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30 Days of Flavor: 03/05/11 – Zatar (Za’atar)

We will be discussing flavors this month in our “30 Days of Flavor” blog series. Every day this month, VSpicery will select a spice, seasoning, salt, etc., as the flavor of the day, giving you it’s history, flavor profile, and uses. We hope you enjoy these flavors and their unique stories.

Za’atar is a unique and flavorful spice blend that was created in the Middle East, and is often used as a condiment or dipping spice for bread, naan, and pita bread. This blend is composed of dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac, sesame seeds, and other spices, but ingredients can vary depending on geographical region. Known as saem in ancient Egypt, remains of Za’atar were found in Pharaoh’s tombs, giving this condiment a very long history, and is still commonly used in Israeli, Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian cuisine.

The most common use for Za’atar is as a dipping spice mixed with olive oil, and it is fabulous just like that. It can also be used to season meats, vegetables, hummus, yogurt, or made into a tea. Many Arab bakeries mix Za’atar with olive oil to make a spread for baked goods and unleavened bread. Thought to keep the body strong and the mind alert by Middle Eastern cultures, Za’atar with bread is customary as a breakfast item. Many Arab children are given Za’atar sandwiches for breakfast or lunch to “make them smarter”.

We have held many samplings at VSpicery where we have presented Za’atar in an oil dipping blend, and some now prefer it to their traditional Italian bread dipping spice. It’s a wonderful flavor combination that we are quite fond of and use frequently. Tempt your palate with this exotic blend from the Middle East and expand your flavor horizons.

 

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30 Days of Flavor: 03/04/11 – Paprika

We will be discussing flavors this month in our “30 Days of Flavor” blog series. Every day this month, VSpicery will select a spice, seasoning, salt, etc., as the flavor of the day, giving you it’s history, flavor profile, and uses. We hope you enjoy these flavors and their unique stories.

Paprika is one of those spices that we take for granted, but it is used more commonly than most realize. There are notably different variations of Paprika based on the originating region of the Capsicum peppers dried and ground in its creation. The flavor can be mild or hot, pungent or very delicate. Many seasoning blends use one or more types of paprika as part of the base flavor of a spice mix; it adds color, aroma, and lots of flavor. Unless you use large quantities quickly, it’s better to buy Paprika in small quantities in airtight and dark containers, since it does degrade faster than other spices.

Paprika is also beneficial to your health due to its high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, and Beta-Carotene.

Hungarian cuisine is famous for its namesake Hungarian Paprika, also known as “Sweet Paprika”, which is used in soups, stews, seasoning blends for meats and veggies, and to add deep red color for dish presentation.

Spanish Smoked Paprika (Pimentón de la Vera), is a favorite of our customers. It’s made by smoke drying the peppers over Oak coals, and it adds a deep smoky flavor to anything you use it with. For those that like a little heat, we also offer a Smoked Hot Paprika that gives your food the same smokiness but with a little kick.

Europe credits Christopher Columbus with introducing them to chiles from South America, and once they found the culinary significance and great flavor, use of chilies, peppers and paprika skyrocketed. From Europe, Paprika migrated to Hungary through Turkey in the 16th century, then finally to the Western world later in the 1900’s. Since then, the Americas have experimented with different Paprikas, enjoying their flavor, color, and versatility. Come visit us at VSpicery’s shop in Tampa for an aromatic or taste sample of Hugarian, Smoked and Smoked Hot Paprika to see which one is your favorite.

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30 Days of Flavor: 03/03/11 – Honey

EdenNecHoneylasses

We will be discussing flavors this month in our “30 Days of Flavor” blog series. Every day this month, VSpicery will select a spice, seasoning, salt, etc., as the flavor of the day, giving you it’s history, flavor profile, and uses. We hope you enjoy these flavors and their unique stories.

Although honey is widely known as something to sweeten up your tea, it’s so much more than just a sweetener. Honey is a primary food source for bees that they store within wax honeycombs in the beehive, and it’s produced by regurgitating the nectar of the plants they pollinate. Honey flavors are varied, with delicate nuances drawn from the source of the nectar, and there are many different types and grades. Seasonal variations are the most notable, with a substantially different color and flavor resulting from the plants available for pollination during each season.

The history of humans and honey is considerable, and it has been used for drinks and in culinary applications for many centuries. Depictions of humans hunting for honey have been found in cave painting in Spain dating back at least 10,000 years, and honey was commonly used in ancient Egypt not only to sweeten food and beverages, but also to embalm the dead. Ancient Mayans commonly used honey produced by the stingless bee.

Various medical traditions turn to honey to help with ailments such as allergies, sinus problems, and healing due to its antiseptic and antibiotic properties. If you are using honey to help with allergy problems, it’s important to buy honey that is harvested from your local area, and from the same season of the year that you are taking it. This is because bees are pollinating and extracting nectar from the same trees and plants that are aggravating your allergies, and the honey produced has antihistamine properties that will give you the best results for helping with your allergies naturally.

At our VSpicery Flavor Shop in Tampa, we carry Eden’s Nectar honey that is harvested in Florida through the West Central Florida Beekeepers Coop. We carry all four seasons, plus Honeylasses (which is a blend of all 4 seasons, giving it a darker color and molasses-like flavor), Bee Pollen (very high in B vitamins and helps with reducing the signs of aging), raw honey combs, and honey granola.

Join us tomorrow for Paprika!

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30 Days of Flavor: 03/02/11 – Cinnamon

We will be discussing flavors this month in our “30 Days of Flavor” blog series. Every day this month, VSpicery will select a spice, seasoning, salt, etc., as the flavor of the day, giving you it’s history, flavor profile, and uses. We hope you enjoy these flavors and their unique stories.

Cinnamon has been used since antiquity for culinary delights, to fragrance clothes or as incense. Originating in South East Asia, this spice made its way through the Red Sea and into the trading ports of Egypt as early as 2000 BCE. The inner bark of the Cinnamon trees is where this spice comes from and it can be used as sticks or in powder form. Common applications vary with each culture, used in the Middle East and India as a flavoring for meats, used to flavor chocolate in Mexico, also a main component of Persian cooking, and widely used in the US in a cinnamon and sugar combination for sweets, cereals, and candies.

Cinnamons differ in oil content depending on the species of tree. We carry three types of cinnamon at VSpicery, and from a quick whiff of each, you can  easily tell the difference between them. The first type we carry is a cinnamon with a 2% oil concentration, and this is comparable to the type you find in your local grocery store, although much fresher. The second type is Korintje Cinnamon, which has a 4% oil concentration. Korintje is ideal for baking applications, and is suggested for those that would like a little stronger cinnamon flavor for their toast, oatmeal, or butter. The third cinnamon we carry is Vietnamese Cinnamon that has a 6% oil concentration, which gives the most potent flavor and aroma. Only serious cinnamon lovers should get this one, as it can easily overpower a dish or dessert, but is absolutely delicious.

Join us tomorrow when we explore the many faces of honey!

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30 Days of Flavor: 03/01/11 – Alderwood Smoked Salt

We will be discussing flavors this month in our “30 Days of Flavor” blog series. Every day this month, VSpicery will select a spice, seasoning, salt, etc., as the flavor of the day, giving you it’s history, flavor profile, and uses. We hope you enjoy these flavors and their unique stories.

The first day of flavor is dedicated to a flavorful salt, Alderwood Smoked Salt. Many of our customers have sampled Alderwood Smoked Salt at one of the outdoor markets, and became enamored after their first bite. One of our favorite uses is simple and delicious. Take an avocado, half it and discard the seed. Grind some Alderwood Smoked Salt and Special Peppercorn Blend, then drizzle some Lemon Oil over the top. The salt brings out the natural smokiness of the fruit making this quick side dish a quick family favorite. If you don’t have our wonderful Lemon Olive Oil, you can substitute a good regular Olive Oil and some fresh lemon juice.

Alderwood Smoked Salt originated in the Pacific Northwest and was perfected by the Native American Indians in that region. The Northwest tradition of smoking salmon and other meats with Northwest Red Alderwood has been a way of cooking for hundreds of years. Slowly smoked over real Alderwood logs, this Pacific sea salt has a very clean smoked flavor, with no additives or preservatives.

Alderwood Smoked Salt is equally delicious on meats as well as veggies. When using for grilled meats, season with all other flavors before grilling then salt with Alderwood Smoked Salt after the meat has been cooked. Use it to salt steamed or grilled vegetables, on salads, in rice or pastas, and it’s also a great addition to soups. Try a great alternative to a traditional leaf salad: dice an avocado, red onion and tomato. Mix together with Alderwood Smoked Salt, Special Peppercorn Blend, Barrel Aged (18 yr. old) Balsamic Vinegar and Mosto Olive Oil.

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Beat the winter blues with some fresh Spring flavors!

Spring is just around the corner, and we came up with some fun ways to enjoy the season. Most of us found that we indulged a bit too much over the holiday season, and are looking for ways to cut calories and fat without sacrificing flavor.

A great way to replace oily potato chips when you crave crunch is to make Crispy Kale Chips. They are easy to make, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and you can play with all kinds of flavors. Some tips for getting crispy instead of soggy kale chips:

  • Make sure the kale is very dry by using a salad spinner. If the leaves have any moisture on them, they will steam and become soggy.
  • Do not add salt until after you pull them out of the oven. Salt causes liquid to be released and will make for soggy chips.
  • Convection ovens work well for this, although not required. If you use your convection oven, set at 325°F and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  • When the chips are out of the oven that is when you season them, just mix any seasoning in with the salt and sprinkle over the hot kale chips. If you want to add extra flavor, try our Creole, Cocoa Loco, Greek, or Asian Rub.

Kale Chips

Ingredients:
4 giant handfuls of kale, torn into bite-sized pieces and tough stems removed (about 1/3 pound)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
Seasoning (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the kale leaves into a salad spinner and spin all of the water out of the kale. Dump the water and repeat one or two times more just to make sure that the kale is extra dizzy and dry. Use a towel to blot any extra water on the leaves. Place the kale on the baking sheet.

Drizzle olive oil over the kale leaves and use your hands to toss and coat the leaves.

Bake in the oven for 12-20 minutes until leaves are crisp. Take a peek at the 12 minute mark – the timing all depends on how much olive oil you use. Just use a spatula or tongs to touch the leaves, if they are paper-thin crackly, the kale is done. If the leaves are still a bit soft, leave them in for another 2 minutes. Do not let the leaves turn brown (they’ll be burnt and bitter) Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt (and seasoning if desired) and serve.

Sweet potatoes are making a serious comeback this year, and uses will vary from common to very creative flavor fusions. You will see sweet potatoes in all sorts of dishes like stuffed pasta, sushi, and French toast. A delicious and easy way to enjoy them is to make Sweet Potato Fries with our Sweet Singing Seasoning blend. The flavors in this rub perfectly compliment sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients:
5 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4” pieces.
Olive Oil
1-2 tbls. Sweet Singing Seasoning

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a sheet tray with parchment. In a large bowl toss sweet potatoes with just enough oil to coat. Sprinkle with Sweet Singing Seasoning. Spread sweet potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet, being sure not to overcrowd them. Bake until sweet potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

We love salads, and eat them almost every day, so we’re always on the prowl for new ideas. Grilled chicken salads happen to be a favorite. Our Greek Seasoning blend is a perfect addition giving this light dish big flavor.

Greek Grilled Chicken Salad
(serves 4)

Ingredients:
1 lb chicken breast tenders or 4 Chicken breasts
10 oz bag fresh baby spinach leaves
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded & diced
8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
8 Greek Kalamata olives, pitted & cut in half
1/4 cup Light Zesty Italian or Greek dressing
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 teaspoons Greek seasoning
2 teaspoons olive oil

Directions:
Preheat a charcoal or tabletop grill. Toss chicken with olive oil and sprinkle on both sides with Greek seasoning. Let sit 10 minutes or refrigerate overnight. Place chicken on grill over medium heat. Cover grill and cook 4 minutes on one side, flip and cook 2 minutes more or until cooked through. In a large bowl combine spinach, cucumber, tomatoes and olives. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Arrange on 4 salad plates and top with chicken. Sprinkle with feta and enjoy!

For your next spring party, try making ice cubes with edible flowers. They are easy to make, colorful, and add flavor. Choose a flower(s) to compliment the drink flavor profile or to match the colors of your party. You can find edible flowers next to the herbs in the produce section of your grocery store or at your local farmers market.

To make these beautiful cubes:
Fill an ice cube tray halfway with water then freeze. Dip the edible, organic blooms in cold water and place one on each “half cube”. Top with water and freeze completely. Then add the cubes to your desired beverage.

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The Glories of Vinegar – The Everyday Gourmet

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If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss over good vinegar is all about, then you’ve missed out! Vinegars impart an extra zing that varies from tart to sweet, and are as varied as the regions they hail from.

Whitney at The Everyday Gourmet is a self professed vinegar freak. She notes:

“I absolutely love highly acidic things — strong vinaigrettes, anything with lemon or lime, and I adore pickles. But vinegar is special…it’s great not only in salad dressings, but also in sauces, used in pickling, is a great flavor enhancer, perfect in marinades and so much more! There are so many kinds of vinegar available now, that I thought I’d share some thoughts on uses for different vinegars.”

What follows is a really straight forward and simple breakdown of the major vinegar flavors, and what they’re good for. Check it out here: The Glories of Vinegar.

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Welcome Redditors! Looking for a little Secret Santa love?

Then we’ve got your awesome right here.

First and foremost, use your coupon code ‘secretsanta’ on checkout to get 10% off your total order (min. $20). That’s a must.

Secondly, we were contacted by the incredibly awesome licenseplate who saw that we were offering bacon skillet jam, and wanted to know if we were interested in doing some custom labeling in a smaller (cheaper) size for the Reddit Secret Santa. Yes! We couldn’t think of something more awesome, since Reddit and bacon go together like chocolate and bacon. Did we mention bacon? The skillet jam is a reduction of bacon, onions, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and seasonings, and provides instant bacon awesome to anything you eat. Confident we were about to create a nexus of awesome, licenseplate started off on her design process, and we started working on the rest.

AND THEN DISASTER…

licenseplate and the laws of physics collided in a way which left her hand out of commission. After several rounds of emails to make sure she was not going to have to give up her lifelong art dreams to become an embittered boxing coach, (and to get a sneak preview description of her custom label, we’re excited!), we realized her label would probably not be finished in time for the vast majority of secret santators to benefit from it (although she’s still working to complete it). So…

We opened it up to everyone.

Our first limited edition label is up here, and waiting to explode your giftee’s head with delight. We’re going to run a few different labels in rotation, depending on how many submissions we get. If we use your label, we’ll send you a jar with your artwork on it, compliments of the house. Our series will culminate with the licenseplate edition jam, once her magic makers are fully working again (and we promise it will be awesome!).

Last but not least…

Check out our selection of gift baskets and sampler packs. If your giftee has been REALLY, REALLY good, you might find something appropriate there for them.