Archives for February 2008

Secret Spice Rub Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway

Secret, smoky meat rub

A few months back, I met a professional organizer named Aby and I was instantly in awe of her.

Really, I admire any person who possesses both the desire and the ability to transform the cluttered elements of household chaos into pleasingly stratified things of beauty. For someone as organized-impaired as myself, one look at Aby’ s Creative Organizing blog fills me with hope for redemption.

I start out with good intentions, buying containers, files, folders and dividers – you name the aisle in The Container Store and I’ve been there – but still the sheer volume of our everyday stuff seeps through the cracks in the closet doors, and sometimes literally falls out and hits my husband on the head.

Really. Hits My Husband On The Head; as in the case of the jar of peppercorns perched precariously on the tippy-top shelf of the spice cabinet, which falls out while said husband is plunging the depths up to his elbows in search of some cayenne pepper.

And then, when I saw that Lydia at The Perfect Pantry was peeking into Other People’s Pantries, I realized that my own spice pantry is such a mess that I really should be embarrassed, but the truth is I’m simply at a loss.

Which brings me to this pathetic cry for help:

Will someone please, please set my spice cabinet to rights?

Leave me a comment with your inspired solution to my spice cabinet woes, and to the calm, cool and creative person with the best idea I will present this lovely little cookbook, 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices:

Hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to post an after photo, showing off a brand new, neatly organized spice cabinet, but first look at what I have now, four shelves 13 inches wide by 10 inches deep, jam-packed with bags, jars, tins and boxes in no order whatsoever:

And just so you don’t leave empty-handed, here is my “secret” smoky spice rub recipe, suitable for packing in jars and giving as gifts:

Smoky Spice Rub

2 tablespoons smoked sweet Spanish paprika
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in a covered container for up to a month.
Rub 1 tablespoon per pound onto meat, poultry or fish.

Chickpea and Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

A delicious, high-protein snack
I’ve told you before about my absolute love for legumes, chickpeas in particular. Canned chickpeas are definitely at the top of my list of pantry staples, and maybe even a desert-island must for me too. Hmmm, maybe my desert island should be located someplace where chickpeas grow in happy profusion, for instance in the Aegean Sea. Do chickpeas flourish in the Aegean Sea? I’ve no idea, although it’s kind of nice to imagine.

But I digress. I’ve made this Mark Bittman-inspired hummus recipe a few times since it appeared in the New York Times just a few weeks ago, and I love it. I take scoops of it with pieces of crisp flatbread when I start feeling hungry in between meals. Hummus is a great nutritious high-protein snack. It’s not just for potluck, people!

This version turns out a lovely shade of ochre with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes and pimenton, which is smoked Spanish paprika (another must-have for the spice rack).

For some reason, Bittman goes to the trouble to cook his chickpeas first – while this does provide good, tasty liquid to moisten the spread, it’s not what I call fast. I’ve found that cooking chickpeas can have iffy results. I try buying them at stores that seem to stock fresh dried beans, but I have no patience for them. Most of the bulk dried chickpeas I’ve taken home take way too long to cook. After a few hours of boiling what seems like a potful of pebbles that never seem to soften, I reach for a good old can. And for this recipe, which otherwise comes together in a snap, shaving a few hours off the prep time is a good thing.

I also go for the oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes here, rather than the dried ones he calls for. I think they add rich olive-oily moistness to the hummus.

This spread is simply fantastic as a dip, but I’ve also spread some on tortillas with a little goat cheese for killer quesadillas.

If you’re a fan of chickpeas, you might also like these recipes:

Cashew Chicken with Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

Olive Oil-Poached Shrimp with Chickpeas and Feta

Chickpea and Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

inspired by Mark Bittman

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

Place all ingredients in the workbowl of a food processor. Pulse until you have a relatively smooth paste (I don’t mind if it’s a little chunky). Taste and season with more lemon juice and salt, if needed. Scrape down the sides of workbowl and pulse briefly to combine.

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Cod Steamed in Parchment with Asian Flavors

I’ve rediscovered the simplicity of steaming seafood in a package – somehow I’d forgotten how easy, low-calorie and delicious this method is for quick, healthful meals.

In my late teens, I spent a few summers on a beautiful rocky island off the coast of New England, waiting tables at night and lounging on the beach by day. I was part of a crew of young restaurant rats – waiters, maids, dishwashers and cooks who migrated to the island every season. Each one of us was seduced by the promise of a summer spent hiking, biking, and swimming in the ice-cold Atlantic, subsidized by the summer people for whom we worked our tushies off in exchange for cash tips.

You were considered lucky if you landed a job in one of the old hotels because that meant you had an inexpensive place to live for the season. The large Victorian houses would often offer the whole top floor – former servants’ quarters – for employees to room dormitory-style.

It sounds quaint, but in reality it was more John Belushi than E.M. Forster – think post-adolescent boys, keg parties and shared bathrooms.

The real perk of the job turned out to be the surfeit of pristinely fresh seafood: mussels, clams, swordfish and bluefish just pulled from the surrounding sea. On our nights off, since we didn’t have kitchens, we’d fire up a little hibachi grill and get dinner ready. We’d wrap whatever fresh fish was available in foil, throw in a little seasoning and place the packet on the grill. Minutes later, we’d have a meal we could eat straight out of the foil, maybe with some grilled island corn on the side.

The beauty of this method lies not only in how easy and quick it is put dinner on the table, but that you use little or no fat. The fish cooks in its own juices and is enhanced by whatever herbs, aromatics and thinly sliced vegetables you include.

I used Asian flavors like sesame, chili and scallions in this recipe, but you could use sliced cherry tomatoes, basil and minced garlic to go Mediterranean-style, or use carrot, leeks and parsley for a more simple French flavor. Just remember to cut the vegetables into small, thin pieces – the cooking time is quick.

Cod Steamed in Parchment with Asian Flavors

Serves 2

1 skinless fish fillet, such as cod, salmon or halibut (about 1 pound)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons gomasio *
Pinch of dried chili flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Lay an 11 x 14-inch piece of parchment over a large sheet of aluminum foil. (The foil helps keep any juices from leaking out of the package)

Arrange fish in the middle of the parchment; sprinkle with onions, ginger, sesame oil, gomasio, chili flakes, salt and pepper.

Gather the two long edges of the foil together and fold down over the fish to make a neat package, tucking the short ends together over the top.

Place the packet on a large baking sheet and bake 15 – 20 minutes. The fish will be opaque and flaky when done.

* a blend of sesame seeds, salt and seaweed available in the natural or international section of well-stocked grocery or natural foods stores; substitute plain toasted sesame seeds if you can’t find it.

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