Spice Blends

Ever notice how spice blends are minimalist in their description of ingredients? We love it when we read “paprika, cayenne, onion powder and spices!” We know so much more now.

Recently we ran out of a fish blackening spice blend we bought in the Keys. We like it because it allowed you to taste the fish. The label was not helpful (neither was the lack of a shaker top). Since we also use it in fish spread, we decided we needed to get some more. Oops, no mail order available.

Time to experiment. Fortunately, we had 1/4 tsp left we could use as a taste comparator. Equally fortunately, we knew it tasted like a mild and less salty version of Emeril’s Essence — for which the recipe is available online. We decided to use Badia’s Blackened Refish Seasoning as a base to build on.

So we built the following table:


Emeril’s Essence Fish Spice Target Badia
Redfish Blackening Spice
2.5 units
??? Paprika ???
units Badia
2 unit Salt ??? Salt 2 unit
2 unit Garlic Powder ??? Garlic
Garlic Powder
2 unit
1 unit Black Pepper
1 unit Onion Powder ??? Onion
Onion Powder
unit Badia
1 unit Cayenne ??? Cayenne Cayenne
to taste*
1 unit Oregano ??? Oregano 1
unit Oregano
1 unit Thyme
??? Basil 1
unit Basil

*The net result, with a scant 0.25 units of Cayenne, was indistinguishable from the spice blend we like so much.

When you can’t find what you like, mix it up.

Yum-ami — Onion Bread

onionbreadUmami can be translated as “pleasant savory taste”

When I started baking some years ago, I experimented quite a bit with augmented breads, adding things like olive tapenade, cheese, bacon bits, pesto, herbs — not all at once. For the most part they were all worth repeating, but they made the bread less subtle, and so the breads were not as good as accompaniments for meals.

Looking for something subtle, I sifted the onion pieces out of a Lipton’s Onion Soup and Dip mix and set them aside. Then I split the remaining soup mix in two and transferred 1/2 tsp to the portion I would use.

The bread recipe remains. 3 cups bread flour, 1.5 cups water, 1.5 teaspoons large crystal sea-salt, and 1 package dry yeast.

I cut the salt in half (to 3/4. teaspoon) because the soup mix has salt. I added 1 tablespoon of water to help hydrate the dried onions and other mix components.

I mixed all the dry ingredients with a whisk, folded in the water (85 deg F) until all dry was wet. This mixture was set aside covered in the mixing pan to rise for 18 hours.

It rose a bit more than usual due to the sugar in the soup mix, then fell back. It was also a bit stickier when I poured it out onto the (76 deg F) slab. I did the usual pat and fold, pat and fold, pat, fold and tuck the edges (this is a no knead bread) and then returned it to an olive oil-wiped glass bowl covered with a towel for 1 hour. During this time I preheated the oven to 500 deg F with a pizza stone about 40% down from the oven top.

I slid the dough onto the stone and misted the loaf with warm water and allowed it to cook at 500 for ten minutes and then reduced the thermostat to 425 deg F and let the loaf cook another 20 minutes. I cannot honestly say what the oven temperature profile was during this time.

Removed and racked, it gave a solid thump and the crust was hard. The aroma made it hard to leave it alone until cooled enough for cutting.

Cooled it was Yumami and not so oniony it could not be used with meals. Give it a try.

In the future I am considering using Graham flour for the non-stick dusting during the pat and fold phase for a slightly more rustic crumb.

Winter People Gone, Time to Plant and Bake.

Some good cruising friends recently commented we had been very quiet. True. But there is a difference between quiet and busy. Basically, we decided to take a year + or – to settle in here before resuming our travels (whatever they may be). We continue to test the social, sailing (incl teaching), art, music, gardening and dining scene here for how we might best engage. In the mean time:

At Move In

At Move In

We have:

  • Dug 70 holes between 1/2 and 3 gallons in damp consolidated (heavy) soil for planting a new color garden on our street front.
  • Planted ~200 plants in those holes — which means intensive watering and feeding to get them established.
  • Stretched, strained and torn some number of muscles as the post-hole digger and I became reacquainted.
  • Carted 900 pounds of that wet, sandy loam from A to B and in some cases back to A, applied three bags of humus among the holes, three bags of additional cypress mulch and laid out 300 pounds of landscape rock.
  • And still have six more gallons of agapanthus plantings to go.
  • And there were the dozen plantings and seven pottings in the back yard which still awaits its focus and accent plantings.
Awaiting Agapanthus

Awaiting Agapanthus

When done that will have taken us from Hawthorn, Ixora, Fig, Jasmine, Oleander and Hibiscus…

Grown In

When Filled In

To Hawthorn, fewer Ixora, Copperleaf, Tropicanna Gold Canna Lilies, Bougainvillea, Agapanthus, Haight Ashbury Hibiscus, fewer peach Hibiscus, fewer Oleander, Cardboard Palm, Snow Bush, Lemon Blush Caladiums, and alternating Green and Aztec Liriope.

In the mean time, I have gone back to experimental bread baking — successfully using onion soup mix to add umami to Ciabatta. More on that in a day or two.

Balls of Meat (Mark 1, Mod 0)


Curried Lamb Meatballs  ( 2 oz, 60 gm ) with Long-grain Rice and Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I’ve had meatballs hard enough to be banned as cricket balls. I’ve had them so mushy, they qualified as seriously deconstructed in current parlance de cuisine. I’ve had them so bready, they were meat-sandwich balls. And then there are those industrial cocktail types that taste like the meat we ate in the college mess-hall — but only if one was really, really, really hungry (you know, the kind with mysterious bits and a green sheen). None of the above were made by Janet.

So here are some observations (not rules) for the making of balls of meat.

Warning: This comment is about basic meatballs, not regional or traditional specialties that require mixtures for their essential characteristics.  Generally, don’t mix meats unless generic mess-hall meat flavor is what is wanted, though beef and veal do work. If the spicing is going to make the meat source ambiguous anyway, mix away. Finally, if the meat involved has a strong flavor you want to soften, mix meats with similar cooking behavior/needs (eg., red-red, fowl-fowl, light-light).

Spice the meat with a fraction of the spice mix for the sauce. The use of common spicing shortens cooking time since it takes forever for the meat to take up the spice oils from simmering in the sauce only. Since it will be hard to taste these before done, and adjusting spices will be difficult, be careful with any strong spice such as cayenne, sriracha, etc. — you can’t do much about it if it is too much.

When adding starch and/or egg and forming the balls, don’t manipulate the meat any more than necessary. Too much handling and the tender stuff you bought/hunted will be tough. Whisking the eggs ahead of adding them to the meat reduces the amount of manipulation required.

Considering the next steps, select a starch binder that will readily absorb meat juices without creating lumpiness. We haven’t found flour works all that well, and rice needs to be partially cooked first. Crumbs of some sort seem to be the winner, and less is more. No more than ~3 tbsp (45 gm) per pound (454 gm) seems to work ~ 10%. Blend the starch binder into the meat before adding any eggs.

Once binder, etc. is mixed in, pat the completed mixture out flat to about a third of an inch (10mm) on non-stick foil and then spread and pat the spices uniformly across the meat. Roll this layer into a long tube and chill for 30 min to 2 hours. Based on the total weight of meat, slice the tube like cookie dough to create 1 to 2 oz disks (30-60 gm). Roll these by hand — only until ball shaped.

Heat light oil to 325°F in a saute pan, and fry the balls until browned — ~3  min for 2oz (30 gm). Then flip and repeat. Drain. The frying locks in the meat juices and further blooms the spices.

Finish cooking them in a pot or slow-cooker in the desired sauce until done in center (use a meat thermometer). Completing the cooking in sauce keeps them tender.

The pic is the results. Try making any stew-like dish using this approach instead of using stew meat. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Written while waiting for the wind to drop so the water would come back into the boatyard basin deep enough we could get to the travel lift without plowing a groove. [We plowed anyway.]


OK, how about Fundido made with Chimichurri sauce.
Night before last, I grilled chicken marinaded in  Caribbean style Chimichurri (w/Parsley, Cilantro, Garlic & Mint). There were left-overs.
Last night, Janet chopped the cooked chicken into small pieces along with a sweet red pepper, some scallions and black olives.
She mixed this and the unused Chimichurri with Queso Blanco and heated it until melted and well mixed.
She served it with toasted flat-bread after we had two excellent artichokes for starters. And there is left-over Chimidido for enchiladas.

There are other varieties of Chimi for those who have specific ingredient issues.

Ah… Ha! Jicama!

PJicamaeel a Jicama. Slice into 1/4 in spears. Toss with 1 tsp +/- of blackening spice.

Marinate in margarita mixer (w/o tequila) for 24 hours.

Serve for appetizers and/or dessert.

Diced pieces are also good mixed into salads and starches.

Save the marinade for hydrating starches: rice, cous cous, quinoa or for adding to water for boiling shrimp.