Here in Brighton we've had a wonderfully relaxing Christmas break with some much needed time to recharge those batteries. The kids were exhausted by the end of last term so some quality time off has been wonderful. Everyone has for the most part been well despite the odd sniffle and we've loved catching up with family and good friends enjoying good food and great company.
I threw a little santa run in there for good measure with my brother in law on his visit from Sweden and we've all agreed it needs to be a yearly tradition. Lots of festive fun : )
The weather has been fab so we've made it out and about to blow those cobwebs away and I'm entering the new year with a spring in my step.
I try to not set myself resolutions as such however there's no mistaking that the beginning of a new year gives me that fresh start feeling and a wish to improve the things in my life that could use a little work. This year I have been thinking a lot about the things that make me happy in my life which I need to do more of and also the unnecessary things which make me feel a little overwhelmed. My list is as follows:
1. Spend more time with those people important to me.
2. Try not to be late/stop cramming a million jobs into a tiny time slot.
3. Keep up the running and maybe join a running club.
4. Get the kids to try a new food each week.
5. Stop buying icky processed bread and make more of my own.
6. Devote a bit more time to my blog (here I am!)
Alongside these changes comes a definite need to clean and sort and reorganise the house at this time of year. As soon as the Christmas decorations are down and tucked safely away in the attic for another year my focus changes. Last week I have had the kids helping me have a major kitchen and playroom sort out. Cupboards have been emptied, rearranged, emptied and rearranged again! 4 large bags have gone to the charity shop and I'm starting to feel like I can breathe again. I think they're glad to get back to school ; ) I've not yet tackled the cookbook mountain thats propping up the ceiling in the corner but that's a job for another day..
While I was sorting out the ever expanding spice cupboard I was pondering which ones I used the most and which rarely make an appearance in my cooking. I decided to make a list of the top ten spices I would recommend to anyone trying to stock their store cupboard. I used to know very little about which spices to use and whilst I still have a lot to learn I am becoming much more confident in using them correctly. I no longer buy curry pastes preferring to make my own and am starting to be bolder with my flavours. Nothing beats the aroma from a sizzling pan of spices and oils infusing...
Cumin (ground and seeds) - Cumin adds a warm earthy taste to many savoury dishes and can be used in ground form or as whole seeds. I use it mostly in curries but also with roasting some root veg and in soups and stews. A must have for me.
Coriander (ground and seeds) - Coriander is widely used in asian cuisine both in whole seeds and ground form. Commonly partnered with cumin to form the base of curry dishes the seeds are also widely used for pickling. Again for me this is a must when making asian foods but also to add flavour to certain soups.
Black Pepper - Almost everyone uses black pepper to season but I am a true fan. Eggs simply cannot be eaten without it in our house and it makes an appearance in almost every recipe.
Cinnamon - Cinnamon is a personal favourite of mine and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes but I find I prefer to use it sparingly in the latter. It makes a regular appearance in my sweet baking but also in curry bases and chillies. Try it to flavour breakfast baked goods such as my Good Morning Granola
Turmeric - This vibrant yellow spice is used to both flavour and colour many asian dishes. It's also a common ingredient in commercial curry powders. I use a lot in my curry bases but also love to add a little to rice dishes and couscous.
Ginger - Used in its ground form this is a really versatile spice again in both sweet and savoury dishes. Gingerbread, ginger cake, ginger biscuits, the list goes on. Why not give this lovely vegan ginger cake a go. Also try adding to fruit crumbles - delish.
Nutmeg - Nutmeg is used in many savoury and sweet dishes in ground or freshly grated form. I find it essential in many festive foods such as mulled wine, stollen and mincemeat and use it in savoury dishes most often paired with potatoes.
Paprika - Paprika is a widely used spice in many types of cuisine. A pinch of paprika makes its way into many of my tomato bases recipes such as tomato sauces, cassoulets and soups. Using smoked paprika can add a nice twist to a simple recipe such as my Carrot and Red Lentil Soup
Cardamon - Cardamon is sold mostly in pod form and is more difficult to get hold of as a ground product. Interesting fact for you - it's the third most expensive spice in the world only beaten on price by saffron and vanilla. There are two main types of cardamon so be sure you are using the right one for your recipe. If black or brown cardamon is called for this will be specified. I've recently been working on a delicious lemon and cardamom loaf cake, post to follow..
Cloves (ground) - Cloves have a strong sweet but spicy flavour so should be used sparingly to avoid over seasoning. It generally gets used mostly in my house at Christmas time for stollen and mincemeat but I feel it's definitely one to include.
I'd love to hear what your favourites are and how you like to use them. Do get in touch. I love that cookery is such a lifelong learning curve!