Spice of Life


Many of the herbs and spices we use today come from exotic places, such as India, South East Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The spice trade brought rare spices back to Europe and created huge fortunes for many of the top trading companies of the day. Indeed, the spice trade can be traced back over 5000 years and was instrumental in establishing commerce and trade around the world.

Herbs and spices have been a desired commodity for millennia with their culinary and medicinal uses. As such, salt and pepper were once used as currency. Today, those herbs and spices that were practically unattainable by the public are widely available. Due to advances in modern cultivation, commerce, and shipping, these once rare and expensive spices can be purchased at specialty stores or online easily and relatively cheaply. Still, many people are not aware of the variety of spices that exists beyond their supermarket.

So, here are a few of the spices I love to use that you may or may not have heard of. I have added clickable links to our various spices, just in case we have piqued your curiosity.

Saffron – Saffron is easily the most expensive spice in the world. It comes from the stigma of the blue flowering crocus. The stigma must be gently handpicked, and it takes about 400 stigmas to make 1 gram of saffron which explains why it is so expensive. Fortunately, only a small amount is necessary to impart its beautiful orange blush to color and flavor to food. Saffron is most recognizable in dishes such as the Paella.

Sumac comes from the dried berries of the plant Rhus coriaria. There are many varieties of Sumac and some are poisonous, so care must be taken to avoid those varieties. However, when you buy from a reputable merchant you will not have to worry about what you are getting. The berry or the powder is used as a souring agent. It releases a sour citrus flavor and complements fish and red meat nicely. It is widely extensively in North African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cooking.

Juniper berries are thought to be the only spice that comes from a conifer and from a cold climate. They grow on small juniper shrubs that are common throughout the Northern hemisphere. These berries are used as the prime ingredient in the ubiquitous gin. The seeds can take up to three years to mature and are picked when they turn a deep blue. They have an aromatic flavor with a sweet accent and are popular in many European cuisines with an emphasis on lamb and venison dishes.

Nigella seed – Also known as black fennel flower, black cumin, and its more common name in the Middle East; kalonji. It has a pungent, slightly bitter flavor with a hint of sweetness. It is a small, black, sharply pointed seed that is commonly used in Bengali, and Turkish cooking. It is commonly used on top of Turkish bread, giving the beard its distinctive flavor and aromatic flavor.

The above spices are some of my absolute favorites. I will add an article each month that details more exotic and rare spices, so, if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary – just follow the Spice of Life at Gourmet Goldmine.

What if Copper Pots ruled the world?

What if Copper Pots ruled the world?

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Chefs, cooks, and bakers can’t be wrong. Copper pots and pans are fantastic.

Copper Pots in a French Kitchen

This is an age-old debate that is never going to resolve. Humans love what they love and are staunch in their steadfastness, and as such, we differ greatly, thankfully, or it would be one big boring planet. We all know people who swear by gas, electric, or wood-fired and there is nothing to be done to change their minds, well, copper-obsessives are no different.

I for one, am one. Totally obsessed.

One hears all these petty squabbles around dinner tables and pubs which are akin to predicting yesterday’s weather. Completely moot. You are, or you’re not.

If you don’t like copper or never even thought of trying a pan I will try to convince you, after all, that is what I am writing this for. And, if you are a fellow copper aficionado, stay with me as I discuss how to get more out of your copper cookware.

What works in copper, and what doesn’t?

Why would anyone choose to prepare food in a metal that is so archaic it dates back 9,000 years? I can tell you for sure, and it has nothing to do with having something stylish standing on your cooker or stovetop.

Cast iron, aluminum, steel, and stainless steel are more modern and ‘advanced’ – as are fancy coatings and bases. As are fancy coatings. But nine millennia, nobody has found cookware that has such uniformity.

Cooking in copper pots and copper pans means that the one thing you count on is uniformity. Copper is unbeatable when it comes to heat-conducting metals for cooking. Copper warms quickly and cools slowly, efficiently distributing the heat. Uniformity of heat distribution ensures that with well-made copper, you will never see burn spots or scalding on your cookware.

Copper ensures quicker, metered control over your cooking as you are able to attain precise heat levels. This is the first reason Professional chefs who use copper, say they do: Because of the superiority and versatility of heat conductivity.

I’ve tried them all. From cast iron to carbon steel, numerous non-stick alternatives. and stainless steel, but I always go back to copper.

Copper can be scary at first

First-time users often find copper hard to connect with, I’ve seen it frequently with friends and family who may be helping me to prepare a meal in my own kitchen. They pick up the copper pot or pan and are always surprised that they are a lot lighter than they look.

Then they’ll look at the receptacle every which way and aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Everything about it can be a bit tricky to grasp. So here is what I always advise: “Be ready to adjust recipes when using copper. Its conducting quality means both heat and cooking time may reduce by as much as half!”

I am often asked these two questions. Who in their right mind would pay so much more for each piece and go through the time to learn to use copper cookware? Why use non-dishwasher-safe cookware which requires regular care and polishing the bases with copper paste?

Those of us who are passionate cooks enjoy the precision they get from their copper cookware. Just imagine a gorgeous Sunday roast with all the trimmings sitting in a big gleaming rectangle roasting pan on your dining table. Magnificent.

Copper has some other endearing qualities too. One is that it is by default an anti-microbial metal. That doesn’t help with your cooking, as your food never actually comes into contact with the copper per se. This is because copper cookware is lined with another metal, mostly tin, on the inside.

Who can doubt the visually compelling appearance of copper pots and copper pans? The somewhat Daliesque reflections from their polished surfaces?

One sees so many kitchen shoots for magazines that display copper cookware because of the richness and, often, variance in the color.

Copper is also an ideal weight for cookware – sitting firmly on burners and other surfaces, but light enough to lift with one hand.

In the end, switching to copper is an individual or family decision. Think about it carefully, the price, the versatility, the extra care needed in cleaning them. Take everything into account. And then go and get your first piece. You’ll either love it or hate it. However, if their price far out seeds your bank account, not to worry as you can always find a second-hand, if not a little battered gem at a weekend or flea markets.

But most importantly, just have fun with your cooking, even though copper pots don’t rule the world…yet.

Sea Salt – The Perfect Partner

Sea Salt – The Perfect Partner

Salt is used as a flavour enhancer in cooking and for adding a finishing touch to a gastronomic creation, such as Black Salt. Most often cooks grab traditional cooking (iodised) salt for their everyday cooking. The reasons below will prove that sea salt is your perfect kitchen companion.

Unlike other types of salt, such as some rock salts which are mined from ancient seabeds, sea salt really does come from the sea. You don’t need anything other than seawater, wind, and sun. The sea salt that we use today is produced through the evaporation of seawater or water from saltwater lakes. Depending on the water source, this leaves behind certain trace minerals and elements.

Making Sea Salt

You will find that some sea salts are pink in colour due to trace amounts of magnesium, calcium, and potassium. These minerals also add a subtle flavour to the salt. The sea salt is then harvested and cleaned. It is a centuries-old method that is used worldwide and is kept alive today. This is an ecologically sound and sustainable method to produce salt.

The flavour of sea salt is slightly bolder than regular iodised table salt. Although both salts mainly consist of sodium chloride, sea salt has a more complex composition. Apart from sodium chloride it also contains minerals and trace elements. These give sea salt a different texture and mouthfeel.

sea salt

Sea salt is naturally available in different grain sizes. The unrefined sea salt is washed, dried, broken, and sieved. This creates a wide range of different grain sizes. For instance, there is fine ground (small crystals) sea salt for daily use, coarse (large crystals) sea salt for salt mills, and flakes that are crushed and rained over your dish.

Sea salt is often underestimated in daily cooking. Its unique characteristics make it the ideal addition to any meal, even desserts. Just imagine an oozy gooey salted caramel lava cake or an espresso mousse with a salted chocolate cookie base.

Happy cooking.