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Entertaining the Question
Spice Up your Cooking with Age-Old Flavor
June, 2006 - Issue #20
Cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon... Our new passion is to use these precious spices in cooking (no - not baking - cooking!).

We recently attended a chefs course in Napa at the Culinary Institute of America. Chefs from Morocco, Tunisia, India, Persia, Thailand, Vietnam, Spain and the United States came together to talk about food trends both ancient and modern. There we learned how spices have united us. No matter what continent, no matter what style of food, there are spices involved.

Spices in history involved symbolism. For the people of the Middle Ages, spices were emissaries from a fabled world. Ginger and cinnamon were hauled in by Egyptian fishermen casting nets into the floodwaters of the Nile, which in turn had carried them straight from Paradise. The aroma of spices was believed to be breath wafted from Paradise over the human world.

No medieval writer could envision Paradise without the smell or taste of spices. Whether the poetically-described gardens served saints or lovers, the atmosphere was infused with the rare, intoxicating fragrance of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. On the basis of such fantasies, it was possible for lovers and friends to exchange certain spices as pledges of their relationship.

As you measure out that precious cardamom, cinnamon, or even black pepper, pause and remember that the great voyages of exploration, the discovery of the New World, and the beginning of the modern age were closely linked to the need for spices.

When using spices in a savory dish, buy the whole bean or seed, then toast them gently in a small skillet and grind in a coffee grinder. We have a coffee grinder that is used only for grinding spices - don't try to use the same one for both needs! This process creates spices with more intensity.

Both of these recipes are perfect for "spicing up" your cooking. Enjoy!

Spiced Shrimp Saute
1 tsp whole coriander
3/4 tsp cardamom seeds
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tsp hot chili sauce
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp honey
12 peeled deveined uncooked large shrimp with tails


Toast coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, shaking skillet, about one minute. Coarsely grind spices in mortar pestle or spice grinder. Transfer to large bowl; mix in oil, ginger, chili sauce, cinnamon and honey. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add shrimp, toss to coat.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and marinade; saute until shrimp are just cooked through, about three minutes.

This is delicious served with couscous, or get adventurous and serve over cheesy grits.

Kumquat-Cardamom Tea Bread
2 cups kumquats, stemmed, quartered, seeded
3 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp salt; divided
1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tsp canola oil
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice


Place quartered kumquats in processor; puree three minutes. Measure one-third cup puree for glaze; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two loaf pans with nonstick spray. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and one-and-a-half teaspoons salt in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Using electric mixer, blend one-and-a-quarter cups sugar and oil in large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, two-thirds cup kumquat puree, and pineapple with juice. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating just until blended. Fold in walnuts. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake about one hour, when tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool five minutes, turn cakes out, place on rack to cool.

Place reserved one-third cup puree in large bowl. Whisk in butter, powdered sugar, lemon juice and a half-teaspoon salt. Spread glaze over cakes, dividing equally.

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Cindy and Tamra are the spicy owners of RSVP Catering.
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