I really appreciate challenges that have limitations. It’s proof of what you can make with a length of rope, a piece of wood, and a slice of American cheese. Currently, I have accepted the challenge to use fresh whole spices in new, surprising ways. Marx Foods offered free whole spices to bloggers willing to test and come up with recipes and interesting uses. It’s a marketing scheme, but certainly one that is mutually beneficial.
Last week, I received the sweetest box in the mail full of tiny sample bags. Most are quite familiar, but there are a few that I’ve never used in their whole form (annatto seed) or that I’ve never thought much about using on an everyday basis (fennel pollen, whole star anise), and some that are old familiar friends that I never tire of seeing or using (whole Tahitian vanilla beans, Tellicherry peppercorns).
Although I am a strong believer in using whole spices, freshly ground, it is not always practical when you get home from work and want to eat immediately. I was finally inspired to invest in a small, manual spice grinder. I have a mortar and pestle, which I’ve used with variable success, and a coffee grinder that I would never consider using for spices (I don’t believe that a piece of stale bread would really get rid of the remnants and not ruin our beloved brew). I found an inexpensive model at the local kitchen store, half the price of a well-designed Swiss model, but with similar features including a ceramic mechanism. It has a little enclosed container to catch the freshly ground spices, which is a huge plus (and the Swiss Miss did not). I tested it immediately and it easily ground allspice berries to a fine, feathery powder unlike my mortar and pestle, where any round spices would jump out onto the floor. Annatto seed proved especially taxing to my white marble mortar and pestle, finally turning the waxy seeds (with the addition of olive oil) into a vibrant brick-red paste that had no intention of washing off anything, including my hands and now orange mortar and pestle. Now that I am correctly equipped with a spice grinder, I am ready – let the Spice Games begin!