Meet Herb

While not, strictly speaking, an herb, nutmeg is a popular flavouring. In honour of Christmas and the many spicy concoctions made at this time, I felt we should look more closely at this seed.

Nutmeg, along with cloves and pepper, has been cultivated for over a thousand years. It's used extensively in baking and for flavouring holiday drinks.

According to Penzey's, the finest nutmeg in the world grows on the Island of Grenada. They recommend buying it whole and grating it as needed in order to take full advantage of the flavourful essential oils contained therein.

Nutmeg grows on trees which can be as tall as fifty feet high. There are actually two spices harvested from the nutmeg tree. The nutmeg seed is the inner part, and its lacy outer coating produces mace. Both are, in fact, the inner seed kernel of a fruit that is yellow and peach-like. The fruit of the nutmeg tree is itself usually discarded, but is occasionally made into jam.

Nutmeg is widely used in both Eastern and Western cooking. It is considered an important meat flavouring in India and South East Asia and in the West it can be found in both sweet and savoury dishes. Quite often, you will find nutmeg as part of a spice mixture such as France's quatre epices, the Middle East's la kama, India's masala and many more besides. Use it to flavour your sauces including Bechamel and Mornay. Use it as the Italians do to flavour their spinach dishes and their pastas. Remember to add it to your Steak and Kidney Pie and your Oyster Pudding, not to mention Baked Custard. And don't forget, West Indies' Rum Punch wouldn't be the same without it!

Incense Powder

    Try sprinkling some of this into an open campfire. If you like, you can use it in your fireplace, just make sure your room is well ventilated.
  • 1 oz sandalwood powder
  • 1/2 oz coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 oz cardamom seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1 tsp myrrh crystals
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 oz dried lavender flowers, ground to a powder
  • 1 oz gum benzoin powder
  • 2 - 3 drops essential oil

Mix together the sandalwood, coriander, cardamom, myrrh, nutmeg and lavender. Stir in the gum benzoin which will act as a fixative, and then the essential oil. Store in an airtight container. Sprinkle a few large pinches over a fire.

  • Yields: 4 ounces
  • Preparation Time: a few minutes once all the ingredients are gathered

Since I plan to dedicate the January column to various spice blends and their uses, I'll skip that for this month. Instead, in honour of the festive season and to help add merriment to your holiday plans, I've decided to include some recipes with seasonal entertaining in mind.

First off, please be advised that I am about to let you in on a long-held, well kept secret. Since I know that the readers of Seasoned Cooking can be trusted to keep a secret, I know it will go no further than "just us". For years, my Holiday guests have been imbibing my special eggnog. In this issue of Seasoned Cooking, the secret is at long last revealed. Remember, keep it under your hat!

Roxie's Eggnog

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups whipping cream (35%)
  • 1 cup light or dark rum (don't use white, its flavour is too sharp!)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups milk

Beat egg whites till stiff peaks form. I always like to tip the bowl they're in upside down. If you don't get a mess on the counter, they're ready! Set aside.

Beat egg yolks til light and gradually add sugar. Continue beating until all sugar has been added and yolks are fluffy and light coloured. Stir in rum and vanilla. Set aside.

Whip cream till stiff.

In a large punch bowl or other container combine all three mixtures and stir till well amalgamated. Stir in milk. Refrigerate.

To serve, remove from refrigerator and stir again to recombine (because of the beaten egg whites and the whipped cream, the mixture will separate when left for any length of time). Pour into cups and sprinkle generously with grated nutmeg.

  • Yields: approximately 2.5 - 3 liters
  • Preparation Time: approximately 30 minutes (excluding chilling time)

And no Christmas would be complete without Gingerbread!

Mary Washington's Gingerbread

  • 100 grams butter
  • 100 grams dark brown sugar
  • 350 grams flour
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 150 grams raisins
  • 150 mls warm milk
  • 3 tbsp sherry
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 225 grams golden syrup (corn syrup)
  • 100 grams treacle (molasses)
  • 3 eggs
  • finely grated rind of one large orange
  • 1 tsp soda dissolved in
  • 2 tbsp warm water

Grease two 7" square pans and line them with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Sift the flour with the cream of tartar into a separate bowl and add the raisins.

In a third bowl, combine the milk, sherry, spices, syrup, treacle and eggs.

Fold the flour mixture alternately with the milk and spice mixture into the butter and sugar. Beat until thoroughly combined. Beat in orange rind and the dissolved soda.

Pour into the prepared pans and bake in a preheated 325F (160C) oven for thirty minutes, reduce oven to 300F (150C) and continue baking for 30 - 40 minutes more. Allow to cool in the pans, then turn out onto a rack and allow to finish cooling.

To serve, cut into small squares and serve with butter.

  • Yields: 2 - 7" squares
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hour baking

Classic Bechamel Sauce

Classic Béchamel Sauce
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 small onion studded with 2 whole cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 small bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (or so)

Melt butter over low heat. Add and blend over low heat for three to five minutes the flour. Slowly stir in the milk which has been slightly scalded. Add the onion and bay leaf if using and continue cooking and constantly stirring the sauce until thickened and smooth. Place in a 350F oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Grate approximately 1/2 tsp of nutmeg into sauce.

This sauce can be multiplied easily.

Use it as a base for most other cream sauces including cheese sauces, for cream soups and, when you cook it without the onion and bay leaf, it is the perfect Alfredo Sauce with the addition of a handful or two of Parmesan Cheese.

Well, that's my contribution for this month! Now to get back to wrapping presents. Where did I leave my eggnog?