Food: Spiced Out

The Joy of Cooking with Spicessamantha7

I’m a spice freak.  I mean what would food be like without a little spice added to it?  I use it to enhance the natural flavor of whatever I’m cooking, not to disguise it.  Like a healthy relationship, the two should really complement each other.  I have tons of spices in my pantry and enjoy mixing and matching but lately there are a few one-step-wonder blends that make it especially easy to accompany a wide variety of dishes.

Like the ones my new friend Samantha makes from scratch.

Samantha in the kitchen
Samantha Mcleod in the kitchen

The EATHICAL series. It’s like spice mix for dummies.  You can’t go wrong.  Not only do they make your life easier and smell fantastic but they will improve the overall taste of your meal. You’re making Italian for dinner – grab don’t pinch The Italian.  You’re making fish – go for The Seafood and so forth.  They’re healthful wonderful spices.  For instance The Mango Curry  is made of turmeric, coriander, cumin, garam masala (a spice mix of its own which includes cardamon, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg), onion, garlic, amchur (made from dried unripe green mangoes) sea salt & chilies.

samantha3Samantha is a freelance writer and blogs about foods, sustainability and ethical businesses for The Province, a local newspaper in Vancouver and has her own website.  I met her at a barbeque..of which she catered for twenty five people and made nine special courses, ALL from scratch, gourmet style.  Definitely not your run-of-the-mill barbeque even though I like those too (after all I want to get invited to more barbeques).  It was just unexpected and extremely delicious.  And since five people never showed up I picked up some leftovers the next day (only to help out of course).  Then she told me about her spices….which I needed to get my hands on.samantha4

One of the many courses
One of many courses

So I just had to tell you because I get inspired by stuff like this.  Good food and good people mix together very well.

Soon you’ll be able to buy these spices at a local specialty store near you.

Samantha McLeod is a global travel and food writer organizing sustainable, organic and gluten-free culinary tours worldwide.

Check out her website:

Sidenote: my sister just got back from Spain & Morocco and of course she brought me back saffron and a Moroccan spice mix which I just used (in my new clay tagine from Marrakesh) to make Moroccan chicken.  It saved me a whole lot of time because the spices you need to use are plentiful.

Just before going in the oven
Just before going in the oven
Just coming out of the oven
Just coming out of the oven
Plated on an individual serving tagine
Plated on an individual serving tagine over cous cous.

Spices take you on a little holiday.  Last night I went to Morocco.  Tonight it’s Italy.  Tomorrow, India! 

It’s called Spice Travel!  Where are you off to next?


Health MATTERS – spice it up with natural healers

It’s almost déjà-vuhealthyI know I’ve written about the healing powers of herbs and spices before but just in case you missed it, or need further explanation of what certain ones are capable of doing, read on…

Herbs and Spices have long been one of our greatest natural healers.  Ancient Egyptians combined coriander, mint and sage with wine (aha!) to treat everything from herpes to upset stomachs.  True story: Cinnamon is such a powerful antimicrobial that it was even used in embalming to slow decay.  I know that’s kind of gory but impressive right?  These old-world remedies continue to play a role in fighting new world diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Diabetes, thanks to their potent antioxidant qualities.  Here are three of the world’s healthiest spices:


The golden spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow colour also provides a medicine chest full of health benefits. Turmeric is high in dietary fibre, iron, manganese, vitamin B6 and potassium. Studies show it helps relieve bloating and indigestion and also has antibacterial properties. A 2012 study in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology shows the active ingredient in turmeric curcumin is a potent anti inflammatory. Researchers at the University of Buffalo recently discovered that these anti-inflammatory properties may be good for your waistline and reduce the risk of obesity related diseases. Try using turmeric to jazz up scrambled eggs, soups, rice or veggies, or brew up a pot of turmeric tea:

Boil 1-2 cups water, then simmer with one teaspoon turmeric, one teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg for 10 minutes. Strain. Sweeten with raw honey and add a dollop of almond or coconut milk to taste. Include a pinch of cloves or a teaspoon of fresh ground ginger to the water.


Did you know that just one teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains the same amount of cancer-fighting antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries? A study published in BMC Cancer found that cinnamon extract may actually help prevent tumour cell growth. Cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives the spice its colour and flavour, is also the key ingredient in fighting a host of other illnesses. A 2013 study from the University of California, Santa Barbara found it may even help ward off Alzheimer’s by preventing the development of “tangles” in brain cells. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Hannover found that cinnamon also helps control blood sugar in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Study participants who took cinnamon extract three times a day (the equivalent of about three grams of cinnamon) for four months had significantly lower glucose levels than those who didn’t sample the spicy extract.


Pepper flakes, cayenne and paprika not only add pizzazz to plain dishes, they’re also a handy source of healing and pain relief. Capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their kick, fights pain by blocking pain signals to the brain. (The hotter the pepper, the more pain-fighting bang for your buck.) Capsaicin is often used as a cream or lotion to relieve neuralgia (pain that originates in nerves near the skin surface). A study in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that capsaicin in nasal spray form reduces migraine pain and also helps fight cold symptoms. And although spicy food is often blamed for stomach upset, eating capsaicin actually promotes digestive health by reducing stomach acid and relieving bloating and nausea.

More Herbal Healers:

Ginger – studies show that ginger relieves symptons of morning sickness, a condition that affects as many as 85% of women in their first trimester.

Lavender – There’s a reason this fragrant plant is so often used in soaps and lotions – studies show its subtle scent soothes anxiety and mental stress.

Mint – Don’t deny yourself an after-dinner-mint – peppermint has proven to be an effective treatment for bloating, gas, diarrhea, and even the pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome.

Rosemary – This flavourful herb is high in antioxidants and studies show it may help relieve symptoms of indigestion.

Saffron – Tame monthly miseries with a daily saffron capsule – studies show saffron may provide fast relief from PMS symtons.

Photos: IStock

Source: Canadian Health and Lifestyle

simply satisfying – DIY Infused Sea Salts & Spices

my own blend - sel de provence
my own blend – sel de provence

Salts, Herbs & Spice make everything                            Nice.                                                       There’s nothing confusing about infusing. These do-it-yourself finishing salts are not only great to have on hand for everyday meals but they also make an excellent hostess gift.  Find a nice little container to put them in (as shown), tie a bow or ribbon & voila!  They’re not fussy and you can tweak them to your liking.


For instance, I dry fresh lavender flowers, grind them (in a coffee grinder used specifically for purposes other than grinding coffee) and then put them into a container (I keep several clean empty ones on hand for this purpose ) with either course Himalayan pink salt or kosher salt for a nice flavor to add to pork roasts or potatoes.  Add rosemary, thyme & oregano leaves for Sel-de-Provence.

Malt Vinegar
Malt Vinegar – tastes better than it looks

This simple malt-vinegarsalt takes a few minutes of work to yield a summer’s worth of pub-fries type seasoning.  In addition to chips (or any kind of potato dish), you can use it on shellfish or fried fish.  Try it on popcorn too.  I like to thinly slice Yukon gold potatoes & bake them at 375 F until done with a bit of olive oil & this salt sprinkled over them – tastes like a day at the beach.

6 Tbsp. of course salt

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

¼ cup malt vinegar

Stir all ingredients together until a loose paste forms.  Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet & spread into a thin layer. Let stand at room temperature, uncovered for a day or two.  The paste will dry into a hard, cohesive sheet.

Rake and mash sheet with a fork until it develops into the texture of course salt.  Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in a cool, dry place up to 3 months (that is, if it lasts that long).

citrus saltCitrus Salt:

This will add a bright finish to curries, soups and stews – you can even sprinkle it on banana bread.

Preheat oven to 300 F.  In a  medium bowl, mix ½ cup of flaky sea salt with 1 Tbsp. of grapefruit zest, 2 tsp. orange zest, and 1 tsp. lemon zest, working zest into salt to eliminate clumps.  Add ½ tsp. ground fennel seed, and spread across a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until zest is dried out, about 15 minutes (it should crumble when pinched).  Let cool, then store in an airtight jar up to 2-3 months.  Makes ¾ cup.

Herbs de Provence

Herbs de Provence
Herbs de Provence

The flavor is amazing here.  Delicious sprinkled on salads, soups, fish, chicken, beef and pork.  Did I miss anything?

2 Tbsp. dried rosemary

1 Tbsp. fennel Seed

2 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers

2 Tbsp. dried Italian Parsley

2 Tbsp. Dried Savory

2 Tbsp. Dried Thyme

2 Tbsp. Dried Basil

2 Tbsp. Dried Marjoram

Grind rosemary & fennel seed in a spice grinder (which could be a second coffee grinder); transfer to a mixing bowl.  Stir savory, thyme, basil, marjoram, lavender, parsley, oregano & tarragon with the rosemary mixture. Store in an air-tight container between uses.  Makes 1 cup.

Jam containers are great.
Small size jam jars are perfect for this.

Flower Pepper (okay, I had a lot of flowers last summer – here’s a way to make them last all year long).

Aromatic Flower Pepper
Aromatic Flower Pepper

Mix black peppercorns with dried rose petals and lavender (or other edible flowers like Calendula) for a colorful mix of flavor.  Use it with salads, eggs, fish, meat, chicken or pasta dishes – pretty much everything.

The added touch: for a more personalized feel you can create your own label to stick on the lid of any jar.  The receiver will remember who it came from and what exactly is inside.

Note:   Sufferers of asthma, ragweed, and hayfever should not consume composite flowers, and may have extreme allergies to ingesting any flowers at all.  Composite flowers consist of a family of plants with heads composed of many florets, including the aster; daisy; dandelion; goldenrod; marigold; lettuces; ragweed; sunflower; thistle; zinnia.

AVOID: some flowers in particular to be avoided (but not a complete list) are: azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily of the valley, and wisteria.

Have you ever tried creating your own versions?

Food board on Pinterest


B Well with Spice Rack Remedy Superstars

spicesDID YOU KNOW that your kitchen counter might already hold the cure for what ails you?

Since time immemorial, humans have used spices to better their food and their bodies.  Our ancestors knew which spices would settle an upset stomach, relieve inflammation, and more.  Now studies have finally proven that whether you’ve got achy muscles, a cold that just won’t quit, or a case of the blues, reaching for a natural healer may be just what the doctor ordered.

CORIANDER (or CILANTRO) in its leafy form is a powerful bacteria fighter.  The oil from coriander seeds (which destroys cells by damaging their membranes and interfering with cellular respiration) is effective in wiping out strains from E. coli to salmonella.  You can add the seeds from everything from fruit salad to pasta.  You can dry toast them for a minute and toss them with olive oil and quinoa.

CINNAMON may lower your diabetes risk by triggering enzymes that stimulate insulin receptors and inhibiting enzymes that deactivate them.  It can improve cells’ ability to absorb glucose from the blood.  It has also been found to reduce triglycerides and harmful cholesterol.  I add about half a teaspoon to my coffee in the morning but you can also use it for savory dishes like lamb & tomato soup.

TUMERIC  is thought to have cancer fighting properties.  UCLA researchers have found that curcumin, an antioxidant in the spice, can help prevent and treat head and neck cancers by blocking a protein that promotes tumor growth.  That same protein causes joint inflammation, so curcumin could also reduce arthritis risk.  Use not only in Indian dishes but you can add a bit to lemonade for an extra dash of tartness or things like hummus for a sunny burst of color.

GARLIC helps protect your immune system by boosting production of infection-fighting white blood cells.  Allicin, garlic’s main active component, is thought to block enzymes that lead to viral infections.  We all know what we can use garlic on……almost everything.  Try driizzling a head of garlic with olive oil, roast it, then squeeze and spread the cloves on your sandwiches.

SAFFRON might help alleviate mild to moderate mood depression.  In a 2005 study, saffron supplements (didn’t know they did supplements) were as effective as a common anti-depressent in reducing depressive symptoms.  In a 2008 study, 76 percent of women who took saffron capsules daily reported a 50 percent drop in PMS symptoms like mood swings and fatigue.  Steep saffron in any liquid to infuse whatever you’re cooking with its flavor.  I love it with rice or quinoa.

GINGER has anti-inflammatory properties.  It blocks serotonin receptors in the small intestine so it can help keep you from feeling nauseated or throwing up.  A study has shown that it also helps in reducing muscle pain from exercise.  You can saute fresh ginger with veggies, fish or chicken.  Steeping ginger in hot water is great for tea.  Just add a bit of honey. I usually add it to fresh juice for a little zip.

Taken from “Feeling Good” an article by Nicole Frehsée for “O” Magazine.

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