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Spice of Life

Published on February 19, 2014

Sometimes bon appetit, the 0h-so-upscale cooking magazine, is just too much.
They just assume that everyone has access to—and a budget for—artisan cheeses and spirits, baby organic lettuces, at least four different varieties of milk…and we don’t mean simply whole, skim, 2% and buttermilk…oh no.  You’re deprived unless the shelves boast the lactic fluid of cows, goats and maybe the wild ibex.  There must be soy milk (tough to squeeze those little guys), almond milk (This is a revival from the Middle Ages when nobody had refrigeration and cow’s milk had, basically, no shelf life at all.  Almond milk could be created from ground almonds and water, still no easily-available ingredient at your local castle), coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk(!), or even kefir, a fermented milk product claimed to be pro-biotic (Good for you and your personal internal digestive flora.).    Whole grains of every shape, size and source, honey from Mt. Whatzit, imported Himalayan pink salt…bon appétit loves them all and demands that you have them at your fingertips to follow their recipes.  We won’t even go into the specialized cooking utensils; Martha Stewart is just the same—2” biscuit cutters. 3” biscuit cutters , 11” pans, 14” pans, 6” tart pans, metates—gotta have them all, no substitutions.

Spices are a whole ’nother story.  The array is endless!  And they like to name-drop, just casually call for  half a teaspoon of mace or saffron or mixtures like garam masala or shichimi togarashi.
The other day I ran into a real wowser that the recipe just tossed off like…Well, any doofus knows THAT.  The term they used was ras-el-hanout.  Just trips from the tongue, doesn’t it?  The recipe itself really didn’t give much of a clue as to what the stuff might be.  Sweet?  Savory?  Had to look that one up.
Turns out that it is an authentic (It would be, wouldn’t it?)Moroccan spice blend, the name of which means, in Arabic, “head of the shop”, denoting the best that was available.  It’s a sort of proprietary blend, with each merchant or cook preparing her/his own special combination and proportion of ingredients.  Probably like your grandma making the very BEST ginger cookies or sour cream cookies or chicken and biscuits or whatever because she made these things HER way.

Anyway, the Moroccans  might put in cardamom, clove, cinnamon, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, paprika, turmeric, fenugreek, or even ash berries, chufa(Yeah, we’ve got THAT on hand), orris root, grains of paradise (another staple), monk’s pepper, rose buds( awwww) or cubebs(Mark Twain used this term to refer to cigars; must have something to do with the aroma).  The spices are toasted and then ground together for use in the culinary creation that you have in mind—a tagine, for example.

I didn’t copy down that recipe.

Ask me about my brownies.

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