Ras El Hanout (رأس الحانوت‎), which means “head of the shop” in Arabic, is a complex and distinctive mixture of multiple spices and herbs. The recipes vary according to the individual spice blender, but it remains basic to the cooking of North Africa, commonly used with meat, game, poultry and couscous. Ras el Hanout can be purchased commercially at specialty stores, but also can be made at home depending on spice availability. This recipe does not include the highly exotic, nearly impossible to obtain, ingredients such as ash berries, belladonna leaves, cantharides, orrisroot, galingale, and monk’s pepper.

A pantry must.

RAS EL HANOUT

1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T allspice berries
1 T cardamom seeds (removed from pods)
1 t anise seed

1 T black peppercorns
1/2 T white peppercorns
6 whole cloves
1 T ground ginger
I T turmeric
1/2 T sea salt
3/4 T ground cinnamon
1/2 T cayenne pepper
1/2 T grated nutmeg
1 t dried lavender

Heat the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, allspice berries, cardamom seeds, and anise seeds in a heavy skillet. Dry sauté them until aromatic, about a minute or so. Do not brown or burn. Mix together with the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then transfer into a food processor, spice mill or mortar and pestle and process until finely ground. Take care with the food processor or spice mill to grind in pulses, so the rapidly moving blade does not burn the mixture during the process.

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Garam Masala

May 4, 2009

Garam masala, derived from the Hindi garam, “hot” and masala “paste”, is a richly hued and intensely layered blend of ground spices. Regional variances of this magical mix abound, so no one recipe should be considered authentic—but many should be deemed unique. To make matters more confusing (not vexing, but rather complex) garam masala is sometimes used as the luminary and other times as an accourtrement to the remainder of the core dish.

Garam masala is frightfully versatile: chicken, lamb, goat, fish, salads, vegetables, curries, soups, stews, and so on. Try it as a grill rub sometime, just for grins. Garam Masala can be stored for several months in an air tight container in a cool, dark place, and is a pantry essential (see A Cupboard Not Bare).

GARAM MASALA

4 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds
1 T black peppercorns
2 T black cumin seeds
2 T ginger powder
12 cardamom pods
1 T cloves
4 cinnamon sticks, cut in half
1 T crushed bay leaves

Heat heavy skillet on medium and gently roast coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cumin, cardamom (in pods), cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaves—until slightly darker, stirring occasionally. Do not be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat as the spices will burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside. Allow to cool, and then add ginger powder.

Remove the cardamom seeds from the pods and mix them back with all the other roasted spices.

Grind them all together, to a fine powder in a clean, dry coffee/spice grinder.

Categories’ Translations

January 22, 2009

Admittedly, a paranoia induced entry. In a late night, overwrought effort to be cute, some of my Categories titles may be rightly dubbed obscure. So, to assure the utter transparency that is ever much in the political vogue these days (a more accurate word might be “translucence”), the literal interpretations follow:

Ab Ovo — Eggs

Asides — Vegetables, Side Dishes

Between the Sheets — Sandwich fare

Dough & Yeast — Pasta, Pizza, Calzone

Fine Fowl — Poultry

Fish Out of Water — Fish, Shellfish

Gadgets & Toys — Cutlery, Cookware, Tools, Utensils

Going Green — Salads

Soupçon — Soups

Mulling over Mammals — Meats

Ruminations — Random Thoughts, Ideas

Silk Pantries — Pantry, Cupboard items

Small Pleasures — Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres, Amuses gueles/bouches, Tapas

Sweet Teeth — Desserts

The Holy Grill — Grilling, Barbeque

Into The Kitchen Window

January 21, 2009

We owe much to the fruitful meditation of our sages, but a sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen.
~Joseph Conrad

Despite my earlier palaver (albeit genuine and sincere) about The Table, it is openly admitted that this site is all about The Kitchen, where your culinary universe is truly created. Ranging from the intimate, meditative moments of solitary preparation to the almost melodic cacophony of the sizzle, splatter, chopping, clanging, whisking and the chatter at a triaged dinner party, The Kitchen is a microcosm of your ever changing world and even the world’s cultures. Not to be forgotten are the sublime, varied scents and aromas permeating The Kitchen coupled with the hued tableau of fruits, meats, vegetables gracing the counters and stove tops.

The Kitchen also serves as a place of learning as your body of culinary scholarship expands through experimentation, improvisation, advice, lore, clues, cookbooks, websites, blogs(?)—all muses inspiring at differing creative levels. Immerse yourself in this wisdom, simply take the plunge in this both mundane and sacred cuisine room, and you will cook with a unity of purpose unencumbered by fear. Even in The Kitchen, knowledge is power.

The Kitchen can be home to many memes — sometimes defined as cultural units or patterns of behavior that are passed from one generation to another by imitation, emulation, repetition (not genetically); they are the cultural counterpart of genes, and what better place to receive, create and pass on your tribal memes than The Kitchen.  A means to search for and tap into ancestral memories.

A space common to all of your kith, The Kitchen embodies the cultural dynamics of domestic life: how, what and when you acquire, prepare, cook, serve, eat, preserve, and store food; what utensils, cutlery, furnishings, and appliances you use on the day to day or for special moments—reflecting human ingenuity’s meeting with the problems posed by daily necessity and the desire for social comfort.

Fret not if your space is tiny, as a no-frills, “microkitchen” still cooks exquisitely. Tiny kitchens foster mystical idea rooms.  A high tech, lewdly expensive, expansive cook space does not make an admirable cook. Just be selective with the basics and replace your perceived inadequacies with savvy and moxie. After all, cooking is just cooking, right? As Mario Batali once noted, “only bad cooks blame the equipment.”

How to accouter The Kitchen, your kitchen? Well, it all varies on your available space, culinary comfort level, what you tend to cook, etc. Some basics follow which are subject to personal bends and tendencies. As with Silk Pantries, this list is not meant to be either exhaustive nor suggestive of absolute necessities. Rather, it is intended to offer some ideas for you to ponder over, accept or reject based upon personal likes and surroundings. I try to avoid overwrought, rube goldbergesque kitchen thingamajigs as they tend to be relegated to the far reaches, never to be seen again. Throughout this ongoing project, posts will discuss more specifics about materials, preferences, uses.

GADGETS & TOYS

Blades — Knives (8”-10” chef’s, bread, 8” carving, 7” santoku, 5”-6” boning, 5”-6” sandwich/utility, 3”-3 ½” paring) carving fork, shears, mandolin (slicer), 12 bladed apple corer, sharpener, honing steel, cutting boards, knife block or magnetic strip, mesh cutting glove

Spoons — Metal/wooden/slotted spoons, ladles, spider, metal/wooden/silicone spatulas, balloon whisks, tongs

Vessels — 7 ¼ qt. Dutch oven, large roasting pan & rack, 2 & 4 qt saucepans, 6 qt sauté pan, 9” &11” non stick skillet/fry pan, 2 ¼-3 qt saucier, 12” grill pan, 8-12 qt stock pot, large wok

Plug Ins — Food processor, Kitchen Aid, pasta machine/attachment, drying racks, waffle iron, coffee (spice) grinder, immersion hand blender, rice cooker, ice cream maker

Miscellany — Salad bowls, pizza stone and paddles, salt & pepper grinders/shakers, cruets, mortar & pestle, food mill

pastry & basting brushes, pasta drying rack, baster, dough whip, potato masher, nesting bowls, mixing bowls, baking sheets, pastry bag, tortilla warmers, food scale, silpat, cake pans, cake rack, wooden rolling pin, silicone rolling pin, jellyroll pans

casseroles, baking dishes/au gratins, loaf pan, muffin tin, pie plate, tarte pan, ramekins, soufflé dishes

colanders, sieves (fine meshed chinois, china cap & medium perforated), cheesecloth, funnels, grater, microplane, thermometers (candy & meat), blow torch

shellfish shucker, heavy rubber or “chain mail” glove

peeler, zester, citrus reamer

timer, measuring cups & spoons, can opener, oven mitts, salad spinner, spatter screen, latex gloves, hot pads/trivets, hot mitts, pasta drying racks, olive pitter, egg slicer, apple corer

tool crock

Hooch — Corkscrew, champagne bucket, shaker, wine stopper, strainer, cocktail stir, muddler, stainless steel toothpicks

A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.

The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.

Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, avocado, walnut, sesame

Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine

Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, za’atar, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chile powder, ancho chile powder, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)

Asian –- soy sauce, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans

Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie

Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)

Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire

Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, unsalted peanuts

Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter

Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream

Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus