If you’ve clocked anything by now with this blog, it’s the fact that I fucking love food.
But you know what I don’t fucking love? Faffing about.
Yes there are moments when creating something in the kitchen is a fantasia of sorcery for each of our senses that dance their way through this simple existence and into our mouths to evoke an overture of life itself chiming in our very souls.
And then there are times when it’s Wednesday night and you just want some god damned nosh. Pronto.
Even on those Wednesday nights I can enjoy a few moments of bliss when pulling open my spice drawer and I see before me a stash of powders, flowers and seeds that will make even a quick spag-bowl into something with a little extra jazz *jazz hands not necessary but always encouraged*.
So in lieu of a recipe today we’re talking spice drawers and the little extra things that I’ve not only come to love, but tend to have mild panic when I run out of. Yes I’ve got herbs and the basic spices but something about these things I feel are underrated or overlooked for no good reason. So let’s dive in.
I guarantee that I’ve already lost some of the mushroom haters out there (and truth be told we’ll always be lacking a connection) but just hear me out if you’re unsure but you’ve made it past the heading.
Porcini powder doesn’t add ‘mushroom’ taste. Mushrooms themselves are inherently sponges to whatever you’re cooking them with and what they tend to add isn’t necessarily a certain flavour but instead more of an umami-style depth of savor and earthiness that you can’t get with much else. That’s what is so unique with this stuff, it’s the crisp white trainer of my spice drawer; doesn’t add flash but levels something perfectly.
I chuck this into meat when it’s browning in a casserole, onion and garlic when making my base for a simple pasta sauce, rubs that make their ways onto chicken and into breading mixes that coat a piece of fish. The smell is intense, deep and dark (if dark could be a smell, this is it). So get with the program and find yourself some porcini powder.
Just how porcini powder adds depth and gut into something, tomato powder adds bright, sunny, intense optimism (like a Canadian in powder form).
Adding fresh tomatoes, canned ones or passata to something that you want to add ‘tomato’ flavour to will typically also add a great deal of acidity which is wonderful if that’s what you’re wanting but if you over do it, you’ll end up with an after taste that brings back memories of the aftermath of many a night out. Not pretty.
Tomato paste is good for adding the intense tomato punch, but I have extreme challenges in keeping my shopping list up to date so tomato paste being present in my kitchen tends to be a fleeting moment.
Queue tomato powder. Vibrant and intense it adds that comforting nursery tomato flavour into any dish that involves a tomato sauce. It adds a sweet and fresh punch to any rub and ‘summers’ up a tray of roasted veggies a treat. A little goes a long way but if you’re anything like me, you don’t know the meaning of restraint. Pshh.
This is where my Brit flag starts to fly a little higher as I’m going to have to insist that if you stock mustard powder in your kitchen that it be Coleman’s (or at least an English mustard powder). In my view, having mustard powder around allows me to add punch; a punch that comes from having a powder that allows for a mustard’s heat and flavour to come through without any burn that comes from the jarred stuff. And no, not a gentle French Dijon caress nor a swift kick up the arse from a German senf.
Mustard powder has become a regular addition for me; particularly in those nostalgic dishes. Toad in the hole gets a small amount to enhance the savor of the sausages, roasted potatoes get a sprinkle to add a little extra bite and little goes into to the flour dredge on a piece of haddock to unlock a depth in fish that I’ve not found before. Basically any British dish gets some of this shit to make it more British.
As much as I adore a hearty and warm plate of something from the homeland I tend to gravitate towards spice just as often. Spicy foods awaken the soul after a bloody long day and sitting down to a coruscating bowl of glossy noodles studded with sesame seeds is something that just can’t be beat. Adding kimchi powder to your cooking adds hot-blooded spice with a slight tang of the funk that comes with a fermented food.
I add this powder to a stir fry as the noodles are being introduced and it coats them just beautifully. Chuck some into a bowl of tofu and pan fry to wake it up (and if it can wake up tofu you know this shit is good). When making a beef and broccoli rice bowl, the broccoli takes the stage with its meaty co-star when its tossed in a little kimchi powder while cooking in a frying pan; you’re basically giving this veggie a cool faux leather jacket that anyone looks good in.
Not for the faint of heart, but by no means a challenging ingredient to work with. You’ll be obsessed in no time.
Ras El Hanout
This North African spice blend sits elegantly and happily smack-bang in the intersection of earthly depth and floral fragrance (I work a corner not far away).
Much like a garam masala this is a blend that variates across the market. The one that I keep is a combination of 16 spices ranging from mace, cardamom and cinnamon to cayenne, ginger and rose petals. If there can only be one thing in that spice drawer of mine that I can truly call ‘beautiful’, it’s this baby.
I adore tossing a generous amount amongst cauliflower and roasting it until it the florets catch a little. It’s a natural paring with lamb in kabobs, works magic when mixed into the flour to make a flatbread and is does naughty things when rubbed all over a chicken for a Sunday roast. Even sitting here now I’m realizing that as amazing as this spice is, I still don’t use it enough.
So there we go; by no means the first nor last spices to get excited about. There’s so much more lurking in that drawer, however we’ve got nothing but time and thusly more posts about these wild cards will come. Hopefully this has highlighted some new things to get your juices flowing (but not like that, that would burn).
I reckon I’ve embraced my Canadian life well; I love watching hockey, I would never fuck with the Maple mafia and I always have a stash of some sort of edible around.
But hot, strong tea with a splash of milk still runs through my veins and there must be a biscuit to go with it (as such is British law). Be it a choccy biccy, a digestive or a shortbread, I’ll never choose a favourite. These are my babies, how very dare you.
We can thank my Grandparents for my love of all biscuits great and small. I think we can also thank them for the genetics that gave me depression and asthma but lets just start with the food mkay?
I aim to run the full gambit on biscuit recipes; here we are with shortbread, probably the simplest kind. Easy as shit and done two ways to please at least two of your multiple personalities; chocolate chip, and lemon with cardamom.
What you need:
300g of all purpose flour
200g of butter, chilled and cut into cubes
100g sugar, plus a little extra for sprinkling
1/2 a lemon of zest
1.5 tsp of cardamom (if you’ve got pods, 10 of them with seeds ground fine)
50g semi sweet mini chocolate chips
What to do:
Mix your flour, sugar and butter into a large bowl (if you need cup measurements then I suggest you google the conversions or you know, get with the program and weigh out your damn ingredients). Using your dainty little fingertips, rub the butter into the flour and sugar mix. Be sure to avoid using your palms as we’re going to have to handle this dough a fair amount and if you faff around with it too much now, you’ll be rolling out half melted butter and you’ll cry.
Boujee tip of the day! I keep a small jar of used vanilla pods and sugar; over time the sugar is flavoured by the vanilla and you’re left with vanilla sugar (yes bitch). I used 50g of vanilla sugar in this recipe, and 50g of regular but don’t panic if you’re not high maintenance like moi; this will taste brilliant without that added dose of fancy.
When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, take half of it into a separate bowl. For those of us with a scale, your mix is around 600g, so 300g in each bowl IS indeed half WOW MATHS RIGHT I KNOW.
In one bowl tip your chocolate chips, and in the other, your lemon zest and cardamom. Mix each up and choose one to work with first. We need to make this floury mess into a dough, so start squeezing it together with your hands. The heat in your palms will now help us to make this into an actual dough. Start squeezing (not kneading because bitch we’re not baking bread). You’ll notice it starts to hold up the more you squeeze, and eventually you’ll be able to tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out to around a 1/2cm thick.
Cut these buggers into whatever shape you like; I have a round ravioli stamp that works well but you do you, I ain’t the shape police. When you’ve cut them out, lay them onto a lined baking tray and prick the surface of each one with a fork a few times to make sure they don’t rise up too much.
Once you’ve done this for all of your dough (other flavour included), put them in the fridge on their trays by balancing them on top of some cans of things and a box off eggs and pray that’s good enough. They’ll need to chill out for about 20 minutes so start heating the oven up to 340F.
After the chill time and when your oven is ready, sprinkle the biscuits with some more sugar and bake for about 15-20 minutes. You’ll notice them starting to turn a very light golden brown when they’re done. Bring them out of the oven and leave them on the tray to cool for a good 10 minutes or so before inhaling them.
Chief, you just made biscuits. Actual biscuits (I’m looking at you, ‘murica).
I was fed soup (mostly an oily broth with potatoes etc floating in it) for about three months straight but that’s not what started the hiatus. It was the day that I was morosely hungover and was taken to a local market for something to ‘cure it’. In front of me was placed a cloudy bowl of broth and as I raised the spoon out of the deep something else came out first.
A chicken foot.
Now I know that they give fantastic flavour to any dish, and I’m a great believer that if you’re going to cook with meat it’s best to respect that sacrifice and use as much of the animal as possible.
But on that day I was not fucking having it.
If this wonton soup spackled over the trauma of that memory for me, it’ll at least make you smile. It’s bloody good. And for the record this is NOT a “traditional” or “authentic” recipe and if authentic tradition is what you’re looking for, bitch you’re at the wrong blog.
What you need:
1lb ground pork
1tbsp ginger, grated (approx. 1″ piece)
2 garlic cloves, grated
1tbsp chili flakes
2 tsp five spice
1 tsp porcini powder (if you can’t find this, no big deal)
1 stock cube (I use no sodium chicken ones; you do you, chief)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn starch
1 pack of wonton wrappers
handful dried shiitake mushrooms
1 stock cube
1 tsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
.5 tsp sesame oil
.5 tsp shaoxing cooking wine
1tsp rice vinegar
1tsp spicy chili crisp (or if you’re an animal like moi, a lot more)
Bok Choy, thinly sliced
Spring onions, thinly sliced
What to do:
Before you do anything else, chuck the mushrooms and the stock cube in a saucepan and top with about 4 cups of water from the kettle. The longer you can leave the mushrooms to steep, the deeper flavour you’ll get out of them. Leave this to the side while you get the rest going.
Believe it or not, to make wonton soup you need wontons so here we go:
Combine all the wonton ingredients in a bowl (except the wrappers, you muppet) and mix th-ou-rough-ly. The more you mix, the better your mixture will bind and it’ll soon become sticky.
Next, get your wrappers out and begin filling, folding and sealing these bad boys. You’ll need only about two teaspoons of pork mix per wonton, and some water nearby that you’ll use as a glue of sorts (by dipping a finger in and just running it along the edges of the wrappers. There are about five thousand ways to wrap wontons so I suggest looking for different methods that you like best. I watched the video below and used the second method shown:
For the record, yes there are also a thousand videos on YouTube about this; 56 seconds was all the patience I had at the time but if you have more, go find another one. I aint yo’ mamma.
As you make them, place them on a tray lined with parchment and when the tray is full and you’ve used up all your mixture, shove it precariously in the freezer and hope to god you don’t hear everything crash down when you shut the door. You’ll be making far more wontons than you need, so freezing them all is the most efficient way to go as they cook up a treat straight from frozen.
While you’re waiting for them to freeze up, clean up the kitchen you animal. It’s a mess. How dare you.
Get your bowls that you’ll use to serve and pour in the flavour bomb ingredients, then add the veggies. When the wontons are cooked, we’re going to pour the cooking broth over this flavour bomby goodness and thus will start world peace with the fucking magic that we’ve made (and we’ll revel in the deep irony of the past sentence).
When the wontons are frozen, get your mushrooms out of the stock and discard (I personally find them too rubbery to use), then bring the stock to a boil. Once boiling, throw in your wontons and be sure to stir them occasionally to stop them from sticking as they cook. In about 5- 10 minutes (or when they start floating to the top), they’ll be done.
Dish up the wontons into your serving bowls and then ladle that brothy goodness over top.