Spices 'n Flavours

I am a sucker for spices. I can spend hours in a spice market...and wouldn't bat an eye at plunking down a good bit of cash for them (or any kind of flavor -- like oils, salts, sauces, etc -- for that matter). On the first day C and I moved into our new home, we opened our kitchen cupboard where I had stashed all my "stuff", with a view to check what we needed to get from the grocery. Seems like actual food was cirtical here, because although the shelves were almost full, there was nothing but but rows spices, spice mixes, curry pastes, dried herbs, canned and bottled sauces, infused oil, and various kinds of sugar and salt. My dowry.

So you can imagine my absolute delight at finding a store that filled itself with just these things! I learned about Spices 'n Flavours through a good friend who asked me: "If there was a store that just sold spices and related items, would you go?" Um. Yes? Hello! Lead the way!

The minute I walked in the store I was smitten. Barrels filled star anise and peppercorns. Floor to ceiling shelves (and those adorable "library-style" ladders) filled with bottles of ground and whole spices, as well as dried herbs and spice mixes. Big glass jars of loose tea. Bottles of sauces (including Nando's Peri-Peri Sauce...am going back for that!). A small selection of Japanese condiments. Organic dried herbs and flavor extracts. Different types of flour/startch (like tapioca flour). Aaah...a wonderful gem of a store in my eternal spice hunt!

Above is part of the selection I got: dried kaffir lime leaves, dried galangal, dried holy basil, and Szechuan pepper. I'm so excited! Just their names are sending me into a tizzy of anticipation of how I am going to use them...even if, at the moment, I still haven't the foggiest! If any of you have suggestions, please do send them over :)

Here's another bunch of flavor I brought home (above)...long pepper. It is closely related to black pepper, but is supposed to be hotter. As of now, I can definitely say it smells different. This is the first time I have come across it and I have no idea how to use it just yet (although there will be a lot of experimentation I can assure you!). So, again, if any of you out there have suggestions, please feel free to pass them on!

Aside from the spices and what-such, they also have these coffee/tea stirrer things with crystalized sugar at the end. I have seen the ones with the regular stirrer before, but not these ones that use a cinnamon stick as the stirrer! Aren't they adorable? So, of course, I had to have some of those too...

I am oh so happy with my loot and am presently in that nice state of dreaming of ways to use them...

Spices 'n Flavours
RR-7 Street Market!
Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
(it’s in Market! Market!, outside, at street level, facing Serendra, near Hap Chan)

Avocado Harvest

As someone who has lived all her life in a city, in a townhouse first and then now in an apartment, I have no concept of growing your own food, at any level, be it a fruit tree or a vegetable plot. I did have a small pot of rosemary when I was living in Zurich, but it promptly died after a dinner of lamb chops had razed it to the ground.

This explains my naive excitement every time people talk about their own produce in their very own backyards, the herbs they pick from their own plants and toss in their dishes, the fruits that grow in their own trees...Suffice to say, anytime that one of these lucky people decides to share their crop with me I am overjoyed and quite beside myself with very Martha Stewart-like feelings.

Now, a while back, my grand aunt, who still lives in the city but has a garden, decided to share her small harvest of avocado with us. Hooray! I lovingly placed them on a big white dish in the middle of the dining room table, admiring them and willing them to ripen. Well, one cheeky piece insisted on ripening before the rest of them (picture above). I couldn't wait for its siblings, so I happily made the executive decision to consume the cheeky one before C got home.

And how to polish off one avocado in the way most satisfying to my inner child? Exactly how my grandmother used to prepare them for us: Mashed with sugar and milk (evaporated milk...yup), and nicely chilled. For me nothing beats this simple combination of the sweet, rich creaminess of the avocado and milk...

...it can be matched however by a good batch of guacamole! Which is what happened to the rest of my small crop.

Find more delicious ways to use avocado here. This post was inspired by two other avocado posts you can find here and here.

So Busy

Remember me? I have been a busy little bee. Buzz. Buzz.

Last Friday I went to the Knit and Crochet Show in King of Prussia, PA. For some reason that I cannot explain, I do not like to go to those shows during the weekends. I'm not a big fan of crowded places. They make me antsy. I am not scared of large herds of people, I just don't enjoy anything when there are too many people clamoring to see whatever it is there to see.

I had made up a list of the booths that I wanted to see and I was not disappointed! I love the fibers that Grafton Fibers [www.graftonfibers.com] has to offer and to see it in person was inspirational! For an added bonus, I got to meet Prudence Mapstone, the fabulous freeform artist. She is so adorable in person. Linda Diak [L] was so much fun to chat with too. I don't know how she does it with three little ones. I bought a beautiful crochet needle that her husband makes and some fiber for needle felting. The fiber is oh so soft like cotton candy and the colors are luscious. I am in love. Can you see that creature behind Linda? It is a felted mermaid. So gorgeous. I asked her if she flew with it and she told me that she drove there with it. It would be quite a site to drive along and see a mermaid in the passenger seat in the next car, wouldn't it?

Then I met Anne Boyer of Fanatica Fibers. She sells really adorable needle felt ornament kits. I made a dove last Christmas and was so addicted that I wanted to make a whole flock [?] of them for my tree. Alas, I didn't have time to make many more. Maybe I will make one a year.

This week I was interviewed by Better Homes and Gardens' Quilts & More magazine. It was an interesting process. I am not one to talk about myself a lot but with this interview and the lecture that I gave at Kindred Quilts a while back, it has been fun to examine my path to designing in the quilting world. Look for the interview in Quilts & More. I think that issue hits newstands on November 16, 2006.

Recipe Meme

I have been tagged for the Recipe Meme by Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups. Until now, I haven’t had a chance to fully explore her blog…so thanks Tanna for tagging me and leading me to discover Half Cups…which is great to say the least. Especially the picture of Tanna making bread on a sailboat! Wouldn’t we all want to do that?

Now on with the meme…

From where do you obtain the recipes you prepare?

Everywhere! My cookbooks, food and travel magazines, relatives, friends, and all the amazing food blogs I have come across. In truth, food blogs have exponentially widened my recipe base, and have led to wonderful and happy surprises at the end of recipe hunts. I think food blogs are such a valuable source of recipe ideas because you know there is someone there on the other side who has gone over and tried the recipe…and you get all the feedback and comments to boot! And if you’re unsure of something you can always ask…not so easy doing that to a cookbook. There’s a lot of inspiration to be found out there!

How often do you cook a new recipe?

Not as often as I’d like!

Where do you store your favorite recipes?

I have my favorite recipes marked in my cookbooks, but most are saved in my laptop. More recently, I acquired a little box filled with recipes from friends and relatives during a kitchen-themed bridal shower my maid and matron of honor threw me. My favorite thing about the shower was this box…filled with personal recipes with special notes on each. Some of these recipes I had really been meaning to ask for! Now it sits on a shelf right atop my head at my desk, where I can easily reach for it and riffle through the recipes…just doing that warms my heart :)

How large is your recipe file? Is it organized? If so, how?

My recipes are in no particular order and are absolutely not organized at all. At first this seemed charming…coming across a long forgotten gem was a happy bit of fate. But now that the recipes are growing, they are getting a wee bit out of control and I sometimes end up with tons of recipes and nothing to cook due to sheer confusion! I’m the same with clothes.

What is the oldest recipe in your “to try” pile?

Ooh boy…that’s a toughie. I’ve got a lot. Home made Muesli. Dallaspulla. Adobo. Paella (and I may never get to paella…still trying to convince C that he should be the one to take that on).

Are you ever going to make those recipes in your “to try” pile?

Definitely! Dallaspulla is a must. It’s either make it, or go to Finland…and Finland is, well, a bit of a ways off for me. And although I would love to go back, making the pulla would be easier on my pocket. I have to eventually make my own Adobo. Paella…I’m not too sure…

Do you follow a recipe exactly or modify as you go?

I am a paradox. I like to experiment but I am also very much a safety girl. Usually, the first time I try a recipe I will do it to the letter…then figure out how I want to change it. If a recipe calls for something I don’t like I usually leave it out (hehe). And I have a very bad habit of upping the butter called for in baked goods.

What is the one new recipe that you’re scared to try?

Adobo, because everyone already has a favorite. Paella, because I come from a family of accomplished paella makers…Can’t I just eat theirs and not have to put mine on the line? Turkey, my uncle, the amazing turkey expert, is offering to train me in his turkey-ways…but I have never cooked anything that big!

Tag at least one new food blogger for this meme (“new” as in only been blogging a few months)

Hmmm, as I have been out of commission for a while, I haven’t been able to blog-hop and nose around new blogs as much as I have wanted to.

Tag at least one food blogger you visit but have never interacted with.

Sorry…I usually leave a note when I visit :)

But anyone is free to answer this meme and pass it along…

Broccoli & Gorgonzola Penne

How can two people accumulate so much leftovers? Well, I'm no stranger to leftovers and I aim to make use of all the curious bits that sneakily tuck themselves into my fridge. Waste not, want not I say. Especially now that I can't blow all my grocery money on a block of foie, which I was perfectly capable of before. And which I still think is perfectly reasonable now. Anyway...

Leftover case in point, some marvelously creamy gorgonzola we had bought for a cheese platter when we had some guests over. The little chunk that was left over eyed me beguilingly from it's nook in the fridge, tempting me to find some delicious way to use it (although I must say, I did feel like just popping some in my mouth!). I also had some broccoli in the crisper...broccoli being right up there (but not quite as adorable) with brussel sprouts. Hmmm...the wheels in my head were turning...especially since I actually love broccoli in pasta.

This is a quick and yummy dish that I whipped up in seconds! Ok, not seconds. But I'm sure you get the gist of the speed in which it was whipped. The recipe is very simple, and most of the measurements are by feel and by taste. But I'll jot it down here anyway...

Broccoli & Gorgonzola Penne

- 1 head broccoli, cut into little florets
- 1 onion, minced
- 1-2 tablespoon butter
- small block of gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (sorry for the wild approximation...I just used whatever i had left over...I would say put around 1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola, then keep tasting the sauce and add as needed)
- 1 250 ml brick all purpose cream
- grated parmesan cheese
- freshly ground pepper (I used black papper, but you can use white for aethetics)

Here's what you do:

- Steam the broccoli until just tender.
- Cook penne as per package directions.
- Heat the butter in any old skillet. Once it's melted and a bit bubbly, add the onions.
- Sauté onions until soft and translucent.
- Add broccoli, toss a bit, then add cream and gorgonzola. Stir until everything is nice and incorporated and gorgonzola is melted.
- Taste it at this point and add gorgonzola if needed. If you thinks it needs a bit of salt, try adding some grated parmesan cheese instead (I put parmesan instead of salt). Add pepper.
- Toss cooked penne in the skillet and stir to coat with sauce. If sauce has become a bit too thick for your liking just add some of the pasta water to thin it a bit.
- Sprinkle with grated parmesan before serving.

This is perfect to whipped up for a quick lunch...and a great way to use some leftover cheese (and vegetables). I'm sure it will work wonderfully with other cheese/veggie combinations...like say, tomato and fresh white cheese (and maybe some vodka), or peas tossed with a simple olive oil pasta and some flaked parmesan and chili flakes....