Power Spicing, a cookbook review

One skill that I constantly feel like I am trying to develop is flavor combining.  Growing up, the flavors I was most familiar with were soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and scallions.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves only made their appearance in a spiced apple cake that my mother would make on occasion because it was my favorite.  Anything beyond that can easily feel alien to me.

I think it’s the main reason why I am a tad obsessed with spices and spice mixes.  Power Spicing by Rachel Beller would have been the perfect book for me when I was getting into cooking.  It’s a cute cookbook with only about 60 recipes, and an overview of 25 spices. This is not Spice Master Lior Lev Sercarz level of cooking.  But that doesn’t mean that this book doesn’t have any value. One could argue that maybe it has more relevance to the average home cook.  

In the spice introduction, Beller mentions potential health/medicinal benefits of the 25 spices she chose to highlight.  For example, “studies show that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugars, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce hemoglobin A1C levels.”  She also includes some general helpful information on each spice that varies from where you can find a certain spice to flavor substitutes.  She also offers from spice pairings based on absorption enhancers, synergistic actions, or doubling potential health effects.  

The book has seven main chapters:

  • DIY spice blends
  • Daily power beverages
  • Spicy and sweet breakfasts
  • Mains that pack a punch
  • Sizzling up your sides
  • Dressings and dips
  • Snacks and sweets

A lot of the recipes are plant based, but not all of them.  Some recipes that were of interest to me are:

  • Red-hot chili cocoa
  • Butternut squash and apple bake
  • Apple-zested muesli
  • Tzimmes oat crumble
  • Lentil salad with spicy vinaigrette
  • Vegan creamy brussels sprout Caesar
  • Warm fennel salad
  • Green goddess fenugreek tahini sauce
  • Spiced nut and date bars

Since the temperatures are dropping here in New England, I was mostly interested in the spiced warm drinks.  I made three of them (but only remembered to take photos of two). The first one I made was the golden choco-latte. The purpose of this drink is to help soothe inflammation and to balance your blood sugars.  Honestly, I just thought that it was pretty tasty.

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spice blend 🙃

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The second drink I tried was the saffron and cardamom latte.  This was the recipe that caught my eye first when I initially received the cookbook.  Made with saffron, green cardamom, cinnamon, and fennel, it’s supposed to boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, and help with bloating.  I was mostly curious about using saffron and cardamom as a blend. (I use cardamom today when I’m making masala chai.) Sadly, I was disappointed in this one.  Also, my efforts looked nothing like the photo. It just didn’t taste interesting enough to me. Maybe the fennel is a little too strong? I think I would have preferred just plain fennel tea (which is something I do from time to time).  Maybe I’ll play with the ratios of cardamom and fennel next time (if there is a next time).

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Matcha, cinnamon, ginger

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So then I made the stabilizing matcha in hopes that it would make up for the latte.  The stabilizing matcha says that the “combination of ginger, cinnamon, and matcha has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetes.”  I was a little worried that the cinnamon and ginger would completely overwhelm the matcha, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The spices hit the tongue first, but I think the matcha lingered afterward the most.  Final review? Yeah, I think this made up for the latte. I’m normally a plain green tea kind of person, but I think I can make an exception for this recipe from time to time.

While I recommend taking health claims with some skepticism, I don’t think there’s any harm in experimenting with whole and natural foods to try to increase benefits.  Especially if those experiments are tasty. Anyone with an interest in general spice blending or looking for a starting point in spice blending will find Power Spicing to be useful.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Clarkson Potter for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

 

Kenji’s Vegan Ramen, a Kitchen Conclusion (and a spice blend for you)

I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats.  Besides referring to it for general cooking questions I might have, I really adore their series “The Vegan Experience” (and I’m not vegan… heck, I’m not even vegetarian).

One of the vegan recipes that I bookmarked but was intimidated by the number of ingredients and steps was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth.  What does one do when they are not sure they can pull off a recipe on their own?  In my case, it was finding a friend who said “So when you want to cook together? I want to do something new and crazy.  Just something fun, y’know?”

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

The ingredient list isn’t all that bad.  It would have been nice if there had been a condensed shopping list.  It’s essentially this:

eggplant
onion
garlic
ginger
oil*
fresh shiitake
fresh maitake
kombu*
dried porcini
dried shiitake*
napa cabbage
leek
scallions
sweet potato
shichimi togarashi*
mirin*
soy sauce*
miso*
tahini*
noodles

Everything with an asterisk were things already in my pantry.  Well, except for the shichimi togarashi but we’ll get to that later.  And for the ramen noodles, Jared and I decided to be extra experimental and try the pasta with baking soda trick.  Several times, we asked each other if we had forgotten something because our shopping cart seemed like it didn’t have nearly enough ingredients waiting to be paid for.

One hurdle done.

But the doing?… ah, this was the real challenge.

And half the challenge was matching the ingredient list with the ramen component we were working on.  We both really wanted to reformat the whole recipe for easier reading in the kitchen.

On my own, I had read the recipe through a couple of times but I wish I had studied the photos in the blog post more.  We didn’t notice that the sweet potatoes and the maitake were not mixed on the baking sheet.  It made for a slight inconvenience to pick out sweet potato chunks for the blender.

For the soy-tare, I would leave the ginger and scallions in large identifiable pieces because you have to separate it from the quartered shiitake caps when done.

We also recommend upping the eggplant from 1 small to 2 small.  We had very little eggplant compared to the number of servings when all was said and done.  Also, you don’t get a lot of cooked liquid from 1 small eggplant.  Spinning out said liquid felt fiddly.

But more importantly, how did it taste?

The components of the ramen are their own were good but nothing I felt impressed by.  The baking soda noodles were really interesting!  The baking soda made the noodles a bit chewier, and taste very eggy.  The sweet potatoes baked in the spice blend gave a nice heat that quick dissipated.  But, altogether, the dish was very lovely and satisfying.  Jared’s wife got a gluten free version for health reasons.  We replaced the soy sauce with GF tamari in the recipe, and made a separate pot of rice noodles just for her.  Her reaction was “This is amazing!”  We also fed a friend of theirs who is vegetarian and planning to go mostly vegan.  The friend thought it was one of the best things she had had in a very long time.  In short, those with dietary restrictions are probably going to enjoy it best.

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Making flavored oil

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I can definitely see myself making parts of the recipe for other noodle and soup recipes.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever make the whole recipe on my own (but if I do, I think I would spread it over two days).  Jared and I may make it again, but not for at least 6 months and we’ve had time to recover from the amount of steps this ramen involved.

I will definitely make the sweet potatoes again.  I never thought to bake them with shichimi togarashi before, and I like the idea blending some of it to give the broth more body.  True story, I’ve never cared for shichimi togarashi before.  So I didn’t have it in my pantry, nor did I see the point in buying it for just this recipe.  So I made it with ingredients I did have in my pantry.  The spice blend is supposed to be a blend of seven spices.  (Shichi means seven.)  I used five, so I’m going to start calling my blend “five-mi togarashi.”  It is not traditional but I was quite happy with it.  (I suppose I could also call it go-mi togarashi since go is five in Japanese).

FIVE-MI TOGARASHI (GO-MI TOGARASHI)

1 tablespoon mandarin orange dust
4 teaspoons gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix altogether, and store in a tightly fitted lidded jar.

Reference Links

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-the-ultimate-vegan-ramen-rich-and-creamy-vegan-experience.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/02/vegan-ramen-miso-creamy-vegan-vegetarian-food-lab-recipe.html

http://penandfork.com/recipes/cooking-tips/mandarin-orange-dust/