose

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Morning scents.8.7.14

The signboard outside a neighborhood sweets shop offered the enticing promise of rose-flavored hot chocolate. A promise that, as is so often is the case with rose-flavored/scented foods, did not quite stand up in the bargain. The Valrhona hot chocolate was indeed luscious and lovingly prepared, but a bit heavy-handed in the addition of rose flavoring. It’s a problem encountered a lot in recipes that attempt to incorporate a lovely hint of rose, but instead leave a lingering sense of having ingested perfume, or soap.

It transported me back to the first recipe I ever encountered that called for rose water. Many moons ago, when the Three Points Cooks first got together in the kitchen,  Bon Appetit magazine published an over-the-top recipe for brownies that called for both semi-sweet and milk chocolate, coconut, whipped egg whites, rum, Amaretto, and rose water. And that made it irresistible. Who knows where we even located a bottle of rose water in those days before gourmet markets became a fixture on every corner, but whipping up a batch of those lovelies forever changed my perception of how food and fragrance could combine to elevate commonplace ingredients. Just a touch of rose water takes chocolate to a whole other place.  It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly — maybe some magical mix of serotonin-releasing elements and sense memories – but rose water enhances the very chocolaty-ness of chocolate, with an injection of ethereal freshness.

That discovery sent me off in search of other chocolate and rose dessert combinations, which remain relatively uncommon even now, years down the road, when all our taste buds have become more accustomed to the addition of herbs to sweets and floral notes to savories. Perhaps it’s because so many of them fall into the trap of a soapy overdose of rose. The idea is for the rose essence to be barely noticeable, a subtle whisper, an alluring perfume. That’s always been the beauty of this particular recipe to me. Tasters who are pretty sure they know what they’re getting with a brownie will raise an eyebrow in surprise and ask about the secret ingredient. Is it brandy? Marzipan? A particular kind of chocolate? They pick up on something, but can’t quite place it.

Rose water can be tricky, to be sure. Different brands seem to have different levels of strength, and it’s easy to overdo. Think of it as an extract, starting with a portion of the amount called for in any recipe, and taste for balance.

Try the recipe here: Chocolate-Coconut Brownies

Corn Bread vs. Cornbread

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Corn bread or cornbread?
Corn bread or cornbread?

Over the years a vendor at the local farmer’s market has occasionally offered a corn bread. Not a cornbread, the often sweet quick bread, but a yeast bread with some cornmeal added to the dough that was baked into a round loaf. During the summer it made a marvelous BLT. But its appearance was sporadic, and I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile. Or thought much about it. Until a trip to Slovenia, where, lo and behold, a yeast-raised corn bread was part of the bread basket wherever we went. Toasted, it was fabulous for breakfast, with a drizzle of honey.

Sure, cornbread, that American staple, is a great option to accompany chili, stews and other hearty winter fare. But you really ought to give corn bread a try. 

Two favorites for a Corn Bread/Cornbread Throwdown: 

Maple Cornbread: Via King Arthur Flour, a ,moist easy-as-pie recipe that smells heavenly when baking, thanks to a touch of maple syrup.

Rhode Island Corn Bread: From the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. The name says New England, but this recipe captures the taste of those wonderful Slovenian bread baskets.

Sir Mix-a-Lot

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Cheers
The Last Word

The cocktail shaker gets a workout whenever Dave, the family mixologist, comes to town. Cocktail of the Day offerings this time around included a mix of classics with a twist and Dave’s own specialties, all gin-based:

Waldocot: A true original, created to utilize Allspice Dram, a Caribbean liqueur that’s not an easy mixer. Dave hit on the idea of blending with apricot liqueur, which takes the Allspice Dram out of the realm of wintry flavored drinks, where it tends to land. The  name? A nod to the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City that Dave calls home.

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Yuzu and other essential oils

The Florilegium: 

A martini variant finished with essential oils, which bump up the aroma and flavor. The name is taken from the Medieval Latin word for a gathering of flowers, or collection of fine extracts from the body of a larger work, and here’s why. For one drink, shake 1/2 ounce gin and 3/4 ounce Lillet blanc with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with one drop each of clove and yuzu (distillation of these and other essential oils available via our friends at Herbal Alchemy).

The Last Word: A magical mix with Chartreuse, lime juice and Maraschino liqueur.

Homemade Poire William.Dobrava.8.9.13
Pear in the bottle for a homemade pear liqueur

Aviation Poire: A  touch of pear liqueur lifts the classic Aviation cocktail to another altitude.

English Rose: A dainty name for a cocktail that packs a punch, with gin, apricot liqueur, dry vermouth and grenadine.

Q is for Quince

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420px-Pancrace_Bessa00There’s something old-fashioned about quince. It could be partly because the fruit is rarely seen in U.S. markets these days, despite its likeness to the apples and pears that overflow grocery bins. That very scarcity, coupled with the fact that quinces have a dry, astringent flesh that needs to be cooked, and so can’t be eaten out of hand like their more alluringly juicy cousins, might explain why the fruit isn’t a part of our typical repertoire, even though quince trees are still abundant – and abundantly ignored – around the country.

A tasting of quince jam, served on a cracker with a bit of cheese at the greenmarket, persuaded me to pick up a few of these fall fruits. After all, cheese and quince paste (in a form somewhere between a dense jelly and fruit leather) are a classic pairing in Spanish cuisine. (I’ve even been known to serve some cheese and quince paste on matzo for a tapas meal served during Passover.) And the idea of cooking up a quick jam or compote that could accompany a meal of roast meats and vegetables, or be utilized for dessert in a tart of pastry, seemed appealing.

photoA browse through The Foods & Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas (Knopf, 1982) turned up a version of the jam, and Banda de Almendra (Almond and Marmalade Puff Pastry Strips),which would take advantage of some puff pastry in the freezer. The quince (membrillo) marmalade cooks up in no time, and a little bit tops puff pastry strips, sprinkled in this case with some chopped leftover walnuts. A Spanish-born sampler recognized them immediately: “Ah, membrillo!” After he relayed that they also known as Corbatas (“ties”), a batch was obligingly shaped into neckties. 

RECIPES:

Banda de Almendra

Quince Marmalade

Pick a Pickled Pumpkin

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IMGP0596 (2)Here’s a new way to try pumpkin: in a pickle. This recipe for Quick Pickled Pumpkin is just that, and the results will add a bright, unexpected punch to fall menus of all kinds. (Plus offer an excuse to jump on the pickling bandwagon.) The only key here is to let the pumpkin do it’s thing, marinating in the brine. The pumpkin may seem too salty at the beginning, and the brine too harsh, but an overnight rest softens the squash and melds the flavors. We’re thinking the next batch might be good with some star anise and clove.

Just Say No. . . to Snickers Salad

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Contrary to our Midwestern roots, the Three Points cooks will not be adding Snicker Salad to the Thanksgiving table this year (or any year). The New York Times reveals that the top Google searches for recipes in all 50 states this week place Nebraska (Kate’s home state) at the center of the Snickers Salad belt. The ” salad” is composed of whipped topping, apples, chopped-up Snickers bars and, sometimes, pudding mix.

More in keeping with our dinner in D.C. (where the top search was for “corn pudding”), we will be having Mrs. Apple’s Creamed Corn, a traditional Pennsylvania recipe made with dried sweet corn. That ingredient was, of course, purchased via an online search.

Meanwhile, the top searches this week on Three Points Kitchen reveal more diverse global interests:  Cranberry Coffee Cake, Salsa Verde Cruda, Pan de Coco, Tamarind Ice Cream, Allspice Ice Cream, and Povitica.

cranberry coffee cakesalsa verde cruda II