Tasting your temperature-Part 1

Just like colors, climates, and feelings, flavor can be warm or cool.Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon which blends senses.  It comes from the Greek words, ‘sensation together’.  For example; a person listening to music may see the sound in varying colors.  One might see numbers as points in space.  Or, sounds may produce feelings in different parts of the body.

It’s comforting to put a name to this experience, because I’ve always had what I now call “Culinary Synesthesia”.  To me, flavor has always had color.

Apple pie, a bowl of chili, and sweet potatoes inhabit the warm end of the scale.  Cool flavors are things like crisp lettuce, berries, and asparagus.

And much of the colors are dependent on seasoning.

Spices are ground seeds, nut, roots, or barks.  And almost without exception, they are warm flavors.  Cayenne is bright, burning red.  Curry is an almost neon reddish-orange.  These flavors frighten me and I stay away. But there are friendlier warm spices that evoke cozy sweaters, rustling leaves, and hay rides.  And without them, I’d be bereft and my kitchen would have much less flavor.

My top three are:

Nutmeg-It comes from the Myristica tree.  Always grate fresh.  You never know how old and thus flavorful the pre-ground is.  I use it at least every other day.  Any time I cook dark greens, I sprinkle in a bit.  With any cream sauce it’s a must.  I also put it in hot cereals.  Be careful though.  It can quickly go from just enough, to “Woah Nelly!” in a flash.  Also if eaten by the spoonful can act as a hallucinogen (but don’t do that).Smoked paprika-This isn’t just the tasteless stuff your mother used to sprinkle on the potato salad to make it pretty.  In Spain it’s known as pimentón.  You can buy it smoked or not, and the heat level ranges from non-existent to pretty darn hot (in the spicier varieties, hotter chiles are mixed in).  I use sweet smoked, and it not only adds color, but a subtle smoky flavor.  When using pecans in place of bacon in foods, I toast them in a tablespoon of butter with salt and pepper, and a dusting of paprika.  You get both crunch and smoke, while ingesting a good fat.Chinese Five Spice-This Chinese staple is traditionally made from cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seed, and Szechuan peppercorn.  This spice blend is what gives egg foo yung gravy its distinctive taste.  I purchase mine from the Asian grocer near me; it’s cheaper, authentic, and because they sell a lot of it, there is fairly quick turnover, which means fresher on the shelf.  I use this powder on sweet potatoes and in spice cookies.  But holidays wouldn’t be the same without my famous ham.  And the glaze may change from year to year, but the one constant is my five spice.

Dr. Pepper ham glaze

ham-glaze

4 cups Dr Pepper, reduced ‘til thick and syrupy (about 1-1 ½ cups), then cooled

¼ cup Dijon mustard

¼ cup Balsamic vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¾ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder

A day before cooking the ham:

Whisk together reduced Dr Pepper with the rest of the ingredients.  Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, but can be made up to 4 days before needed.

I urge you to get some fresh spices and play around with them.  And next time we’ll talk about the cooler side of the kitchen, and the herbs that I can’t live without.

Thanks for your time.

 

Orange you glad?

Consider for a moment, the carrot.

The humble carrot.

It is literally, one of the most down-to-earth veggies that we have.  You’d think that something so humble would do well no matter what type of above-ground procedures it endures.

And you would be wrong.

You know those baby carrots that they sell in the plastic sack?  Yeah, they aren’t actually baby anything.  They are regular carrots which are whittled down, and treated with chemicals.  Don’t go there.  Buy fresh and cut them yourself.  They’ll be about half the price as well.

I’m a big fan of IQF (individually quick frozen) produce.  As soon as they’re harvested, the vegetables are taken to a processing center very near the fields.  They are normally frozen within minutes.  So, unless you grow them in your own yard, it’s hard to get much fresher.  With peas and corn, the sugars start turning to starch as soon as they ae picked.  I almost never buy fresh peas, and only purchase corn in the summertime, from a farmer’s market.

Fresh is almost always best.

Not though, for our friend the carrot.  The hard flesh seems to turn spongy when frozen, and the texture of the cooked carrot becomes unpleasant.  I think the sugar and ice crystals really slice the carrots up and they become badly damaged.  It makes for a very unhappy eating experience.

We eat a lot of carrots, but it’s always from fresh.  My favorite cooking method is glazed.  It seems that no matter how many I make, there are never leftovers.

It’s a simple dish, so every component is important.  Each ingredient has a cheaper, faux version, but I urge you not to use them.  You’ll only use a bit of each item, so it’s not an expensive dish.

Chinese five-spice powder is an ingredient in my carrots.  I also use it in my holiday ham, and on sweet potatoes, among other things.  It’s a spice blend used in many Asian dishes.  If you eat much Chinese, you’ll recognize the aroma.

Traditionally, it’s a mixture of star anise, clove, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel seed.  Simple, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I use is a brand called Dynasty.  I get it at Li Ming Asian Market (3400 Westgate Dr, Durham).  But, I’d picked up a jar of Spice Islands at Kroger once when I thought I was out.  I’d never even opened it, so one day when my mom was visiting, I told her about the carrots, and gave her the recipe.  To save her a hunt, I decided to give her my unopened bottle.  Then I looked at the ingredients.  First off, there was way more than five; secondly, the only thing I recognized was cinnamon.  And, the aroma was not right.  I tossed it, and gave her a bag with some from my Dynasty bottle.

glazed carrots

Everything you need.

Glazed carrots

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into similarly sized pieces

½ cup chicken stock

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup pure maple syrup

¼ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice

Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything into a heavy skillet.  Cover and cook on medium until the carrots are crisp-tender.  Uncover and continue to cook until a thick, glazy sauce has formed. 

Serves four.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love making do, and saving cash.  But sometimes it’s not worth it.  What you save in money, you’ll lose in flavor and enjoyment.

So to save up for those cute boots, buy your meat on sale.  But don’t cheap out on the glazed carrots.

Please pass the discount tuna fish…

Thanks for your time.