Monday, July 2, 2012

Spice Things Up

Spousal Unit and I found an awesome spice rack this weekend. I'm way excited.

We came across it at Saver's, which further convinces me that second-hand shopping is the best thing in the universe. At no other stores can you find such an odd collection of knick knacks, bizarre clothing, and cheap furniture.

The twelve little bottles (I've only filled four of them so far) evoke such a sense of an apothecary, with their little wooden rack. Spousal Unit said they reminded him of Practical Magic, and that I should replace one of the labels with "Eye of Newt" or some such thing. I certainly won't peel these labels off, but if one falls off someday...

Spices are my favorite thing about cooking. I believe that the spices you add to something can make or break the dish. If you can master which spices to add, when, and what amount, your recipes and experiments will pretty much always be delightful.

(I say "pretty much always" because even though I've gotten pretty good with spices, I still have dud soups and crappy stir fries. Usually still edible, but flavorless food is no fun.)

One of my favorite examples of Spice Power is my recipe for baking powder biscuits. They're good plain, but adding spices can make them into something wholly different - and perfectly matched to almost any meal. I always just guesstimate how much of any spice to add - if you're making these, start out with a teaspoon or so to see how flavorful a result you get, and then increase in subsequent trials. I prefer very strong flavors, so I'd say I use about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of spices.

Some of my favorite biscuits include:
   - Cheddar and black pepper: add ground pepper and 1/3 cup shredded cheese to the dry ingredients
   - Cheddar and cumin: follow same steps as above, but with cumin instead of pepper - or, try it with the pepper, too. Excellent with Mexican/Spanish dishes.
   - Cinnamon: add cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg to the dry ingredients, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to the milk. Glaze with equal parts milk and sugar before baking for a delightful breakfast biscuit.
   - Oregano and garlic: use 2 medium cloves fresh garlic, minced or pressed, for extra garlic-y goodness (add to dry ingredients)
   - Dill and onion: add 3/4 tsp dill and 1/4 c onion - these are especially good if you have green onion, or even garlic scapes

Baking Powder Biscuits
1 c. white flour
1 c. wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk*

Mix all dry ingredients, including any spices you wish to add. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in the oil until mixture resembles crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the milk all at once. Stir just until moistened.

Grease a baking sheet and drop biscuits about one inch apart. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or till the tops are slightly golden. Serve hot, or freeze until you need them.

*Make sour milk by starting with 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Add enough milk to make 1 cup. Let sit for five minutes before using. Some will say you can use vinegar instead of lemon juice, but I much prefer the lemon.

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