So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Tag Archives: spices

Kitchen tool of the day – electric coffee grinder

Many kitchens have one of these for grinding whole coffee beans. A true coffee mill (burr grinder) is better because a coffee mill doesn’t chop it, it truly grinds it between two sets of “burrs”, which doesn’t heat the beans as much as chopping, plus it allows for better extraction than what we normally call a coffee grinder because, unless it’s incorrectly calibrated, will grind more uniformly than a chopper. However, this is what we’ll be talking about today:

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Actually, it’s a little misleading to call these ‘grinders”. They are actually “choppers” similar to small blenders (they operate exactly the same way as a blender in that they spin a blade at the bottom of a container which chops ingredients into bits).

My purpose in talking about them is to say that the savvy home cook will have two of these, one for coffee (if they don’t have a true coffee mill) and one dedicated solely for spices. They might even have an additional one for sweet spices if they do a lot of baking of dishes that use a lot of spice blends because they might not want their carrot cake to taste like vindaloo.

They are cheap and long-lasting and I find them almost indispensable for doing far-eastern or middle-eastern curries, Mexican dishes, making my own ground chile powder from dried chiles,and custom dry rubs of all descriptions.

You should never use one of these for both coffee and spice blending. It’s almost impossible to remove all of the aromas from the grinder, so you don’t want your coffee tasting like ras-el-hanout or vice versa (or maybe you do – if you do, then I say, go for it pilgrim!).

The Krups and the Braun are both equal and I recommend either one. They are both well-designed and about as cheap as any other off-brand, and less expensive than some of the more trendy brands. I don’t recommend buying a second true coffee mill for spices because it’s a waste of money and a pain in the ass to clean.

Having one of these enables you to roast your own whole spices and grind them to order. If you’ve only used pre-ground packaged cumin or coriander or mustard powder, you’ll be amazed at the vibrancy of quickly toasting those whole seeds brings to your cooking. and in the case of an Indian or Thai curry paste, it can really make a big difference in the outcome.  Obviously, I’ve extolled the virtues of a mortar and pestle in a previous post, but this little item can act as a complement to a mortar and pestle and save you a lot of elbow grease with little reduction in quality. I use this to create a powder and then I combine the result in a mortar and pestle with soft, more “liquid” items like fresh garlic or onions to create pastes. Saves a lot of time and sweat.

So, go out and spend an extra $30. Or find one in a thrift store for $4 as I did. You’ll be glad you did.

Cookbook of the day – A Matter of Taste

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A Matter of Taste:  The Definitive Seasoning Cookbook

by Sylvia Windle Humphrey

The Macmillan Company (1965)

This 1965 reference book is great to have for two reasons. First, it has some cool recipes in it. But, more importantly, it describes the various herbs, spices, flavoring components and seasonings that make our food both palatable and healthy and gives you a history lesson at the same time.

It’s broken down into the following sections:

Basic Seasonings (salt sugar, honey, acids, MSG, etc.) Don’t hold it against Humphrey that she calls MSG a “super seasoning”. This book is, after all, almost 50 years old now.

Spices

Herbs

Special Seasonings (anchovy, beer, mushrooms, flowers and fruits, etc.)

Recipes

If your chef came up to you and asked you what the difference between a spice and an herb was, or if your guest asked you to describe cardomom or saffron, would you be able to do it? Wouldn’t it be cool to bark back at the chef, “Yes I do. Want an example? Cilantro is an herb, and its seed, coriander is a spice”. Now, you’re not going to get that from this book, because, in those days of olde,  the whole plant was called coriander. In fact, technically, it’s still called the coriander plant. It’s also called Chinese parsley but that’s neither here nor there. Generally we call the coriander plant cilantro these days, but the chef will get that you indeed know the difference.

Despite the rather dated aspect of this book, you will find this book useful, if only to have a history of the various herbs and spices.  Plus, just reading about herbs and spices should kindle your increasing thirst for knowledge, right?

It’s been out of print for a while now, but you can still find used copies on the cheap.

Amazon has something like 18 copies at the moment, ranging from a little over a dollar to around $8.

You can also find a nice clean copy for around $8 here:

http://www.a1wdb.com/cgi-bin/women/12930