Seasonal Chef: Cooking with Spice Blends

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Cooking with spice blends are a no brainer. I use them regularly. I actually have a separate shelf in my spice cabinet just for them. Spice blends can be found everywhere. My favorites are Spice Revolution and Penzey’s. You can even find a whole variety of spice blends right at the supermarket, in the spice aisle. Why use them? Why not? It’s the perfect way to zip up a dish that can be a little ho-hum. You can easily do a blend yourself too. I recently found an incredibly easy 4 ingredient blend for grilled chicken on the Bon Appetit site that I’ve made twice in the past week. (Everyone loved the flavor!)

Bon Appetit 4-3-2-1 Spice Blend Chicken
On the other side of things, if you are not generally used to using a blend they can be intimidating. I would highly encourage you to step out of our comfort zone of maybe salt, pepper and oregano, and go big. You honestly can’t go wrong with any of the basic blends. Simply check the packaging, and take note of their recommendations. Whatever you are seasoning, be it a protein or vegetable be sure to give it a little rub of some kind of oil; that will help the blend stick. You still want to have a little salt and pepper for seasoning. Although, do double check the blend first, some already include a fair amount of salt. Salt brings out the flavor of most ingredients, but over salting will ruin a dish.

This past weekend I headed up to Pleasantville for a couple of stops: first for a book signing of my fellow blogger Rinku Bhattacharya who has a new cookbook out called Spices and Seasons: Simple Sustainable Flavors. (She’s the ultimate Indian spice blend cook!) My next stop, not too far away was the Pleasantville Farmers Market to pick up a few things from Lindsay at the Spice Revolution table. Then I did my typical 2-swing walk around the market. Unless you have something absolutely in mind I highly recommend the “2-swing.” Take a walk around once without buying, and then do a second walk. That is the best way to get the lay of the land at a Farmer’s Market.

baby beets

On my second swing I found  this amazing little beets from J & A Farm out of Goshen, NY. Jeff Bialas, the owner, gave me a little tip on cooking them:

baby beets

After a nice rinse in cool water I tied them with some kitchen twine and cooked the bottoms for 2 minutes. Then simply pulled the string and let them all fall into the pot for another 30 seconds.

baby beets

Into an ice bath to stop the cooking;

baby beets

then a nice spin to release the water. They were just delicious! I also picked up a bag of stinging nettles from him too, which I will tell you about in another post!

branzino

One of the Spice Revolution spice blends I picked up was Shallot-Pepper. Freeze dried shallots, tellicherry pepper and salt. On my way home I stopped by my favorite fish monger Lou, at Port Chester Seafood, and picked up some branzino. Using the Shallot-Pepper blend along with some fresh lemon zest I pan seared the fish. This is about the easiest way to cook fish: slit the skin a few times to help it from curling up and give it a nice rub with a simple oil like avocado or grapeseed. In a hot, non-stick pan, also with a coat of oil, sear the skin side first for about 2 minutes and then flip to the other side for about another 2 minutes. Branzino cooks very quickly. If you want to skip  the pan simply lay them out on a rimmed sheet and broil for about 3-5 minutes.

Spice Revolution seasoned branzino

All-in-all it was a 30 minute lunch on a Saturday afternoon with some added lettuce greens and a simple dressing. How can you go wrong? Sometimes easier is better … and spice blends make it VERY easy!

If you are out and about today stop by the Irvington Farmers Market around 5:00 and I will be demoing this delicious fish dish for you to taste, and Lindsay from Spice Revolution will be on had with her uber-awesome spice blends!  It’s the opening day for their outdoor market and it looks like it will be a winner with the weather! On Saturday you can catch me at the opening of the outdoor Hastings Farmers Market around 10:00 am. Please stop by and say hello!

Buon Appetito!

 

 

 

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About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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