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Autumn Spices for Autumn Food

October 20, 2015 - Radio Kitchen - Autumn Spices for Autumn Food

I would say that Autumn is in full swing right now, and this is a great time to be planning your meals based on what you find at the market.  Part of the fun of shopping is having plans for all the food you bring home, and part of planning a dish is knowing how to properly season it.  And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School says, there seems to be an entire family of spices that seem custom made for the fall.  Here is a list of these marvelous spices and the foods and other spices they work well with.   Many of these spices are not in themselves sweet, but they work very well with sugars.

Cinnamon blends well with white sugar, of course, but it marries up with all sorts of other things:  apples, bananas, cantaloupe, caraway, cacao, chilies, cauliflower, chocolate, corn, curries, coffee, cranberry, cumin, dates, figs, mint, grapes, oranges, winter squash, sun-dried tomatoes, and vanilla.

Cloves are classically used to stud the rind of a baked ham, but they are very versatile (but quite potent... a little bit goes a long way).  Try cloves with:  apples, beets, bay leaf, cakes, cacao, carrots, chocolate, citrus, curries, peaches, pineapple, pumpkin and red cabbage.

Allspice works well with:  apples, beets, cabbage, caramel, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, juniper, mace, mustard, nuts, nutmeg, onions, pears, pumpkin, root vegetable, yams.

Nutmeg is the pod of evergreen trees from the Spice Islands, and is one of the world's most important spices.  It is almost always used as a grated powder, and many prefer to keep a dedicated nutmeg grater on hand with a pod.  Its uses are many:  asparagus, cabbage, carrots, meaty stews, curries, baking, coffee, cranberries, butternut squash, winter squash, pumpkins, apples, peaches, and of course, with eggnog.

Mace is the "lacy" outer covering of a nutmeg pod, and has a similar flavor but more delicacy than nutmeg.  It also imparts a bright yellow-orange color to food.  It goes well with asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, cheese, coffee, cranberries, pumpkin, potatoes, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

Cardamom, an under-appreciated spice, is popular in Indian cooking.  Here are some happy pairings:  apples, bananas, beans, caramel, citrus fruit, coconut, ice creams, nuts, mango, allspice, almond, chili, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, curry, dates, fennel seed, ginger, mustard, pepper, turmeric, saffron.

Coriander, the dried seeds of the cilantro plant, has a warm, lemon-orange spicy, nutty flavor, and is used extensively in Indian and Mid-Eastern cooking.  It goes well with:  beans, chili, curry, gish, mushrooms, onions, parsley, apples, bananas, cinnamon and cloves.

Ginger:  a root that can be grated or sliced, served raw or dried and powdered.  It can be a very piquant spice, and it is very familiar to lovers of sushi.

Other uses:  almonds, ainse, apples, apricot, banana, berries, Brazil nuts, carrots, chives, chocolate, coconut, cranberry, curry, dates, grapes, hazelnuts, pineapple and in soups.

Many of these spices are best when lightly toasted (ginger would be the exception on this list) and many are best when freshly grated or ground.  

And speaking of grinding, Jerry highly recommends a "burr grinder."  While it may be more expensive than a purpose adapted coffee mill, it is better, since it gives a very uniform size to the grind, and is adjustable from coarse grinds to very fine. 

Easy to find on Amazon, prices go from about $20 to $100.  Good ones are available for about $40.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.