Friday, August 1, 2008


I have had a request to start writing about cooking, spices, and spicing. It'll be a learning guide, with some background and research (for my benefit) and some cooking recommendations.

I'll start with nutmeg.

Nutmeg: This is LOVE.

Firstly, nutmeg is probably my favorite spice. According to Wikipedia, nutmeg is an evergreen seed from tropical Asia. Mace, which is another spice derived from the same plant, is the covering of the seed.

Where do you get it? What should I look for?

Like most spices, you can buy it already ground. Ground spices are delicious and cheap, require less preparation tools, etc. They don't last forever, though, but then again, nutmeg shouldn't either. It's great. At school, I have a container of ground nutmeg, which you can buy practically anywhere, though mine is from this spice shop at the West Side Market in Cleveland. At home, we have whole nutmeg seeds and a cool little grater with a holder in the top to hold the seed when it's not in use.

Where have I had it before?

Nutmeg is a common addition to pumpkin pie seasoning (which also includes cinnamon and allspice), as well as to gingerbread cookies, and is a natural match with anything involving cinnamon (anywhere where there is cinnamon, you can add nutmeg... about twice as much cinnamon to nutmeg is a good proportion).

Nutmeg, much like cinnamon, can be added to sweet as well as savory (a definition of savory is kind of ambiguous... I think it was decided that it was similar to umami, the 5th taste. It's a flavor combination that is not sweet but is full-bodied and with much flavor, usually coming from reduction, caramelization or proper spicing.) Savory foods are my favorite, but a complexity of flavor can be reached by having a variety of tastes within a food creation (combining any or all tastes: sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, and savory... think about a chili sweet-and-sour chicken/tofu... it tickles the tastebuds in a variety of places). Combining tastes is one of my food goals anytime I cook.

My favorite nutmeg additions (These aren't really recipes, but if you want recipes for these concepts, I can pass them along.)

Anything involving chocolate (hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, truffles) can easily have more depth of flavor if you add a pinch of nutmeg and/or cinnamon. Also, cayenne, but that's another thing later...

Things that are sweet... anything fruity (pies), sugary (icing), syrupy (with maple syrup, on pancakes), whipped-creamy (spiced whipped cream is fucking fantastic on chocolate, strawberry, or coffee desserts), etc. It just tastes good.

Any baked goods or breakfast things: cakes, pies, cheesecake (crust for both the previous things), pancakes, waffles, french toast.

In savory dishes, I like nutmeg (and cinnamon) in things that are mildly to very spicy. It adds a hint of sweet to something spicy, layering the flavors. Many Greek dishes also call for nutmeg, including moussaka (a rich eggplant cassarole) and pastisito (a mulit-step pasta dish that has a thick meat sauce tossed with pasta and then covered with a nutmeg scented white sauce and baked). Nutmeg also works very well with ground meat (beef, turkey, pork, what have you.)

Anytime I make a white sauce, alfredo sauce, cheese sauce or anything else white/creamy/soupy (including cream of "insert veggie here" soup). It's good with asparagus and mushrooms, especially.

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