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The Spices of Life

 Spices of Life

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Without thinking about it, you probably reach into your spice cabinet at least once a day. Hard to believe, but spices were once rare, expensive commodities. In fact, men went on quests in search of these elusive flavor enhancers (and we all know that one of those searches lead Columbus to the New World). Today, with the growing popularity of Mediterranean, Mexican, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Creole, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, spices are more popular than ever. And happily, they are easily accessible—we only need to venture to our local supermarket to discover new ways to spice up our lives, and our meals! But we still consider spices precious indeed. After all, what would life—and eating—be like without a little spice?

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How to Use Spices
Keep these guidelines in mind when buying, storing and using spices.
• Always buy spices in small amounts.
• Most spices don't need refrigeration—you can store them in a cool, dark place (but keep them away from heat).
• However, some spices (especially red-colored ones like chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika) should be refrigerated to prevent loss of color and flavor. You should also refrigerate or freeze oil-rich seeds such as poppy and sesame to prevent rancidity. And in hot climates you might want to put all your spices in the fridge to guard against infestation.
• Check spices twice a year for freshness—discard bottles which have little or no scent.
• Most spices will stay fresh for six months to a year. To help keep track of things, write the date on the bottle when you buy a new spice so you will know when it's grown old.
• Remember that whole spices stay fresh longer than ground. You might want to invest in a small coffee grinder, small food processor, pepper grinder or mortar and pestle for quick grinding.
• A great way to boost the taste and aroma of many spices is to toast them. Here's how: Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Add spice; toast 2 to 5 minutes or until spice is fragrant and lightly browned, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Remove from heat and use immediately.
• Don’t be afraid to experiment with spices by adding them to your favorite dishes (start with a small amount, then add more if you like the result).
Basic Spice Glossary
Allspice The dried berry of the allspice tree smells like a mix of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg—but it’s a spice all its own. Use in baking, pickling and sausage.
Anise Seed This close cousin to fennel seed has a subtle licorice-like flavor. Use in liqueurs, cakes and cookies.
Cardamom This relative of gingerroot is available ground or in pods of about 20 seeds. The sweetish, hottish flavor is popular in Scandinavian dishes as well as East Indian cooking.
Cayenne Pepper Though technically an herb, fiery hot cayenne pepper is usually grouped with spices in the kitchen. Made from ground dried hot chilis, cayenne is popular in Mexican and Southwestern dishes.
Celery Seed The fruit of the wild celery plant is sold whole, ground or mixed with salt. Its strong flavor is good in fish dishes and salads.
Cinnamon An important baking spice, the dried bark of a member of the laurel family is sold whole and ground. It is especially delicious with apples.
Cloves The dried flower buds of the clove tree are sold whole or ground and used in pickling spice, baked ham, mulled wine and baked goods.
Coriander Seed From the coriander plant (a member of the parsley family), coriander seed has a slightly tart, citrusy flavor. It’s sold whole and ground. Try it in East Indian and Mexican dishes.
Cumin Seed An essential spice with an assertive flavor, cumin is used extensively in Mexican cooking and is a main ingredient in prepared chili powder. Available whole or ground.
Dill Seed It wouldn’t be a pickle without this fruit of the dill plant. Sold whole, the seed flavors breads, salads and seafood.
Fennel Seed The licorice-flavored seed of the fennel plant perks up pork, pasta, bread and seafood.
Ginger Oriental cooking just wouldn’t be the same without this flavorful root. Ginger is grated and sliced and added to meats and vegetables. Ground, it’s used in baking.
Mustard The seed of the mustard plant is sold whole, ground or as a prepared condiment. Whole, the pungent flavor is used in East Indian dishes. The ground form seasons meats and salads.
Nutmeg Nutmeg is the pit of the nutmeg fruit (part of the shell is another spice, called mace). A delicate spice, sold whole or ground, nutmeg is used in sweet and savory dishes.
Paprika A spice made from ground, dried peppers, paprika’s flavor ranges from sweet to incendiary. Sweet paprika is used mostly for coloring; the fiery hot sort is used in Hungarian dishes.
Pepper Pepper berries are grown on a vine. The same plant produces both white and black pepper—white peppercorns are just riper than black ones. Buy whole and grind for best flavor.
Poppy Seed The mature seed of the poppy flower is sold whole and in paste form. Use in both sweet and savory baking.
Sesame Seed One of the oldest spices, sesame seed is sold whole, or ground into a paste called tahini. Use in candy baking and Middle Eastern and Oriental cooking.

Choosing Pots & Pans

The more you cook onboard, the more pots and pans you will collect. On one of our first boats, we actually fired up the alcohol stove and cooked 1 pot meals when we were on the hook. Then we added an electric frying pan onboard and a portable generator. Of course we used a Magma charcoal grill.

Once we traded up to a boat with an electric cooktop and a built in microwave oven, the pots and pans and glass casseroles found their way onboard. When I upgraded the galley and got rid of the electric cooktop for a Princess 3-burner stove with an oven, even more pots and pans came onboard because the range of things we could make was greatly expanded with what is known as a full size oven on a boat. It’s no where near the size of a 30 inch range found at home, but it is much larger than the microwave and a toaster oven. I can bring cookie sheets from home and actually bake cookies in it. Baking cookies isn’t that hard. Pillsbury makes it easy. Just get a roll of cookie dough to take.
You would be surprised at how good fresh bake chocolate chip cookies taste out on the hook.

Anyway, back to the pots and pans: I use Corning Visions Cookware. It is heavy glass pots and pans. Now this sounds very strange. Glass pots and pans on a boat? Yep. The glass has a coating and is pretty tough. In the 22 years that I have used them, I have never had one break. And I have been in some very big storms from New England to Florida. Why do I like them over metal pots? Easy, they are more versatile than metal pots. The Visions cookware can be used on the burners on the stove and go right in the microwave too. Try that with a metal pot. So it saves me from having to have one pot for the stove burners and one for the microwave. Now I do keep one Cuisinart frying pan on board. It is one of the expensive ones with the cast metal handle instead of a plastic one. I paid about $49 for it. You might be able to find one for less money. The thing to look at is the handle. This frying pan can be used on the cook top burners and can go in the oven. When you are choosing pots and pans try to get ones that can be used in more than one place.

Visions cookware is no longer manufactured. However, there is plenty of it around. Yard Sales, Flea Markets and EBay are good places to look.

Put a pot or two and a frying pan onboard to start with. And if you are planning to cook something special that requires a special pot, put it on your list to remember to take it from home. And when you go home from the boat, take it with you. This keeps from adding to the waterline—which is a term used to describe a boat that is overloaded with gear.

What’s For Dinner Onboard?

Even when you are out on the water, you still have to deal with the age old question, ‘what’s for dinner??” If you are home, there are lots of choices that can be made on the spur of the moment. Go pick up fast food? Get out a frozen pizza? Go out to Olive Garden or Red Lobster? It’s not quite as easy out on the water.

If you are near a waterfront restaurant, that could be an option. An expensive option. Sandwiches for 2 and you are talking $40. Dinner, try $60. It’s even worse if you have a couple of teens with you. This routine every week, adds up. It takes a lot of money away from your fuel budget. So your other option is to eat on board. If you have dropped the hook in a quiet cove/anchorage somewhere, eating onboard is your ONLY option, unless you have friends nearby and you go over and eat on their boat.

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