Hello Dear Readers! Wow these past few weeks have been crazy and crazy fun! Last weekend I catered the biggest event of my career, a 150-person after-wedding party at Neon’s Unplugged in downtown Cincinnati, for my very dear friend Carmen and her now-husband Ben. I love these two so much, it was awesome to be able to feed them and their families the day after their big day! (more…)
My Biggest Event Yet + Watermelon, Tomato, and Feta Salad September 7, 2012
Man Meals: Four-Chile Chili March 7, 2012
As I shopped the mountains of fresh produce at Findlay Market during my weekly visit, I came across cute little baskets filled with a variety of sweet and hot peppers for only $2. Doug and I can never seem to get enough chile in our lives, so I knew the little box of peppers wouldn’t go to waste.
With the last days of winter most definitely upon us (it’s gonna be 60 here in Cincinnati for the rest of the week!), I realized it was time for one last batch of chili, and I really wanted to come up with a new version to try and beat my all-time favorite chili recipe, my Pumpkin-Turkey Chili—and I think I might have done it! (more…)
DIY Fun: Bourbon Brown Sugar Mustard January 25, 2012
My dear friend Ian is what you might call a mustard connoisseur: His pantry is always full of a variety of expensive pretzel mustards from Europe gifted to him by his aunt, and his condiment shelf in the refrigerator always has at least three different kinds of mustard. Classic Dijon, spicy horseradish, fiery wasabi, or rustic stone-ground—you name it, he’s got it.
All I knew for sure is that Ian needed some homemade mustard, and that I was going to produce it. Plus, I love little canning projects like this, and it’s another way for me to check items off my “Need to Make” list. (more…)
The Kitchen Bitch Goes to California November 10, 2011
I am soo lucky.
I have a wonderful mother and two beautiful sisters, and I just got to spend a week with them all city hopping in California. (Never mind that what I really should have been doing was honeymooning. Doug and I will get to it—eventually. I cannot WAIT for that trip. We’re thinking Barbados.)
The reason for this trip was twofold: My sister Annie, an event planner, was organizing a conference in Laguna Beach earlier in the week, and I won a trip to the 3rd Annual Foodbuzz Food Blogger Festival in San Francisco courtesy of Australian Lamb the following weekend. When we realized that the events were only days apart, we knew we had to make a girls’ week out of it.
The Kitchen Bitch Gets Hitched!! November 2, 2011
Hello my beautiful readers! The past month and a half have been an absolute whirlwind:
I moved 300 miles to be closer to my family, and I married the man of my dreams, Mr. Douglas Clark.
And I couldn’t be any happier. (more…)
Best Ever Pot Roast Recipe February 16, 2011
Ah, the ubiquitous pot roast, the bane of American children everywhere. Leathery meat, thin, drippy sauce, soggy vegetables—a nasty meal I’ve met many times in my life. Luckily, my mom asked me to make a pot roast for the family a few weeks ago when I was home, or I never would have learned how wonderful a pot roast can be if done right. Thanks for putting me to work, Ma!
I decided I was going to put my extensive (read: expensive) culinary training to use to make the reviled pot roast not only edible, but also amazing. Instead of throwing the meat in a pot and covering it with bland liquid, I decided to season it nicely and brown it in a nice hot pot, and the vegetables received the same treatment. Instead of boring old water or beef bouillon, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and a carton of beef broth was my braising liquid.
The Blizzard Outside My Front Door February 2, 2011
As most of you know, Chicago was hit by a blizzard yesterday, and it’s still going strong today. We had crazy winds, thunder and lighting last night. And while all that noise has dissipated, the snow is still coming down in whirlwinds. I believe we’re getting another foot tonight.
Spice Rack Staples June 25, 2010
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So you’ve got all the pots, pans and gadgets from my Top 25 Kitchen Must-Haves, but your spice collection just isn’t up to snuff? The KB’s here with an in-depth look at dried herbs and spices—a home cook’s fail-safe solution for adding flavor and pizzazz to everyday dishes.
Take a look at your dried herbs and spices. Have you had them for more than a year or two? Is your basil looking brown instead of green? Does your dill no longer smell like dill, but like cooking oil? It’s time to throw those old bottles out and re-stock.
I wholeheartedly endorse purchasing your dried herbs and spices from a local spice merchant or The Spice House, a Chicago mainstay with a great online selection at thespicehouse.com. Why buy from a local spice house? For a number of reasons: price, freshness, and quality.
When you buy herbs and spices at the supermarket, you have no idea when the jar was packaged—or how long it has sat on the shelf. At a local spice shop, spices are freshly ground and packaged, and there’s high turnover since that’s what people come there to buy. Second, shop owners almost always keep the most high-quality herbs and spices, and often offer certain spices, like cinnamon, saffron, and peppercorns, in a variety of price ranges.
Lastly, you can’t beat a local spice shop’s prices. Because they freshly grind, package and bottle the spices on-site, the bulk savings are passed on to consumers. For example, I recently went to The Spice House in Chicago and spent around $60. If I had gone to the grocery store and purchased the exact same items, I would have spent between $150-$200. How about them apples?
Furthermore, you can buy herbs and spices with handy glass bottles, so next time you can simply purchase a bottle refill instead of a new bottle. Besides being cost-effective, it’s also more environmentally friendly because you’re not purchasing plastic bottle after plastic bottle from McCormick.
Below are the spices and herbs any serious cook should have. I’ve broken them up into categories: Baking, Pantry Staples, Spice Blends, Specialty Spices, and Whole Spices. A good spice collection takes time to acquire, but with each new addition you’ll encounter amazing new flavors to add to your cooking repertoire. So, go ahead, spice it up!
For a print copy of this post, without the images, click here.
To get the best baked goods, you need to use the highest quality ingredients you can find. Most of the cinnamon you find in the United States isn’t actually cinnamon, but cassia, which has a less delicate flavor than true cinnamon. However, you can find high-quality cassia cinnamon, like the one I use below, and it works well in all types of baked goods.
Cinnamon — I use a China Tunching Cassia Cinnamon. Outstanding flavor.
Cinnamon Sticks—Can be used whole or ground. Go for the real “true” thing here.
Ginger Powder — Great for baking and Asian and Indian savory dishes
Pumpkin Pie Spice — Great in fruit pies and tarts.
Whole Nutmeg — Grate into cheese or cream sauces for that special je ne sais quoi.
Cream of Tartar — great for meringues and whipping egg whites
Pure Vanilla Extract—None of that imitation stuff.
Pure Almond Extract and/or other flavorings if desired
Dried herbs will last about 1-2 years in a cool, dry place in your pantry. If your herbs are brown, crusty and lack smell, then it’s time to replace them. To use dry herbs in place of fresh, use half the amount called for because dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor.
Bay Leaves—For flavoring stocks, sauces and stews. Remove before serving.
Cayenne—For a nice spicy kick, add a pinch of cayenne.
Chili Powder—This is actually a blend of sweet chile pepper, cumin, garlic, oregano, and red pepper. Obviously used to make chili but also great in burgers.
Chives—Fresh is best, but the dried still adds great color and flavor to eggs, soups and salads.
Crushed Red Pepper—They’re in every pizzeria, so besides pizza, they can add a little heat to spaghetti, soups, sauces, marinades, and meats.
Cumin—Cumin is a key ingredient in chili powder and central to the cuisine of almost every culture, including Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African.
Dill Weed—Very popular in Eastern European cooking, it’s often used as a sauce for fish or potatoes. Good with yogurt or sour cream as a vegetable dip.
Garlic Powder—Great for getting garlic flavor without the actual cloves.
Greek Oregano—A pungent but sweet herbs that pairs well with tomatoes, sauces, stews, veggies, cheese and red meat.
Hungarian Sweet Paprika—More than just a garnish, this paprika has a sweet peppery flavor that’s great on eggs, potato and pasta salads, baked fish or chicken.
Mustard Powder—Often used in potato salads, meatloaf, and dressings. Can also be used to make your own mustard.
Parsley—No kitchen should be without this do-it-all herb. It has great a mild, sweet herby flavor and beautiful green color.
Rosemary—One of my favorites. Great on lamb, chicken, potatoes, stews, sauces, veggies and on fresh breads.
Rubbed Sage—Only need small quantities to get full flavor. Great with chicken, turkey, stuffing or pork chops.
Thyme—This lemon-y herb is a great complement to rosemary. Used in hearty roasted or baked dishes or with vegetables.
Peppers & Salts
Sea Salt—This fine salt is often used as a finishing salt
Kosher Salt—My favorite, and most chefs’, everyday salt. It has a larger grain than table salt and no additives.
Tellicherry Peppercorns—According to the Spice House, “Tellicherry whole black peppercorns are left on the vine longer so they develop a deep, rich flavor. Considered the finest pepper in the world, these extra-large berries come from the Malabar coast of India. Black peppercorns are picked from the vine just before they ripen and turn red. As they dry, the berries turn black. This particularly large, more mature, berry has a full, robust flavor described as almost fruity.”
Garlic Salt—Great on bread, eggs, popcorn, chicken, veggies, pretty much anything.
Celery Salt—Essential to my grandma’s stuffing, and great coleslaw, deviled eggs, chicken, potato or pasta salad.
Whole White Peppercorns—White peppercorns are actually black pepper that’s been soaked in water until the black outer shell is easily removed. Great for when you want to add pepper, but not the black color.
Lawry’s Seasoning Salt—This was always a staple in my parents’ home. Great on grilled meats, in burgers, or on potatoes.
Here are a few more exotic, but no less useful, dried and ground spices. If you don’t want to keep whole and ground spices, just keep the whole version around to grind when needed. However, for some spices like cardamom and cumin, I find it helpful to keep the ground around, too.There’s a difference between “chile” and “chili.” A chile powder is one ground from a specific chile pepper. Chili powder is a mix of spices used to make chili, that meaty dish we all know and love.
Cardamom, ground—This unique fresh and sweet herb is often used in Indian cooking as well as in Scandinavian breads and cookies.
Chipotle Chile Pepper, Ground—A chipotle is a jalapeno that’s been smoked. Here it’s also dried and ground. Essential to Southwestern cuisine.
Coriander seed, ground—Sweet and citrusy, coriander is essential to Indian cooking and great with lamb, sausage, roast pork or breads.
Half-Sharp Paprika—This is Hungarian sweet paprika with a nice kick. Medium-level chile heat.
Mexican Oregano—This herb can really stand up to the bold flavors of Mexican and Latin dishes. Add to dishes as you would parsley.
Onion Powder—Ground dehydrated onions, great with ground meats.
Saffron—The most expensive spice in the world, saffron is actually the stamens of crocuses. The intensive labor process is what makes it so costly. However, a little goes a long way. Use a scant few threads to flavor chicken and seafood dishes, soups, cakes and bouillabaisse.
Smoked Paprika—In this paprika, the chiles are smoked over several weeks before being ground into a powder. The blend can be either sweet or spicy.
Sweet Ancho Chile Pepper, Ground—This is the base of chili powder, that all-American spice blend we use to make chili. Great for any recipe you want to have a sweet chile flavor.
Turmeric—This spice is often used for its brilliant orange-red hue. It’s great in curry or mixed with oil and red pepper and poured over cauliflower before roasting.
Wasabi Powder—Real wasabi is extremely expensive, so the powder can be used as a substitute. I think the wasabi pastes are probably a better investment because ti takes a lot of wasabi powder to get that strong wasabi flavor.
Certain dishes call for premixed spice blends. Most of these spice blends can be found at your local grocery store, speciality shops, spice stores or online at thespicehouse.com
Adobo Seasoning — This is a mild, rural-style Mexican spice mixture. Great for giving pretty much anything south-of-the-border flavor.
Cajun Seasoning — A spicy blend made from red and black pepper, paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powders.
Chinese Five-Spice Blend — A blend of sweet, spicy, hot and sour flavors. Very versatile. Makes for a great stir fry marinade
Curry Powder— Curry is a blend of spices that includes cumin, coriander, turmeric and red pepper. There are a wide variety of blends available. I keep one Maharajah-style (with saffron) blend and one simple sweet curry blend on hand.
Garam Masala — This is a northern Indian Pujabi style of seasoning that differs from curry in that it doesn’t contain cumin.
Herbs de Provence — a traditional blend of herbs from the south of France. Great with veggie dishes, casseroles, baked beef, lamb, fish or roast pork.
Italian Seasoning—A mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. Great in anything Italian.
Taco Seasoning— Great for seasoning ground beef, steak or chicken for tacos.
Whole spices are great because you can grind your own as you need them, which means you’ll be getting the freshest quality. Stored in a cool dry place they will stay fresh for about 4 years. I use one coffee grinder to grind my spices, and another to grind my coffee. If you want to stick to just one, make sure and clean your grinder thoroughly between each use.
Allspice Berries—The main flavor in Jamaican jerk mixes.
Caraway Seeds—Often used in rye bread and in European cuisine.
Coriander Seed— Used in many Latin American dishes, it has a lemony top note. Also used in sauces, corned beef and pickling spices.
Cumin Seed—Grind right before using for freshest quality.
Fennel Seeds—An aromatic, anise-flavored spice often used in Indian cooking.
Poppy Seeds — To maintain that great nutty flavor, refrigerate.
Sesame Seeds— Toast to bring out the oils before adding to your favorite dish.
Star Anise — Used mainly in oriental cooking for an all-purpose seasoning.
Yellow Mustard Seeds—Used in pickling, sausage making, and boiling vegetables like cabbage.
The KB’S Food TV Awards May 26, 2010
For those of you who would rather sit on the couch and watch someone else cook on TV than venture into the kitchen, this post is for you. After many hours of intense sedentary research, I’ve compiled a list of the best and worst of the food TV world. I’ve done all the work, so now you don’t have to waste precious DVR space with crappy culinary programs. Only the best for the KB and her readers!
Most Fabulously Entertaining Award: Brian Boitano in What Would Brian Boitano Make? Gay or straight, no one’s knows, but this flamboyant former Olympic ice skater has an incredibly entertaining and dorky food show—and the theme music is pulled straight from the South Park episode making fun of him. At least the man can laugh at himself, right? In fact, that’s pretty much what he does the whole time. It’s a great show for unique and fun recipes for a crowd.
Love to Hate/Hate to Love Award: Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. Sandra Lee is crazy, but at least she knows it. She embraces her love for all things kitschy and homemade by taking that extra step and creating lovingly tacky “tablescapes” for each of her shows. She even re-decorates the kitchen based on the day’s theme. Now that’s dedication. While her recipes are usually nothing to write home about, she does have a knack for time-saving shortcuts and dessert decorating. Her other show, Sandra’s Money-Saving Meals, shows viewers a much more relaxed—and a lot less ridiculous—side of Sandra Lee.
Most Obnoxious Host Award: Rachael Ray. No one’s surprised here, I’m sure. Just because she’s annoying, doesn’t mean her recipes aren’t any good. There’s just nothing too complex going on here, but how could there be when it all has to be made in 30 minutes or less?
The Almost as Annoying as Rachel Ray Award: Kris Capra in Easyway Gourmet. She uses ridiculous phrases like “groovy maximus” and “super de doper easy.”
Worst Hair Award: Anne Burrell, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. My roommate and I frequently wonder, what in the world is her hair stylist thinking? The big blond spiky mess truly baffles the mind.
Least Personality Award: The chefs on Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. Martha has made all these chefs take their personalities and throw them out the window. Not an ounce of character can be found here. The recipes, however, are good basic recipes for those wanting to conquer the fundamentals: brownies, roasted chicken, tuna Nicoise, Bolognese sauce and the like.
The KB’s Biggest Girl Crush: Alex Guarnaschelli from Alex’s Day Off. I could listen to Alex talk and cook all day—it’s like she’s doing the play by play for a food porno. She’s down to earth, classy and has a lot of great recipes for making chef-y dishes at home.
Craziest Kitchen Stunts Award: Future Food. I sit in awe every time I watch this show and, no, it didn’t just get chosen because it features Chicago celebrity chefs. Future Food gives viewers a look into the science lab cum professional kitchen of molecular gastronomy pioneers Chefs Omar Cantu and Ben Roche. These guys do things with food like you’ve never seen before. Their shtick is to take wasted food or food products and make it into something delicious to sell in their high-end restaurant, Moto. For example, I’ve seen them create environmentally friendly edible packing peanuts and then turn them into a five-course prix fixe, make snack food out of a health bar and a sports drink, and serve a peanut butter and jelly made with leftover peanut shells and the squashed skins of the grapes left over from winemaking. It’s a must-see foodie program.
Most Educational Program: Good Eats. This local access show turned late-night Food Network program is part-science, part-cooking, part-educational fun. Alton Brown is nerdy for sure, but he makes the science behind food fun. If you want to make a classic recipe right from start to finish (e.g., coq au vin, corn tortillas, calamari), or try some serious foodie undertakings (e.g., smoking your own bacon, making our own pomegranate molasses, or deep-frying a turkey), Brown is who you should turn to.
Best New Show: Mexican Made Easy with Marcela Valladolid. She’s young, hip and making everyday Mexican food accessible. It’s about time, Food Network. I just wonder why she’s not on more often.
Best Foreign Food TV Host: Nigella Lawson of Nigella Express. I know this show is old, but this buxom English chef won my heart from the moment she opened her mouth to tell me about her Triple Chocolate Brownies.
Best Asian Show: Simply Ming. Chef Ming Tsai creates one East-West master sauce each week and then showcases a variety of dishes you can make with it. He also invites one well-known chef or foodie to create a unique dish with the master sauce and taste his offerings. Combinations like Sriracha-greek yogurt, cranberry-lemongrasss sauce, and Ponzu-soy vinaigrette keep viewers guessing.
Most Ethnically Authentic Program: Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Yes, Rick Bayless and his daughter overact the shit out of this show, which shoots in both Mexico and Chicago, but it’s incredibly informative. I love Mexican food and this show shines a spotlight on both the modern and ancient aspects of the cuisine. I print out a copy of almost every recipe Bayless makes. Some of them take time, but they seem so worth it for that straight-out-of-Oaxaca taste.
Best Gourmet American Program: Barefoot Contessa. While it does seem like Ina Garten has nothing better to do than cook for her husband Jeffrey and their friends in the Hamptons, at least she makes some great updated classic American dishes in the process. If you’re just venturing into gourmet cooking and want to try making fancier versions of everyday American dishes, this a great place to start.
Best Italian Program: Giada DeLaurentis in Giada at Home and Everyday Italian. I love Giada. She makes incorporating Italian ingredients and techniques into your cooking repertoire a real joy. I think she’s one of the more inventive and imaginative chefs on Food Network. Her food is modern, sophisticated and perfectly plated.
Best Show for Local Restaurants: Diners, Drive-in & Dives. Guy Fieri might be annoying in Guy’s Big Bite, but he does well eating his face off at regional joints across the country. You’re bound to find a cheap, delicious and fun spot in your area with this show.
Best for finding Chicagoland Hot Spots: Check Please! Three Chicagoans visit and review each other’s favorite spots. Only problem is that great secret spots often become not so secret. Good for the restaurant, but longer lines aren’t great for patrons.