Friday, April 15, 2016

State Fair Food- An Experiment in Delicious

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around fair foods and Iowa Maytag Blue Cheese. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. This story was originally published in September, 2014.


It's September, the summer is officially over and with that, the end of the state fairs in the midwest region. I didn't make it to the Iowa State Fair this year and I felt a little envious as read posts by my friend Jeni, of Jeni Eats, as she visited the Minnesota State Fair. After her fair trip she posted pictures on Facebook and talked about Corn Fritters with Blue Cheese, and since I was unable to attend the fair, I began a quest to find a recipe!

From the beginning this seemed like an easy enough thing to come up with. Corn fritters are pretty basic- cornbread-type batter, along the lines of a hushpuppy, with some corn kernels added. Easy to update that with some blue cheese and some savory elements to punch up the flavor. Chopped scallions, finely minced garlic. As I soon would discover, it is NOT easy to "recreate" something you have never tasted before.

You may know, Iowa IS blue cheese country. From the little city of Newton, the world famous Maytag Blue Cheese is crafted in the Maytag Dairy Farms. Instead of the ages-old method of using sheeps milk, in 1938 researchers at Iowa State University developed a way to use cows milk and Maytag Blue Cheese was born! In the early years of the company even the cows were owned by the Maytag family. They have of course grown significantly since their founding in 1941.

Let's get back to our fritters. Using a basic cornbread mixture is the easiest way to start for me. As a baker it's easy to whip up and change it around with some additions. To start with the basic batter, you will need:
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. In a small bowl beat the eggs and milk together. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients all at once and stir/fold JUST until combined.

NOW.......we need to make this into something really spectacular. You will need:
  • 1 1/2 cups corn kernels*
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • several grinds black pepper
  • 1 cup blue cheese
* You can use frozen corn, thawed, canned corn, drained or cut your corn fresh off the cob and cook it briefly- cool before using

Add the corn, scallions, garlic and cheese to the batter. Set it aside and let it rest just a bit. Cornmeal batter plumps up and firms and gets a little thicker- you want that.

Heat about 3-4 inches of cooking oil in a heavy saucepan or deep fryer (have that fire extinguisher handy- you know me- scared of frying!!)  Use a thermometer to test the heat and when you've reached 350-375 degrees, drop the batter carefully into the oil with a spoon, cook and turn over once til golden brown and cooked through. Remove and drain on paper towel. Season with salt immediately. I struggled with this. Since I hadn't had the state fair original I was guessing on size. Think SMALL. Like one bite small. Of course, it might have worked better if I had a deep fryer- I don't so I used a deep heavy pan.

Now we need a dipping sauce. At the Minnesota State Fair Jeni said they were accompanied by a chimichurri-type sauce. Being unable to taste that I have no idea where to begin, so I'm going to start completely fresh. We will be using:
  • 1 cup packed parsley leaves, no stems
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • one big pinch dried marjoram
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tb balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Blend everything in a food processor or blender until pesto-like. 

I like this version of chimichurri. It has the peppery bite of the fresh parsley, heat from the garlic and a little hint of sweet from the balsamic vinegar, and it's refreshing change from blah old ranch as a dipping sauce!

Not the best picture, we were having a storm !!
Overall, we really liked these fritters. Would I make it again? Yes, sure. I think I have the kinks worked out. The flavor was good, the chimi was very yummy (we had plenty extra for our steaks for dinner). The sweetness of the corn and the salty blue cheese were a great combination.The fritters were crispy and crunchy on the outside and very tender on the inside. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, April 1, 2016

Beginners' Cheesemaking II- Fresh Ricotta

Few things in life are as good as fresh pasta. The real thing. Fresh homemade ravioli filled with creamy ricotta cheese is probably my favorite. When I was much younger I made this all the time- it filled my kids' bellies and impressed my friends. Funny thing, back in those days I lived in a little country village in rural Suffolk County and finding ricotta cheese was next to impossible. This is where my stockpile of cookbooks came in handy. One of those books had great recipes for cooking with kids, I think I told you about that book before, including making easy cheeses. 

Fast forward more than twenty years and guess what is one of the new culinary trends? You got it- cheesemaking. Now you can get all crazy and involved and learn how to make your own aged cheddar and cheeses like that, or even get some friends together and pull some mozzarella but I'm keeping it super simple for this installment of Beginners' Cheesemaking. We are going to make a batch of fresh ricotta cheese, so easy, so super creamy and rich, and fresh! But that's not all. Since fresh ricotta is so simple, I would be pretty lazy if I didn't use that delicious cheese in a recipe, so after we make our cheese, we will be making my super easy, super fast, and fantastically delicious Cheatin' Cheese Ravioli.

Large scale cheese producers rely on exact temperatures and cultures and bacteria and all sorts of scientific research to get milk to form cheese. In the home kitchen with many soft cheeses it's simply a matter of heating the milk, introducing an acid that separates the curd from the whey, and straining. That's truly as technical as we're going to get. Heat the milk, add some lemon juice, and voila- fresh ricotta. Ready to get started?

To make the cheese, you will need-

2 quarts whole milk*
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

*If you're really lucky you will have some raw milk, but if not just be sure not to buy ultra pasteurized milk. It doesn't separate very easily.

Prepare a sieve by lining with several layers of cheesecloth and placing in a CLEAN kitchen sink.

Combine the milk, cream and salt in a heavy stockpot. Slowly bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the lemon juice. Continue heating for a minute or two, just until the curd separates and the mixture looks a little like watery cottage cheese. Carefully pour into lined sieve and allow to drain for an hour. Unmold the ricotta into a clean bowl, cover and store in the fridge. Be sure to use within a couple days as this cheese has zero preservatives.

We don't have to worry about it being around too long because we are going to use it right away. I learned this trick from a cooking class at a local kitchen store years ago and have been using it ever since. It's easiest "cheat" you'll ever find. Before you make the ravioli think about what kind of sauce you'd like to serve with it. I love a good old fashioned marinara sauce with my cheese ravioli, not too chunky with vegetables and no meat. Yes, I do use dried herbs in this sauce- fresh herbs just don't hold up, but by all means, if you prefer that, use them. You can also use Italian seasoning instead of the separate herbs- just use what you have and what you like, just be sure to adjust amounts accordingly. My sauce is so easy to make and just like my mom's, I hope you'll like it.

Monica's Cheatin' Cheese Ravioli

1 quart tomato sauce
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
pinch of crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
olive oil
1-2 packages small wonton wrappers
1 recipe ricotta cheese
3/4 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more
2 tablespoons minced parsley
4 scallions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced

In a stockpot heat a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onion, cook and stir until onion is softened. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two. Don't let the garlic brown. Add the herbs and tomato sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover, simmer for at least an hour.

Measure the ricotta cheese into a bowl. Add the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Add one egg for every cup of cheese in the bowl. Add a big pinch of salt and a little bit of black pepper and stir in the parsley, scallions and garlic. I like to saute the scallions and garlic in a tiny amount of olive oil just to soften, but this step is optional.

In a small bowl beat one more egg with a tablespoon of water. Using the wonton wrappers, brush the egg wash all around the edge of one wrapper. Place about 1 tablespoon filling on the wrapper and spread out, leaving at least 1/2 in uncovered. Top with a second wonton wrapper, or fold the wrapper over to make a triangle and press edges to seal. Set aside on parchment lined pan until all are filled.

** Want to get super fancy? Save some large leaves from fresh flat leaf parsley and carefully place a leaf on top of the cheese before adding the second wonton skin. After cooking you will be able to see the parsley through the delicate dough. Looks impressive on the plate.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add a few ravioli at a time, watch carefully to prevent sticking, stirring gently. Cook until the ravioli rise to the top, it doesn't take more than a couple minutes to cook through. Drain and place on serving plate. Spoon the sauce over and sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese.

The "pasta" is so tender and delicate but so delicious- it really is an amazingly fast way to have fresh pasta on the table in a flash. If you like to make your own pasta dough just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Eat The World- Kung Pao Chicken

I often moaned and groaned about the lack of good Chinese food while living at the lake. That's the drawback to country living. No Chinese restaurant within nearly an hour's drive, and certainly no delivery. Just means I had to make it myself. I am NO authority on Asian cooking. Never have been. Asian cooking is by far my weakest area so I am always on the look out for easy Asian recipes I can duplicate at home. 

Now that The Chef and I have returned to city life we are surrounded by loads of awesome Chinese restaurants and delivery places- one just a block from the city house. Believe me, Chinese delivery comes in so handy on nights when I just do NOT have the energy to cook, but that doesn't mean I don't still need to perfect my Asian cooking skills. Being closer to the huge grocery stores with all kinds of produce options and specialty ethnic grocery items makes it super easy to try a new recipe as often as I can. 

Stuck in the house one night during a nasty winter storm, I found this amazing recipe from Supper For a Steal on Twitter, and I was super excited to make it myself! I knew The Chef would love it, since he prefers Chinese dishes that are not deep fried and I knew I would love all the fresh veggies and nice kick of heat. The peanuts add a crunchy salty element that really makes the dish. Give this one a try for sure.

Supper For a Steal's Kung Pao Chicken
adapted from Supper For A Steal

1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 lb) cubed
1 large zucchini, quartered then chopped
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 clove garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, skin removed and minced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons roasted peanuts
1 scallion, chopped

1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Whisk marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Add chicken and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to large skillet, Cook chicken on medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until almost fully cooked. Remove and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil and cook zucchini, celery, white onion for 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and return chicken to skillet. Add peanuts and sauce and cook 2-3 minutes til heated through and chicken is cooked. Sprinkle with scallions before serving.

How easy was that? Just as good as any Chinese take out I have ever had!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, March 21, 2016

Italian for Two- Chicken Cacciatore

Here is something I didn't know. Cacciatore means hunter in Italian. Makes me chuckle a little bit when I think about the most common cacciatore I know of- chicken. Have you ever hunted a chicken? Me either......anyway, not really the point so, on with my story.

When I was a young girl my dad was very into cooking. He and his buddy Norman often got together on the weekends for a few games of tennis and then they would cook up a storm for dinner. Around that same time my dad got his first Crockpot slow cooker. Of course, he also got a slow cooker cookbook so he could experiment with all kinds of recipes.

My dad. The Seventies Foodie
We had all kinds of soups and stews and dishes made from short ribs. Back then short ribs were the cast-off cut and not trendy like they are today, so Dad could make a big pot of something awesome for not a lot of money. One of the first recipes Dad made in the Crockpot was Chicken Cacciatore. I remember looking at those whole pieces of chicken swimming in that red sauce and thinking it was....weird. 

Now that I am all grown up I have a different appreciation for food. I still have never hunted a chicken, but I love to cook them! My new challenge is cooking for two, and that's not as easy as it sounds when you're cooking Italian foods. Pasta sauce tends to start out small and end up being enough to feed an entire village. This recipe gives you a generous amount of sauce which is perfect for another pasta dish the next day. 

Chicken Cacciatore for Two

2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
salt and pepper
olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 medium bell pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons crushed dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon marjoram, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
big pinch crushed red pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 quarts chopped tomatoes*
1 pint pizza sauce**

In a large stockpot, heat a couple tablespoons of oil.

Cut the chicken breasts in half crosswise to make 4 equal pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken in the olive oil, skin side down first, until golden brown. Flip the pieces and brown the back side. Remove to a bowl.

Two chicken breasts cut crosswise gives you four nice portions
Cut the onion into halves and then slice. Slice the bell pepper. Add to the stockpot and cook over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes until slightly softened. Mince the garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Cook for a few minutes but watch carefully so the garlic does not burn. Add the herbs and spices to the pot and stir until fragrant.

Sauteing the herbs for a minute or two really makes a huge
difference in flavor and aroma in the food.
Add the undrained tomatoes and wine to the pot, and the pizza sauce. Stir well. Place the chicken pieces into the sauce. Cover, reduce heat and cook at least an hour, until chicken is cooked through. The longer you cook, the better the dish becomes. Serve the chicken and sauce over hot cooked pasta.

* I used home canned tomatoes. You can use 2 of the larger cans of chopped tomatoes, or 8 cups chopped fresh tomatoes.
** I used home canned pizza sauce. You can use 2 cups commercial pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce. If you use tomato sauce you may want to increase the basil and oregano a bit. I used pizza sauce because I had it on hand.

I had plenty of sauce leftover to make another whole dish too. You can also pop the leftover sauce into a container and freeze for future use. I like a thicker sauce so the majority of the cooking I did with the lid ajar, which lets steam out and helps evaporate the sauce, making it richer and thicker. The garlic melts in the tomato sauce, the onions and peppers taste so fresh and the herbs are classic Italian seasonings.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Flatbreads

Friday. The work week is over. The wine is chilling. My chef is at work, meaning I am left to fend for myself this evening. After a long day in the office I often don't feel like cooking a big huge meal when I get home, and living in a rural area limits my options for a quick meal. That's where Flatout Flatbreads come in. 

Usually when we make pizza at the Little Lake House we break out the Kitchenaid and make dough the old fashioned way. Tonight, however, I'm cooking just for me, and cheating just a little bit by using the flatbreads. 

Because I like to shake things up a bit, I won't be using the usual pizza toppings. The bottle of white Merlot chilling in the fridge calls for something a little lighter that won't weigh down the thin and crispy flatbread crust. I want something that will compliment the wine, taste fantastic, but be easy to pull off. Few things in life taste better than perfectly caramelized onions. I prefer Vidalia or red onions for caramelizing. They have a higher sugar content and become so sweet and tender they are irresistible. 

To get things started, I am going to caramelize a large red onion that's been cut into slivers. Cutting the onion was fun itself- I broke out the brand new ceramic chef's knife and I must say, I am sold! It cut the onion effortlessly and nothing stuck to the blade. Cooked slowly in a heavy skillet with a pinch of salt and a little bit of butter until golden brown, I'll add a couple cloves of minced garlic for the last 5 to 10 minutes. I don't want to overcook the garlic- it gets very bitter. Spoon the onions into a bowl and set aside.

Melt another tablespoon or so of butter in the same skillet and add a handful or two of sliced mushrooms (depending on how many pizzas you plan on making) and saute them until golden brown. Mushrooms are a great accompaniment to the caramelized onions. They soak up a little of the buttery sweet drippings in the pan and if left to become golden brown before turning, they take on a whole new savory dimension. Once the mushrooms are cooked, set aside to cool.

We love all kinds of sausage and charcuterie around here, with sopressata and salami being the big favorites. Artisan sausages are easy to find and in any price range but I find cotto salami or Genoa salami to be the best choice for this pizza. I always ask the deli clerk to slice it as thin as possible. Cut several slices of salami into strips, again, using the amount you need for the number of pizzas you are making. It's super easy- roll the slices up like a cigar and slice using that awesome knife, separate the slivers with your fingers.

Lay a flatbread on a pizza stone or baking sheet. Brush evenly with olive oil. This is also a great way to use infused oils or others such as pumpkin seed oil. You can get a huge variety of flavors just by switching up the oil. I used the leftover butter from the sauteed mushrooms with a touch of oil added to be sure I had enough. Over the oil, scatter shredded mozzarella cheese, using a little lighter hand than if you were making traditional red-sauced pizza. Sprinkle the caramelized onions, mushrooms and slivered salami over. Give each pizza a couple grinds of fresh ground black pepper and a little drizzle of olive oil on top. Pop in a 425-450 degree oven and bake about 10 minutes until bubbling and brown and crispy on the edges. Keep an eye on them- remember, you aren't baking raw dough here so they finish a LOT faster!

Remove from oven and let rest a couple minutes. Top with chopped fresh herbs or fresh baby greens if you like. Cut each flatbread into pieces and enjoy with that chilled bottle of wine!

Now, wasn't that easy? There is almost no excuse for greasy deep fried drive thru food when you can get dinner together with only a handful of ingredients and in the oven in minutes. Can't find Flatout Flatbreads? I can't always get them either, so I often substitute large flour tortillas. Sometimes I use traditional tomato sauce and all the regular pizza toppings. Remember- use what you have on hand, and use what you like to make it yours. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, March 14, 2016

We didn't intend to eat healthy. Sometimes it just happens.

Ever get excited when you find a recipe that uses a vegetable you actually grew and really bought the plant just because and even though you know you will use them, you don't really have anything planned? Ya, me neither. Are you kidding! Of course I do!  If you remember a couple of summers ago I grew kale for the first time and well....... I was just a little over the top silly about it. Guess what? This recipe also has kale in it- and poblano peppers!! 

Our weeknight dinner was accidentally healthy- swai fillets
baked with lemon and herbs and this healthy quinoa kale toss.
I found the original recipe on a food blog called Eat Drink Garden With Valerie and immediately thought it fit perfectly in my quest to use up some of my quinoa stockpile and get lots of fresh veggies into my lunch. This salad has a Latin flair with the poblanos, black beans, cilantro tossed in a cumin lime dressing. Valerie used feta cheese in her recipe but I decided to pass on the cheese.

Have you ever used poblano peppers in a salad? I think most people use them in Mexican recipes, but I am always looking for something different. Of course I was minding my own business looking for cherry tomato plants at the garden center one day when the poblano plant fell into my cart *wink wink* I might as well get it since it ended up there, right?  Poblano peppers really are a great choice for experimenting with chilies. They aren't hot, I like to call them "warm" and they have such a nice pepper flavor. Roasting them makes it incredibly easy to get the skin off and adds a smoky hint. You can roast peppers on a grill or under your broiler. Need help? Click HERE to read about roasting Hatch chilies- use the same method. Hmm, speaking of Hatch chilies, those would be awesome in this dish too.

Black beans are a pantry staple at our house. They show up in all kinds of dishes here and salads are perfect for beans. So are nachos, but I'm trying to be healthy for a day.

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Kale

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and diced**
1 3/4 cups cooked black beans, rinsed
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 cups baby kale, lightly packed*
1/4 cup Lemon Herb Dressing, plus more for serving (recipe follows)

* You can use any salad green you like if you don't have baby kale. Radish greens, arugula, tatsoi are all great choices. If you have regular kale, tear it into bite sized pieces. I used a package of Kalettes, chopped coarsely.

** I didn't have any poblanos, sadly, so I used a green bell pepper. It was good, and I think next time I'll use a mix of colors of bell peppers. I didn't roast the pepper and really liked the fresh crunch.

In a dry saucepan, toast the quinoa for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until golden brown. Add the water and turn up the heat. Bring the quinoa to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and then spread it out onto a lightly oiled sheet pan to cool.

Roast the peppers, then remove the charred skins, stems, seeds and membranes and dice. I just used a fresh unroasted bell pepper so if you go with that too just dice it up. Chop the kale into nice bite sized pieces. Roughly chop the cilantro.

Toss the quinoa, peppers, beans, cilantro and kale in a large bowl with the dressing. Add the cheese and toss again. Serve!

Lemon Herb Dressing

1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon lemon garlic seasoning (I used Trinidad from Penzey's)
2 teaspoons herb seasoning of your choice (I used Feiny's Everything)

Combine everything in a bowl or jar. Whisk or shake to combine

I'm a big zest lover, since it has so much flavor, so I added some lemon zest and tossed that in the dressing too. 

I really love kale in this salad because it's a sturdy green and doesn't get wilty and gross. I love the flavor of kale too. I often grow baby Russian kale or mixed baby kales and they are perfect in salads like this. I love this dressing with lime too. So bright and flavorful. Salads like this make perfect lunches too- just pack a couple bowls ahead of time and tuck in the fridge. No last minute fuss in the morning. We had our salad served alongside some delicious and very healthy baked swai fillets, drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with herbs. Lots of healthy protein, lots of fiber and virtually no fat except for the olive oil in the dressing.

The best thing about having a garden is being able to grow vegetables I can't always get at the store, and I get to try a lot of different veggies as well. Here in Des Moines we are lucky to have some of the best farmers markets anywhere and the selection of fresh produce is fantastic. Since this will be my first farmers market season back in the city you can bet I'll be going crazy with all the fresh produce!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Foodie Field Trip- Allspice in Des Moines' East Village

It's not like I don't already have enough spices. Really. You have all seen the entire bookcase of spices, right? Amazingly enough, there are a few I don't have, and there is one place to go to get them. Allspice. Allspice Culinarium in Des Moines. Located in Des Moines' historic and trendy East Village, it's a beacon to me, a nesting place, a place of comfort where I can indulge my deepest desire- to smell, to sample, to browse and most importantly, to possess all spices and herbs. Seriously.

In your run of the mill grocery store I can easily spend an hour standing in front of the spices. I'd guess the average supermarket in this city has maybe 100 or so spice and seasoning options, so just let this sink in for a minute- at Allspice they carry over 350 spices, herbs, oils and balsamic vinegars. Three hundred and fifty. There is no hope for me at this point. Anyone and everyone who knows me KNOWS this will spell my certain doom, sine I am utterly helpless when it comes to trying new spices and new flavors.

In all seriousness, the store was founded in 2010 by Alex and Jennifer Rhoads. The store has become the ultimate buy local success story with a dedicated customer base and a superior product, including full online shopping. It's taken me an unbelievable five years to make it here. I have no excuse really. Just that I lived in Guthrie County and rarely ventured downtown. I'm kicking myself. Let's check out the store.

Just to demonstrate my superior photography skills, you can
see the reflection of my car, and me, taking this picture. Sigh.
Now I made a couple attempted trips to Allspice over the winter months and was discouraged by the parking challenges- limited street parking and mounds of snow everywhere (for which the city is responsible, not the store), but on this sunny warm spring day I lucked out and got a spot right outside the front door. I wasn't planning on shopping, I really wasn't. I was driving home after a visit to Dad's house and had no plans to stop anywhere, but on my cruise through downtown I noticed that empty parking spot....... The warm temps had long melted the mounds of snow and I was able to park just steps from the door. The door was wide open and the lovely fragrance of many mixed spices wafted out to greet me. The store was bustling with several couples browsing, sniffing and sorting through the enormous selection of spices. I stuck to the front half of the store where all the herbs and spices are. The back half of the store holds rows and rows of olive oils, nut oils, vinegars and all sorts of delicious things and will be the focus of my next visit to Allspice so I can nab some goodies to sample. 

What's on my shopping list? Some unusual spices this time. Here is what I'm looking for and a little bit about them.

Ammaza suocera. Translates literally to "kill the mother in law" and is an intensely spicy blend containing garlic, cayenne, and other herbs.

Kaffir lime leaves. Used fresh, frozen and dried, common in Thai and Lao cuisines. Often used in chicken dishes is Vietnamese cuisine. The rest of the fruit is also often used in many Asian cuisines.

Hibiscus powder. Hibiscus blossoms are often used to make teas and this deep purple powder makes a vivid color component in many culinary uses. It's often used to color meringues and other sweets like buttercreams, fondants and sweet beverages. Since I have dried hibiscus flowers on the shelf already that I have not used, don't ask why I think I need this one too- but I do.

Cubeb berries. Also known as Java pepper, these pungent berries are a flavor mix of allspice and black pepper. It's sometimes used to flavor gin.

Amchur. This powdered spice is made from ground dried green mangoes and is a citrusy sweet spice with an aroma like honey. Sometimes the flavor is sweet and tart depending on the fruit. 

Grains of Paradise. Member of the ginger family. Alligator pepper. North African cuisine. Also used to flavor gins. 

Baharat spice. Turkish spice blend of paprika, dried chilies, allspice, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Used to season lamb, fish and other meats. Used in Turkish, Iranian, Israeli, Kurdish cuisines

Shichimi. Japanese Seven Flavor Chili Pepper. Includes chilies, citrus peels, nori, sesame seeds. Used as a seasoning for soups and noodles and other Japanese dishes including rice.

Thai coconut green curry. Lovely Thai spice blend of dried coconut, shallots, green chilies, lime peel, garlic, cilantro, brown sugar and more.

Since I had forgotten my actual paper shopping list I tried to go from memory. I didn't exactly stick to my list. There were a couple on the list I wanted that I could not remember, and I decided to pass on the grains of paradise in favor of a couple others so darn it, looks like I'll have to go back in a few weeks. Somehow ancho chilies, Hawaiian black salt, dried porcini mushrooms, nonpareils, wasabi, tomato powder and red wine vinegar powder snuck into my shopping basket along with the Ammaza Suocera, kaffir lime leaves, baharat spice and hibiscus powder.  Now you need to check back and see what I do with all these amazing new flavors!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."