Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Occasional Gourmet Spices

Cinnamon toast makes a wonderful comfort food. It's only bread, cinnamon, sugar and butter but it sure smells good. If there are just a couple of spices to always have on hand, cinnamon is one. Cinnamon is found in a variety of cuisines--Mexican, Middle Eastern, Greek, Moroccan and Scandinavian. It can be used in baked goods, spiced fruits, pumpkin and yam dishes, rice and noodle pudding, in meaty stews, mulled wine, coffee, cocoa, and sugared nuts.

The problem is many spices are not as versatile as cinnamon. You buy them, then use them once, maybe, then they go stale before you can use them again. If you would rather buy a smaller amount of certain spices or dried herbs, the Occasional Gourmet is offering very small packets that stay fresher much longer. Most of the single spices range from two to six gram packages and cost around a dollar fifty each. That's way less than what you'd spend at the grocery store! I think these packets are perfect to give to a novice cook or to take on vacation when you know you'll be cooking but don't know what you'll find in the kitchen.

The Occasional Gourmet also sells a number of spice mixes, designed to allow someone to make a sophisticated meal without a lot of complicated technique. The most unusual of these blends might be Dukkah. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend and it usually contains some combination of hazelnuts, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin and sesame seeds, but it can vary greatly. It can be sprinkled on meats, vegetables, or mixed with olive oil to make a dip for breads and fresh crunchy vegetables. If you'd like to give it a try, there will be two tastings in the Bay Area this month:

in San Francisco at Bi Rite Market on Monday July 12th from 5pm to 8pm
in Los Altos at Draegers on Friday July 16th from 12 to 5pm

Or you can also shop by mail order.