Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dogwood Trees

I first came to appreciate flowering dogwood trees, Cornus florida (Missouri's official state tree),  many years ago when I used to take my walks to the local library.  Across the street was a Quaker school that had many dogwoods and every May I eagerly awaited their beautiful flowers.  Although the blooms of our dogwoods have already fallen, I managed to take several pictures of the trees that surround the meadow.  These deciduous trees make wonderful understory trees and provide great texture in the woodland.  They have very narrow trunks and can grow to be about 35 feet in height.  The branches tend to grow laterally instead of upward, giving them a very interesting shape.  Let me show you what I mean.

Next to these steps is a young Cornus florida.

Here's a closeup.  The white bracts aren't technically petals, but rather modified leaves.  The actual 
flower is the green cluster in the middle.

This tree is next to the stone barn.  It's a little under 20 feet in height.

You can see how the clusters spring upward.

At the entrance to the meadow, this beautiful Cornus is in full display.  The showy flowers really stand out against all this green.

A sea of white.  Absolutely stunning!

You can see what I mean when I say that the branches are lateral.  All of the canopy trees behind them have upward growing branches.

Here's another closeup of these blooms.
They truly are beautiful & quite delicate.

Cornus florida are native to the eastern United States and will thrive if planted correctly.  Whether you buy a ball & burlap tree or one from a container, good-draining soil and sufficient moisture are key.  The hole you dig should be three times the size of the root ball & the top of the ball should be at ground level.  When you back fill, use the same soil and remove any debris such as stones.  Dogwoods like to be given partial shade and will do well if sheltered by canopy trees; the second to last picture perfectly illustrates this.  If you live in the right zone for a Cornus florida you really should consider having one.  I'm almost certain you'll be awaiting their lovely blooms each and every May.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mother Fox & Kits

I just wanted to share with you a special moment we recently experienced at our home.  We happen to have a fox den on the grounds and just the other day, a mother fox decided to come out & reveal herself along with her kits.  It was so heartwarming to see the playful cubs in action and their mother keeping a close, watchful eye on them.  Enjoy this little album of their afternoon on our lawn.


A baby being cleaned by mother. 


The triplets being rambunctious.

  The mother was biting them on the neck from time to time; essentially a lesson on how to hunt.

This little kit also wanted to be cleaned.

He rolled onto his back while she nibbled.

More nibbling behind the ear.  In a few months,
the kits will be much bigger & their coats will turn
a brighter red.  They reach their adult size by
six to seven months.

The cub in the foreground was crouching and ready
to pounce.  The kits are roughly one to two months old.

This American red fox is such a beautiful mother
 and very protective of her litter.  We often see
her hunting very early in the morning. 

The home of this little family is on a hill that is heavily covered with shrubs and trees.  Red foxes are omnivores and can adapt to their surroundings quite easily.  They are known for eating a variety of birds, game, rodents and even fruits & plant material; early morning or late in the evening is when they typically hunt for food.  Foxes will live up to 4 years in the wild and can weigh up to 24 pounds.  Although they are considered pests by many, here at our house they are respected and left alone. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Martha by Mail Spice List

The following is all original text from the
 Martha by Mail Spice Rack.


A labeled spice tin.


* Denotes the 30 spices.

Ground Allspice (1.5 oz.): This ground dried berry of a Caribbean evergreen tree has a scent and taste similar to clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.  It was first brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly thought it was pepper, this is why allspice is known as "pimiento" outside the United States.  Allspice is the main ingredient in Jamaican jerk seasoning; it is best used in marinades, meat stews, fruit compotes and pies, barbecue sauces, and baked goods.  Allspice is one of the flavorings found in ketchup.

*Anise Seed (1.5 oz): This seed of the parsley family has a sweet licorice flavor.  It is one of the oldest cultivated spices, and was used by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.  Anise seed has worldwide appeal: It is used in European baking and in Middle Eastern and Indian soups and stews.  It lends a Mediterranean flavor to seafood and is delicious in applesauce and tomato sauce.  Anise seed is a common ingredient in cakes, cookies and sweets.

*Star Anise (0.8oz): This eight-pointed fruit pod has a seed in each point.  It tastes like licorice and is a member of the magnolia family.  To grind it, you can use a clean coffee grinder.  Or, break off points from the pod, bundle them in cheesecloth, and simmer in food as it cooks.  Star anise is good in stir-fried foods, custards, dessert sauces and sorbets.

*Basil (0.5 oz): Basil is a member of the mint family; there are more than 150 varieties grown.  Its name may have been derived from the Greek  basileaus, meaning "king".  Basil is versatile and very good in combination with thyme, garlic, oregano, and lemon.  It is a natural in Italian food and is also good in egg, potato or rice dishes and tomato sauces.

*Bay Leaf (0.13 oz): The bay leaf is the leaf of the laurel tree.  It has great significance in Greek mythology and has long been associated with honor and celebration.  It is an essential flavor in French, Mediterranean and Indian cuisines.  Bay leaves add complexity to the flavor of marinades, sauces, soups and stews: boil a few of the leaves in milk to infuse white sauces with flavor.  Always remove bay leaves before serving food.  For use as a weevil deterrent, place a few of the leaves in flour and grain containers.

Bouquet Garni (1.05 oz): This array of dried herb sprigs features onions, celery, thyme and other spices; it is a classic in French cooking.  To use, tie the herbs in cheesecloth and add to simmering soup, stew or sauce.  Remove the bouquet before food is served.

Cajun Crab Boil (2.45 oz): This blend of allspice, bay leaves, black pepper, chiles, salt, mustard seeds, and other spices is indispensable in Cajun cooking.  Add crab boil to cooking water for shellfish; it is good with fresh crab and makes an authentic crawfish boil.

Caraway Seed (2.25 oz): This Dutch seed is related to dill and cumin, and has been cultivated for thousands of years.  It is often used in Northern European baking and in cabbage and noodle dishes.  Caraway seed is delicious with pork; it is great for rye bread and homemade crackers.  Add caraway seed to cooking water for cabbage to reduce odor.

Cardamom: This sweetly pungent, hand-picked seed pod comes from Central America and India.  Cardamom pods traditionally have been used as a breath freshener.  Uncracked whole pods ensure the freshness of the aromatic black seeds inside.  Use sparingly; only a small amount is needed to add flavor.  Use cardamom in stews, curries, sweet sauces, and Scandinavian pastries and breads.

Whole (1.25 oz): Use whole cardamom in punches and for pickling.
*Ground (2 oz): The intense flavor of ground cardamom is good in fruit salads.

*Cayenne Pepper (2 oz): Like hot paprika, cayenne pepper is a finely ground blend of pungent red peppers.  The blend is named after a pepper native to Cayenne Island, the capital of French Guiana.  Cayenne pepper is used more for flavoring than heat in Mexican and Italian cooking.  It is tasty with poultry, meat, stews, eggs, hors d'oeuvres, and barbecue.  Its bright color makes it a flavorful garnish for foods.

Celery Seed (2 oz): This very small seed is from a wild variety of celery plant.  The seed is so tiny, it takes 750,000 to make a pound.  Celery seed is used whole or ground in Indian cooking.  It can be used for pickling and adds flavor when sprinkled on cold-cut sandwiches.  Add celery seed to clam chowder, creamy soups, potato salad, and coleslaw.

Whole Chile Peppers (1 oz): Peppers are of the Capsicum family.  Chiles were enjoyed throughout South America as early as 6,500 B.C.  There are many types and each varies in intensity of flavor.  Use the peppers sparingly to begin with; you can always add more.  Try them in Mexican sauces and dishes, paella, and spicy Indian dishes.

*Chile Seasoning (2.1 oz): A hundred-year-old southwestern seasoning, this blend includes 80 percent dried chile powder, plus cayenne, oregano, and other spices.  Use the chile seasoning in traditional chili, or try it as a flavoring in rice or as a dry rub for grilling meats.  Sprinkle chile seasoning on breakfast eggs for a dash of flavor.

Chipotle Chile Powder (2 oz): A chipotle is a dried, smoked jalapeño with a medium-hot, smoky, rich, dark-chocolate flavor.  Use this powder to enhance poultry, meat, stews, sauces, and Mexican dishes.

Cinnamon: One of the world's oldest seasonings, cinnamon has a sweet musky flavor.  It is actually stripped evergreen bark rolled into "quills" or sticks.  Cinnamon flavors savory and meat dishes in the East, and cakes and desserts in the West.  It deliciously complements fruits like apples. 

Whole Sticks (2 oz): Use these sticks to garnish hot beverages.
*Ground (2.3oz): Ground cinnamon is perfect for baked goods.

Clove: Cloves are the dried, unopened myrtle-flower buds of an evergreen tree native to the Molucca islands of Indonesia.  Cloves have long been valued for their aroma and flavor; up to 7,000 cloves make a pound of the ground spice.  The word comes from the French clou, meaning "nail".  Use sparingly; cloves are very strong.  The flavor is wonderful with sweet potatoes and winter squash.

Whole (1.5 oz): For the best flavor, use the bud crowns of whole cloves; break off the nail stems before adding to ham, dessert sauces, and poached liquids.  Push whole cloves into oranges to make pomander balls.
*Ground (2.5 oz): Ground cloves are perfect for flavoring pork, baked goods, chutney, and pumpkin pie.

Coriander: Coriander is the seed of the cilantro (Chinese parsley) plant; it has a sweet lemon-sage flavor.  Coriander was one of the first spices to arrive in America and has probably been used since about 5,000 B.C.  It is often added to curries and Indian food. 

Whole Seed (1.25 oz): Toast whole coriander seeds lightly before grinding.  The spice adds flavor to fish, shellfish, sauces, pickles, curries, lamb, potato salad, and soups.
*Ground (1.75 oz): Ground coriander is perfect for poultry, pork and baked goods.

Cream of Tartar (2 oz):  This powder is tartaric acid derived from fermented grapes.  Cream of tartar increases the stability and volume of whipped egg whites; it is also used in candy-making and frostings for a creamier consistency.  Use cream of tartar in angel food cake and meringues.  Add it to potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes in the last few minutes of boiling to keep them from oxidizing.  To remove stubborn burns from pots and pans, try blending cream of tartar with water to make a cleaning paste.

Cumin: The pale-brown cumin seed is harvested from a member of the parsley family; its flavor is earthy and musky.  Cumin was used as a food preservative by early Greeks and Romans.  It is the dominant taste in Latin American cooking and is also used in Indian cooking.

*Whole Seed (1.5 oz): Before using, toast the whole seeds in a dry saute pan until fragrant, then add them to sauces and savory baked goods.  Try it in citrus marinades.
Ground (2 oz): Ready to add to corn muffin batter, sausages, soups & stews.

Curry: This powdered Indian blend combines coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and other spices.  Curry powder should be cooked briefly in a little butter or oil to enhance its flavor before it is added to foods.  Depending on how much heat you like, both mild and hot curries are delicious with poultry, meat, and stews.  Try adding it to yogurt sauces or deviled eggs; mix curry powder with mayonnaise for a tasty chicken salad with apples.

*Mild (2.15 oz): Also includes cardamom, pepper, cumin and other spices.
Hot (2.15 oz): Also includes cayenne and other spices.  Delicious with lamb.

Dill Weed (.05 oz): The flavor of dill weed contains hints of celery and anise.  It is common in German, Russian, and Scandinavian dishes.  Dill weed goes particularly well with veal, cucumbers, and carrots;  also use it to flavor chicken soup and homemade bread.  It is good in grains, winter vegetables, soups, fish, shellfish, and poultry; try mixing it into sour cream and yogurt.  Dill weed should be added at the end of cooking.

*Fennel Seed (1.5 oz): This sweet seed of Mediterranean origin comes from a plant related to the fennel bulb; it has a distinctive licorice flavor.  Fennel seed has been revered for its medicinal qualities since ancient times.  It appears in the cuisines of many cultures: Italian, German, Polish, English, Spanish, Chinese.  Fennel seed gives Italian sausage its unique taste; it is delicious in fish, poultry, meatballs, and soups.  Use it in savory breads and crackers or in pickling.

*Fines Herbes (0.48 oz): This savory blend of parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives is classic in French cooking.  The blend brings a delicate flavor to eggs and omelets; try adding it to fish, poultry and vegetables during the last minute of cooking.

*Chinese Five-Spice Powder (1.5 oz): Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, and Szechuan pepper make up this spice blend.  It is the most popular of the Chinese blends, and is particularly good on meats; try it with poultry, barbecued spareribs, or roast pork.  Rub the powder on duck or chicken, or mix it in sauces.

Whole Galangal Root (1 oz): This Indian root has a strong flavor similar to ginger.  Grate or grind it to a powder, and combine it with ginger and lemongrass for use in Thai and Southeast Asian cooking; it is very good in stir-fried dishes and Asian slaws.  The root may be steeped whole in hot liquids, soups, and sauces.

Garam Masala (2.5 oz): This blend of cumin, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices has a bit of a bite.  It is a staple in Northern Indian cooking; adds depth of flavor and enhances other seasonings.  Garam masala is usually added near the end of cooking time.

Ginger: This spice is from a strong-flavored knobby root; its flavor is pungent and sweet.  Ginger is thought to be native to Southeast Asia; it was one of the first Asian spices in Europe.

*Crystallized (1.95 oz): This style of ginger is popular in Chinese desserts
*Ground (1.95 oz): Use ground ginger in gingerbread, pumpkin pie and cookies.

Grilling Herbs: (0.65 oz): This combination of garlic, tarragon, parsley, chervil, lemon and pepper adds flavor to grilled meats.  Rub the herbs on meats brushed with olive oil, then grill.  Try adding the herbs to barbecue sauces and marinades.

Gumbo File (1.5 oz): Made from powdered sassafras leaves, this spice is native to America and was introduced by the Choctaw people of Louisiana and Mississippi.  Use it for thickening Creole gumbos, but be sure to add it after cooking to avoid a gluey consistency.  Use it instead of, but not with, okra which will also thicken gumbo.  This spice is blended with a bit of thyme for extra flavor.

*Herbes de Provence (1.25 oz): This classic French mix blends thyme, basil, savory, rosemary, and other spices.  Delicious with roast chicken, rack of lamb, and vegetables.

Juniper Berries (1.5 oz): The flavor of these berries of an Adriatic evergreen is bittersweet with a hint of pine.  They give gin its unique taste.  Crush berries to release the flavor before using in sauces, stuffing, borscht, and marinades for game, pork, or rabbit.

Lavender (0.45 oz): This herb tastes like it smells--floral with a slightly bitter undertone; it can flavor jams and vinegars.  Use lavender to make tea, and add sparingly to fish and poultry marinades.  In small amounts it makes an aromatic infusion for ice creams and sorbets.

Mace Blades (1.3 oz): Mace blades are actually the covering of the nutmeg seed; they are softer in flavor but used similarly to add an old-world spiciness.  Crush or grind the blades to release their flavor.  Use in baked goods, seafood, poultry, game and grains; it's especially good in creamed spinach and apple pie.

*Marjoram (0.4 oz): This relative of the mint family tastes like a sweeter, gentler oregano.  Throughout history, marjoram has been thought to have medicinal properties.  Crush the herb in your hand before using to release its flavor.  Add marjoram at the end of cooking for fish, poultry, eggs, tomato dishes, sauces, soups, stews, pasta, frittatas, and vegetable.  It enhances the flavor of meat dishes and is especially good with lamb.

Mulling Spices (1.5 oz): This delicious combination of orange peel, cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, and star anise is used to flavor hot wine and cider.  Bundle the spices in cheesecloth before adding to simmering liquids.  Use 1 tablespoon per bottle of wine or half gallon of cider; you may also add raisins, sugar, and orange or lemon juice to suit your taste.

Mustard: Mustard comes from the seed of a plant in the cabbage family that is native to India and China.  It has a tart, pungent flavor.  Use the seeds in pickling or as a seasoning in cooked food.  Mustard is delicious in sauces, salad dressings, and pates.

Black Mustard Seed (3 oz): This seed is widely used in Indian cuisine. When heated in oil, it pops and releases its flavor.  Add to crackers and curries; use in pickling.
*Yellow Mustard Seed (3 oz): This seed gives "ball-park mustard" its color.  Use it with boiled vegetables, and in sauces, salad dressings, and fish and poultry marinades. 
Dry Mustard (2 oz): Add this variation to marinades, poultry, vegetable, fish, meats, and chutneys.

New Mexican Chile Powder (2 oz): Anaheim peppers give this powder its flavor.  The peppers are milder than most red chiles; they are dried while still green.  Use this powder in chili and Mexican sauces; try it as a milder alternative to cayenne pepper.

*Whole Nutmeg (2 oz.): This large seed comes from a West Indian evergreen.  Use it sparingly, and grate it fresh onto food before serving.  Nutmeg adds flavor to white sauces, spinach, baked goods, beef, chicken, and pork.  It is good in warm beverages like brandy Alexander, hot chocolate and cider; sprinkle it over eggnog.

*Greek Oregano (0.9 oz): This variety is milder than Italian oregano and has a slightly bitter, minty taste.  Though essential in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cooking, oregano did not gain popularity in the United States until after World War II.  Crush the herb in your hand or with a mortar and pestle before using.  Oregano is a natural in tomato and pasta sauces and on pizza; use it with eggplant, beans, marinades, roasted and broiled meats, and chicken.  Heat oregano with butter and lemon juice, and drizzle onto chicken or fish as it grills.

Hungarian Paprika: The dried, ground pod of the sweet red pepper produces this spice; the hot variety adds red pepper for heat. Paprika has a higher vitamin C content than citrus fruits; it's wonderful sprinkled over roasting chicken and is often used as a garnish.  Mix paprika with bread crumbs, and serve over vegetables.
*Sweet (2 oz): Use in goulash and with beef, veal, potatoes, vegetables and sauces.
Hot (2 oz): The taste is pungent and fiery; use it with beef, veal and poultry.

Pasilla Chile Powder (2.25 oz): The pasilla pepper is six to eight inches long with blackish-brown skin.  When dried and powdered, it adds mild flavor to poultry, meat, pork, moles, and stuffings.  Mix the powder with butter for a flavorful cornbread spread.

Green Peppercorns (0.06 oz): This soft, unripe berry has a mild, fresh taste.  It is the pepper used in cooking the French classic steak au poivre.  Do not grind the peppercorns; instead, crush them or leave them whole to add bursts of flavor in brown sauces and mayonnaise or with pork chops, duck and vegetables.

Pink Peppercorns (1.25 oz): These are not true peppercorns, but berries from a relative of the sumac tree which grows on the island of Madagascar.  They have a mild, sweet flavor, and are used for their aroma and color.  Do not grind the peppercorns; crush them for use with fish sauces, vegetables, salads and meats.

*Szechuan Peppercorns (1 oz): Though not true peppercorns, these dried seed pods provide a similar pepper flavor with a distinctive taste.  Briefly toast the peppercorns until they begin to smoke; then grind them when they are cool.  Szechuan peppercorns taste great with meat, poultry, game, and fowl, and they are especially good with duck and pork dishes.  Try grinding the peppercorns to make a spice rub for grilling.

*Tellicherry Peppercorns (2.4 oz): These Indian black peppercorns develop longer on the vine for a more complex flavor.  They are the best of the black peppers with a bolder flavor, bigger berry, and blacker color.  Use ground, crushed or whole in savory dishes.

White Muntok Peppercorns (2.7 oz): These are grown on the same vine as black pepper; however the berries are picked when ripe and the hulls are removed in water.  The flavor is slightly milder than that of black pepper. Grind the peppercorns, or use them whole in marinades; they are good with cream or white sauces and stews.  Try using the ground peppercorns sparingly on vanilla ice cream for an unusual flavor.

*Poppy Seeds (2.8 oz): Originally native to Mediterranean regions, these blue-gray seeds from the Netherlands and Australia have a nutty flavor.  Poppy seeds have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years.  They are often used in European and Middle Eastern cooking.  Try them in sweet and savory baked goods, noodle dishes, and salad dressings.

*Quatre Epices (1.5 oz): The name "Four Spices" refers to the classic French blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.  Add the blend to pates soups, stews, and vegetables.

Ras el Hanout (1.6 oz): This Moroccan blend includes mace, ginger, allspice, pepper, and cardamom.  Use it to flavor game, rice, stuffing, and tagines.

Rosemary (0.75 oz): This multitalented herb has the look and smell of pine needles.  It has been used extensively for cooking and medicinal purposes since 500 B.C. Crush rosemary in your hand or with a mortar and pestle before using to release its flavor.  It is often paired with garlic, and it gives a pungent Mediterranean flavor to marinades, grilled fish, roasts, soups, beans, sauces, organ meats, game, vegetables, and bread.  It is the perfect herb for lamb or rabbit and is tasty baked in focaccia.

Saffron Threads (1 gm): Saffron is actually the dried stigmas of the crocus; each flower yields only three stigmas.  Saffron is hand-picked and is the world's most expensive spice.  It imparts a golden color to food.  Use it very sparingly, as a few threads go a long way.  Toast the threads before grinding them, or steep whole threads in water, stock or milk to release the flavor.  Do not use wood utensils when cooking with saffron as wood absorbs the spice.  Saffron is good in risotto, bouillabaisse, paella, fish soups, and sauces.

Rubbed Sage Leaves (0.8 oz): This powerful herb from the mint family has an evergreen smell.  Historically, sage was thought to improve the memory.  Use sage sparingly as it adds a very strong flavor.  It is good for sausage, poultry, game, soups, stews, meat, vegetables, beans, and stuffings; it is essential in the classic veal dish saltimbocca.  Try rubbing it into pork before cooking, or top swordfish or tuna with sage and lemon butter.

Black Sesame Seeds (2.5 oz): These seeds have the hulls left on to give them their black color.  They are common in Chinese cuisine, and are good raw.  Use them in baked goods, chicken, vegetables, and pastas.  Try garnishing hors d'oeuvres with them or encrusting salmon fillets before sauteing for an unusual presentation.

Toasted Sesame Seeds (2.26 oz): These seeds have a rich, nutty flavor.  With 25 percent protein by weight, they are one of the most nutritious seeds.  They make a tasty addition to salad dressing, baked goods, crackers, chicken, fish, vegetables, and pastas.  Sprinkle them over salads, noodles, and stir-fried foods.

*Summer Savory (0.35 oz): This herb from the mint family has a mildly sharp, salty flavor that's a cross between thyme and mint.  Crush it in your hand or with a mortar and pestle to release its flavor.  Summer savory is classically paired with dried beans; it adds piquant flavor to fish, pate, meat, poultry, eggs, soups, stews and chowders.

Tandoori Blend (2.5 oz): This delicious blend of salt, coriander, garlic, and other spices is a staple in Indian cooking.  Use it in a marinade, basting sauce, or as a dry rub for poultry, lamb, or other meat.  It's wonderful rubbed on grilled salmon or chicken.

*Tarragon (0.25 oz): This versatile herb is a member of the sunflower family.  Essential to French cooking, it has a mild, aniselike taste.  Heat intensifies the taste of tarragon, so use it sparingly.  It is often used in egg, cheese, or tomato dishes; it is good with poultry, fish, vegetables, and sauces.  Tarragon brings a distinctive flavor to Bearnaise sauce, marinades and seafood in Cajun recipes.  Try basting chicken with tarragon, butter and lemon.

*Thyme (1 oz): There are more than one hundred varieties of this member of the mint family.  Native to the Mediterranean region, thyme has had many uses other than cooking throughout history: Egyptians embalmed with it, Greeks bathed with it, and it was used as a perfume during the Renaissance.  Thyme gives depth to poultry, fish, vegetables, soups and chowders, stews, sauces, stuffings, meat and game.  It is often paired with tomatoes, and it goes well with eggs and custard.

Turmeric (2.5 oz): Marco Polo mentioned the use of turmeric, a ginger related root from India with a pungent, biting flavor.  More commonly used for its bright yellow-orange color than for its flavor in curry blends and mustards, it is sometimes substituted for saffron.  Add turmeric to meats, poultry, fish, soup, lentils, relishes, and chutneys.

Vindaloo Blend (1.8 oz): This extra-hot curry blend contains coriander, salt, cardamom, garlic, and other spices.  Use it carefully, you can always add more.  This blend is the main flavor in classic Indian vindaloo dishes; use it with poultry, beef and lamb.


Note: Blackened Seasoning was included in the Martha by Mail Spice Rack, but was somehow left out of the printed list.  What's more, every single label has the Martha by Mail logo on it, except for this spice. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Martha by Mail Spice Rack

My spice rack always elicits comments whenever someone walks into my kitchen.  It was almost 8 years ago or so when I bought it from the now defunct Martha by Mail catalog (subsequently called The Catalog for Living).  I had always been captivated by an antique that Martha used at her Westport Television Studios many years ago, so when I discovered that she offered them through her exclusive catalog, I bought one.  At the time, the racks were offered in either a 30 spice version (5 shelves) or a 70 spice version (7 shelves).  They retailed for $169 & $359 respectively, exclusive of shipping & handling, and were available in Atlantic Green (also called Martha's Green), Drabware & Natural.

30 spice rack in Atlantic Green, 70 spice rack in Natural

30 Spice Rack Measurements: 24-7/8"L x 16-3/4"H x 3-3/8"Deep

The Martha by Mail catalog description stated: "This wood spice rack is styled after an antique one used in our TV studio.  The aluminum tins hold fresh-packed spices selected by our food editors."

The Spice Rack with 70 spices in Atlantic Green
Catalog # KSR 005

The rack measures 3" wide, 39" long & 22 3/4" high.
The spice tins measure: 2 1/2" wide by 1 3/4" tall.

The custard cups are antiques and weren't included.  I happened to be making my rounds one day at one of my favorite antique row shops in Philadelphia when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted 7 creamy-white custard cups (all with crazing).  A perfect match.

The original at Martha's Westport Television Studio.

Text below is from the pamphlet that came with the rack.

Martha's Spice Collection

Spices, the dried buds, barks, roots, seeds and berries of plants have always been so valuable that the search for the fastest trade routes to spice sources put the world as we know it on the map: Marco Polo went east for spices, Columbus went west.  The places they discovered had been using the spices they found for thousands of years.

It was the Romans who established the use of spices in the West.  Not until the eleventh and twelfth centuries, though, did spices gain a wide hold on the tastes of Western Europe.  Returning Crusaders brought back Eastern spices, mostly in Venetian ships.  Spices revived the bland medieval diet and helped to preserve food.  They also made maritime Venice rich: Rarities like pepper were literally worth their weight in gold.

This special collection of aromatic and savory spices and herbs has been selected by Martha Stewart and the food editors of Martha Stewart Living as the most frequently used in their recipes.  All of the spices and herbs listed here are included in the rack of seventy tins; those included in the smaller collection of thirty tins are identified by an asterisk.  Each aluminum tin is filled upon order for maximum freshness; refill them once they are empty with any spices you buy.  We've provided suggestions for using them, but we encourage you to experiment--the real beauty of spices is the brilliant way in which they blend.

Grinding Spices

Many of the spices have been left whole so you can grind them yourself as needed; this prolongs their freshness and flavor.  Toast whole spices briefly in a dry skillet over medium heat before grinding them.  Whole cinnamon and nutmeg can be grated easily with a small, finely perforated hand grater, and berries such as allspice can be ground in a pepper mill.  Some spices, such as star anise, are difficult to pound by hand.  An inexpensive electric coffee grinder is useful for these types and can also be used instead of a pepper mill for the berry spices.  Buy an extra coffee grinder especially for this purpose, to avoid the accidental cup of cardamom java.

If you use a coffee grinder for spices, clean it out occasionally to keep it in top condition.  Unplug the grinder; remove loose grounds with a pastry brush.  Place a piece of soft bread in the bowl; grind thoroughly.  Bread absorbs leftover oils and residues to ready the grinder for the next spice.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

The pairing of strawberries and rhubarb is a classic combination.  It's right about now that farmer's markets begin to offer the season's freshest fruits & vegetables, and I'm always on the lookout for the most delectable.  When rhubarb is only hours out of the ground and the strawberries are bright, juicy & infinitely edible, it's time to start baking.  Strawberry rhubarb pie has become one of my signature desserts of the season and I can't imagine a year going by without baking one for my family and friends.  I think that after one bite of this delicious pie, you might just make it one of your family's must-haves every spring.

(The Fruit)

The Ingredients
1 pint strawberries (preferably organic)
1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, leaves removed
1 cup granulated sugar (add 1/4 cup if you prefer a sweeter filling)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
juice of half a lemon
2 disks of pate brisee
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk

Rinse your rhubarb & remove the green leaf tips (they contain oxalic acid which is highly toxic).  Slice the stalks into 1/2" slices.  Hull your strawberries after they've been rinsed and either slice in half or quarter them depending on the size.

Place your fruit in a large mixing bowl and sift the sugar, tapioca starch & cinnamon.  Strain the juice of half a lemon.  Give everything a thorough toss & let it sit for 10-15 minutes.

On a well floured surface, roll out one disk of your pie crust.  With a pastry brush, wipe off any excess flour.

Gently wrap the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it to your 9" pie dish.  The dough should be cool & pliable.  You don't want it too cold or it will crack.

Unfurl the crust & tuck it into your dish, making sure it fits snugly and doesn't tear.  Cut any excess crust, but
leave a 1/2" to 1" overhang.  Add the fruit mixture and all of the accumulated juices.  Roll out your top crust & place it over the pie.  Seal the top and bottom crusts by either tucking under or rolling over the seam.  You want to have a "rope" of dough around the rim of your dish.

You can do a number of things with the edge.  I made a simple crimping by pushing my index & middle
fingers on one side and pushing with my knuckle on the other side.  Mix the egg yolk & tablespoon of milk.  Apply this mixture with a pastry brush all over the crust.  This will give you a nice browned & shiny top.  You will not use the entire egg wash, so don't let any pool around the crimps of your edge. Immediately chill the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400º F

Remove your pie from the freezer & with a cookie cutter of your choice, cut out a vent hole in the middle.
You could just cut slits with a sharp pairing knife.  It's important to make a vent because the steam created
by all of that bubbling fruit has to escape.  It's also important to place your pie dish on a rimmed
baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment.  This will catch any drips and prevent a mess in your oven.

Bake at  400º F for 30 minutes, reduce your temperature to 350º F and continue baking for 35 minutes more.  You want the juices to be bubbling in the middle before the pie is done.  You may
need to add several more minutes (this will depend on how often your oven cycles on & off).  If you find your crust getting too dark, tent it with a piece of foil.

The pie is done & it is perfect.  The aroma is so enticing that you're going to want to slice right into it.  DO NOT. The pie needs to cool completely before you can serve it or else you may have a lava flow of strawberry rhubarb.

A generous wedge served on a jadeite plate.  You can, of course, serve this with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream.

As you can see, a good pie doesn't have to have a lot of ingredients.  What's of the utmost importance is that you use the absolute best fruit available to you.  Watery and bland fruit will make a very poor pie no matter what you do to it.  Choose wisely and you can be guaranteed a delicious and pretty spectacular pie.  Don't let a homemade pie crust prevent you from trying this recipe.  If you only feel comfortable using a storebought crust, go right ahead and use it.  I won't tell.  This strawberry rhubarb pie is the type you're going to want to bake for your next family gathering or lazy weekend afternoon.  From my home to yours, I do hope you enjoy it.  Cheers!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday, May 13th.

Blogger has been having technical difficulties these past few days.  I lost some data & will have to rewrite over the weekend. 

Martha's Perfect Pâte Brisée

I have been making this pie crust for over a decade and it has never failed me.  The dough comes together quickly if you use a food processor, but it can also be made by hand using a pastry cutter.  If you use a pastry cutter, it will take you a bit more time.  This is known as Martha's Perfect Pâte Brisée  and after making it you'll understand why.  It's important to have all of your ingredients well chilled.

The butter, flour, salt, sugar & water are carefully measured.  You must have these ingredients icy cold in order to make a good pie crust.

Quickly pulse your flour mixture in the food processor.

Add your chilled butter.  You want to cut up your butter in order to disperse small bits throughout the dough instead of big chunks.  This will make a flaky crust.

Pulse this a few times until you break up the butter.  Don't overwork it.

Now add your ice water slowly and pulse as you go.  You will slowly see the texture of the dough change.

Pick up some dough and squeeze it.  If it clumps like this you are done.  The whole process should take no more than 30 seconds.

Divide your dough in half.  Since I like exact measurements, I weigh my dough on a scale.

Gather up the pie crusts with plastic wrap and shape them into flat disks.

Pâte brisée  must be chilled at least one hour (more is better) before proceeding with a recipe.  It can sit in the refrigerator for up to one day.  It can also be frozen in a resealable bag (remove all air) for up to a month.  Thaw frozen pâte brisée in the refrigerator overnight in its plastic wrap. 

Every baker should know how to make a good pie crust from scratch, because it isn't hard at all.  There are many recipes for pie crusts out there and most of them include vegetable shortening.  Bakers add this in order to produce flakiness, but an all butter crust can still be flaky and tender if made properly and the taste will be incomparable.  I love making it not only for single or double crust pies, but for tarts, tartlets & quiches as well.  At my home, pies are made year round with what's in season.  Now that we're heading into summer, it's time to hit the farmstands and choose what's delectable.  I really hope you attempt a pie or two soon using this pâte brisée .  Enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Banana Muffins

When you have bananas sitting on your counter with more spots on them than a Dalmatian, it's time to start baking.  The recipe for these muffins was given to me by a friend who lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey.  Bill likes to bake this batter as banana bread, but it can easily be made into one dozen standard-sized muffins.  The good thing about these tasty treats is that they are quickly made in one bowl.  No mixer required!

The Ingredients
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup canola oil (vegetable oil can be substituted)
  • 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350º F

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil & sugar until well blended.
Freshly grate the nutmeg and add your vanilla extract.  Mix this well.
Place all of your dry ingredients into a sieve and sift them into your bowl.  The bananas can be mashed with a pastry blender.
Note: for the most flavor, bananas should be very ripe.

Add your pureed bananas and mix until well blended.  If you're adding nuts, do so now.  Simple. 


I sprayed the wells of my muffin pan with vegetable spray (the type with flour in it), but you can use muffin liners.  Quickly pop them into your preheated oven and bake for 18-20 minutes.  The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle of one comes out clean.  They should also feel springy to the touch.
Golden, delicious & very tender.  Perfect with a cup of coffee or some tea.
I like one bowl recipes that come together quickly without the need of a mixer.  If you want to make this as bread, simply bake the batter in a 8x4" loaf pan for approximately 50-60 minutes.  The muffins are best the day they are baked, but can be kept at room temperature until the following day.  If you want to store them even longer, simply wrap them in pastic wrap, place them in a resealable bag and freeze for up to one month.  Enjoy making these!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Magnolia Trees

There are dozens upon dozens of varieties of magnolia trees available for planting.  They come as either trees or shrubs and can be evergreen or deciduous.  The southern magnolia grandiflora is well known for it's large white flowers and thick, glossy green leaves with coppery bottoms.  Around our house and throughout our neighborhood, we appear to have saucer magnolias or Magnolia x soulangeana.  The trees have already bloomed and dropped their flowers here in eastern Pennsylvania, but I was lucky enough to take some pictures to show you.  Take a stroll and marvel at these beautiful trees! 

These neighbors have two trees along their driveway.
The blooms are a mix of pinks and creamy whites.

This tree sits proudly in front of a garage.  You can clearly see how this one has been allowed to have a multi-stemmed trunk.  If you prune the tree while it's still young, it can be trained to have one dominant trunk.

Saucer magnolias can grow as tall as 25 feet. The actual flowers can grow to be 10" in diameter and will bloom before their leaves appear.


In front of this stately home is a giant oak tree.  Immediately behind it is the granddaddy of all Magnolias
in our neighborhood. 

Here's a closeup.  This tree is gigantic, beautiful and well cared for.  Nature at its best. 

If you're thinking of planting magnolias on your property either from seed, ball and burlap or from containers, pick your site with great care.  Magnolias have complex root systems that are quite sensitive and will not fare well if they are disturbed or if the soil is compacted around their base.  They do best by themselves and don't like to be crowded, so give them plenty of space and good draining, slightly acidic soil.  I seem to like just about any tree, but I honestly think that these have become one of my favorites.