Meet Herb

I know . . . I know . . . last month I said I'd concentrate on BBQ spices this month. Well, I started to look into things and decided I felt like apple streudel. To make my version of apple streudel you need a few basic ingredients and a few spices that you might not have thought of. That being the case, I thought we might look at those spices and then . . . if you're really, really good, I'll share my streudel "recipe" too.

So, with no further ado, let's get right into it.

Pimenta dioica
    Allspice berries are the round dried fruit of a member of the myrtle and clove family. The plant is an evergreen and can grow to over 40 feet in height. They're usually picked when unripe and green and set to sun dry until they achieve their characteristic rich brown colour. They look almost like large peppercorns though they aren't as wrinkled. It's native to the West Indies and Latin America and specifically wide spread in Jamaica where it's used in much of the native island cuisine.

    Its flavour is slightly reminiscent of a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and that's where its name comes from. Buy this spice whole, keep it in airtight containers and grind as required. Ground allspice does not retain its flavour well.

    It's used quite a bit in Scandinavian cuisine, it can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Mostly whole, it's used in smoked and pickled foods, and many different types of sausages are flavoured with it including English pork and game pies. It's used ground in pies, cakes, and puddings especially in the traditional British Christmas pudding.

Elettaria cardamomum
    The cardamom bush is related to the ginger plant and can grow as high as 10 feet, with its stalks spreading along the ground. It's a native Indian plant although it is now found also in Indonesia, China and Latin America. Usually the whole seed pod is used but discarded as the seed pod itself is inedible. Most widely available is the small oval grey-green pod, its seeds being tiny and dark brown in colour, although there is a "black" version as well as a white (bleached) version. Its flavour is sweet and crisp with a hint of eucalyptus. As with allspice, it's best to buy the pods whole and store them in an airtight container.

    Cardamom is essential in many Indian recipes including curries and pilaus, and is important to garam masala as well as many Indian sweets. It has been adapted in Europe and parts of Scandinavia to be used in cakes, pastries and pickling mixtures.

Cinnamomum zeylanicum
    Cinnamon grows in many tropical areas including Sri Lanka, southern India and islands such as the Seychelles and the West Indies. It can grow to 30 feet but the bark is usually harvested from young shoots. Usually sold in "quills" that can be anywhere from 3 - 6 inches in length, or as a powder. While the powder may be more convenient, the quills last longer and can be used in many dishes and removed -- much like a vanilla bean. Store either form in airtight containers in a dark place.

    Use cinnamon to flavour almost any sweet. In Indian cuisine find it in curries and kormas. In the Middle East and Greece it can be found in meat stuffings as well as their nutty honeyed pastry fillings. Europeans use it in many cakes and other desserts, but I think most of us would agree . . . think cinnamon and think apples!!

Eugenia caryophyllus
    The clove tree is an evergreen that can grow as high as 45 feet and is found mainly near sea shores. The cloves are actually the unripened flower buds of the tree and they are picked when turning from green to a pale pink. They are dried which makes them that deep rich brown we're all familiar with and they sort of look like short nails. Found mainly in the Spice Islands, they can also be found in Zanzibar, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    They have a sweet, biting flavour, and should be used with care as they can easily overpower other tastes. As with the other spices, it's best to buy them whole and grind them as needed. Store in airtight containers.

    Cloves are used in both sweet and savoury dishes and are present in a number of spice blends and mixes. Most European stocks and soups often contain a couple of cloves and a single clove is great as a part of a bouquet garni. They are the quintessential garnish when used to stud a glazed baked ham. They are wonderful in mixtures containing apples and are essential to mulled wines and ciders.

Okay . . . and now for the part you've all really been waiting for . . . my streudel recipe!!

*fanfare* *drum roll*

Rossana's Phyllo Streudel

This is by way of being a "some of this, some of that" type recipe so bear with me. I promise you it's simple, quick to put together, and a guaranteed success every time!!
    Okay . . . start with a few apples that you've peeled and sliced thinly.

    I usually use about four good sized ones, trying to have a couple of different kinds and including a Granny Smith for some tartness. Your favourite ones will do nicely. I'll sometimes substitutive a pear and almost always add a peach that's been peeled and thinly sliced.

    Place your fruit slices into a good sized bowl so you can mix them easily and sprinkle in no particular order, the following on top (remember all amounts are approximate and subject to change according to your taste preferences . . . I use a lot of cinnamon . . . I know it's more than 2 tsp!) :

    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 2 tsp cinnamon, ground
    • 1 tsp allspice, ground
    • 1 tsp nutmeg, ground
    • 1 tsp ginger, ground
    • 1/2 tsp cardamom, ground
    • 1/2 tsp cloves, ground
    • juice of half a lemon
    • 1/2 cup (or more) raisins (or fresh cranberries, halved)

    Mix it all together till nicely blended and set aside.

    Now . . . I use about eight sheets of phyllo pastry (the store bought stuff). Brush melted butter between each layer until you have at least eight and butter the top one generously. Sprinkle about a half cup of ground almonds (or hazelnuts, or walnuts) over the pastry and then spread the fruit filling to within an inch of three of the edges and a couple of inches from one of the longer edges. Now starting at the opposite long edge, roll the pastry jelly roll style finishing with the seam on the bottom. Brush the top with butter. Make a couple of slits in it. Bake at 350F til nicely golden. This should take about 30 - 40 minutes. Allow to cool a little and serve garnished with creme fraiche (a close facsimile recipe follows) or your favourite ice cream. Stand back and appreciate the applause.

    Now, I haven't made this for a while but if I remember correctly that amount of fruit makes enough for two streudels. They freeze really well.

Creme Fraiche

Creme Fraiche (sort of)
    This is a recipe I found in some cookbook somewhere that gave close facsimiles of ingredients we can't get on this side of the ocean. I use it instead of cream or milk in my quiche mixtures and it gives them a most yummy texture. But mostly I use it as a garnish for fresh fruit. You'll never use plain whipped cream again!!

    In a non-metallic bowl (that means plastic, glass or ceramic) place equal parts of 35% (whipping cream) and sour cream, depending on how much you want to make. For instance, I always use 500 ml (one pint) of each.

    It keeps for several weeks in the fridge so if you make more than you can use immediately, don't worry about it, refrigerate it and find a million uses for it. Or make quiche!!

    Whisk it well to make sure it's completely blended, cover your bowl loosely and set in a warmish place over night. Yes, overnight. No, not in the fridge!! I usually set it in my microwave with the door slightly ajar.

    The next morning (actually go for close to 24 hours) remove it from your "warmish" place, whisk it again to blend and refrigerate until you're ready to use it. Because it keeps well, you can make this several days ahead with no problems.

Oh yeah -- and the quiche??

Simple. I use frozen puff pastry for the crust -- I have too heavy a hand with pie crust and ruin it all the time. Line your quiche pan with it and poke a few holes in the bottom. Sprinkle your choice of fillings -- spinach, mushrooms, grated Swiss -- crumbled bacon, grated cheddar, mushrooms -- crumbled feta, sliced peppers, sliced red onion, diced tomato -- asparagus, ham, grated gruyere -- whatever your favourite combination is. Then make your custard mixture. For a nine inch quiche pan I use 4 extra large eggs and one and a half cups of creme fraiche, a couple of pinches of salt, the same of white pepper, a generous sprinkle of nutmeg and a sprinkle of cayenne. Blend it well and pour into the quiche pan over your filling ingredients.

Bake at 450F for about 10 minutes, then reduce the heat without opening the oven door to 350F and continue cooking till set. This should take another half hour or so.

Voila!! Quiche that even real men will eat!

Okay, nuff said for this month … see you next time!!