Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Flavors of Fall


September 22, marks the official beginning of fall. As the beauty of the autumn leaves begins to surrounds us, so does that wonderful aroma that fills our kitchen this time each year. Fall is the time when we focus our attention on making those delicious comfort foods such as stews,curries, soups and of course all of those wonderful desserts. As we say goodbye to the hot days of summer our attention turns to stocking our cupboards with all of the ingredients needed to make those wonderful autumn dishes. Below you will find a list of a few fall spices that will not only fill your home with a delightful aroma but will also incorporate some hidden health benefits while creating those great tasting meals.

cinnamon illustr

Cinnamon- While cinnamon is by far the most loved spice for the baker, there are a few things that one should know before purchasing cinnamon. Cinnamon derives from the bark of the cinnamon tree. It takes approximately 15 years for a cinnamon forest to mature to harvest. The 1st meter of the trunk contains grade A cinnamon. The 2nd meter up the trunk is grade B and then further up the tree is a C grade. When the bark is cut away it kills this section of the tree and the remaining part of the tree is cut down and used for firewood or making furniture. When using cinnamon for baking grade B or C is recommended as it has less volatile oil. Grade A has the highest content of volatile oil making it too bitter to use for baking. It can be recognized by the color in which it is very red. So, when choosing a cinnamon for baking look for a rich brown color. Cinnamon is also known for it’s many health benefits such as; lowering blood sugar, increases circulation, mildly lowers cholesterol and helps with indigestion just to name a few.

tumeric illustr

Turmeric- Also known as Indian saffron it is commonly used in curries and Asian dishes giving them that beautiful golden yellow color. Turmeric is a great spice to experiment with when preparing chicken and turkey dishes, vegetables and salad dressings. This spice, a part of the ginger family, is a ribosome root, called fingers and has earthy notes and very pungent which gets stronger when cooked . With this in mind it is better to start with a small amount and add more if needed to reach your desired level of flavor. Turmeric goes through a process of being boiled, dried and then ground into a power that can range from a deep orange-yellow to a bright yellow in color. Turmeric is believed to be a very powerful antioxidant and has been used to treat inflammation, joint pain, poor circulation and allergies.

bayleaf illustr

Bay Leaves- Are commonly used in soups, stews,meat dishes, marinades and vegetables. The majority of bay leaves come from Turkey where the trees grow as tall as 40 feet. The young branches are cut, the leaves removed and dried in the sun. All leaves are gone through by hand and measured. The leaves that are not chosen are thrown into a pile and bailed to be used for crushed bay leaves later. While bay leaves add great flavor to a variety of dishes, it is important to note that the leaf itself is bitter. If the recipe calls for crushed bay leaves make sure that they are crushed very fine to avoid the bitter taste. If you will be using whole bay leaves remove them before serving. Bay leaves are used by some for blood sugar imbalances.

cloves illustr

Cloves- A great spice to keep on hand as it works great with other spices to create flavorful blends in both sweet and savory dishes. Madagascar with it’s tropical climate is known for it’s clove production where the clove trees grow from 40 to 60 feet tall. Flower buds from the trees are harvested by hand at the yellow and red phase. If possible buy whole cloves as apposed to ground. Ground cloves will lose their flavor much quicker than whole which can be stored up to a year in an air tight container. When cooking with cloves it is important to understand that it is a very strong spice and should be used sparingly. Cloves and clove oil have been used to relieve the pain of a toothache. It is also believed to help with depression and fatigue when used aromatically.

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