Seasoning savvy


Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Chef Billie DeNunzio, director of the Institute of Culinary Arts at Eastside High School, offers innovative ways to add some kick to your cooking

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Clockwise: Chilis, Basil, Garlic, Parsley, Rosemary.

They are fragrant and colorful, strong or subtle. And for many novice cooks, a bit intimidating.

But spices need not be. Using herbs and spices in small doses enhances and accents other food flavors.

Here are innovative ways to add some kick to your cooking, courtesy of Chef Billie DeNunzio, a certified culinary educator and director of the Institute of Culinary Arts at Eastside High School.

Rosemary

Rosemary can be used whole or use the leaves powdered it has a spicy, pungent flavor.

Used alone, it makes a great Rosemary chicken or fish. Combine with sage for game. Good in egg dishes, breads and cheeses. Good with most vegetables.

But have you thought about using it in baked cookies where is adds a savory note to each bite? This is one of my favorite cookies recipes: Pine Nut Cookies with Rosemary, see right.

Curry

Always used with Indian, Thai and South Asian dishes it has been adopted into all the mainstream cuisines of the Asia-Pacific area. But have you tried it with this American dish of Potato Skins?

Enjoyed as a snack or a side dish the skins boast taste and texture but the curry and cayenne pepper add kick. Add 2 teaspoons curry powder and teaspoon cayenne pepper to your 6 potatoes made ready and you will have a winner.

Parsley

An indispensable herb in every kitchen. It has many uses. Mix with lemon zest and breadcrumbs as a topping for fish, chicken or steamed vegetables. Add to crème fra”che and serve poured over pan-fried pork fillets. Mix with white sauce for a quick parsley sauce for fish. Stir through mayonnaise for extra special chicken or salmon sandwiches.

Cumin

Strong and pungent, cumin is used widely in Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Add to mashed avocado with a splash of lime juice and some coriander leaf for a quick guacamole.

Sprinkle into mashed potato with a little oregano and chili for Mexican mash.

Minced garlic

Garlic has been featured in the cuisines of the world and can be used in infinite dishes, giving a distinctive aroma and flavor. There is no end to its use.

Mix with lemon juice and coarse sea salt and use to season roasted winter vegetables and roast potatoes.

Mix with mayonnaise as a quick dip for hot chips or crudités.

Mix with soft cheese, rosemary or parsley for a Kiev-style filler for chicken.

Basil

With a rich and sweet flavor, basil is an essential ingredient in Mediterranean foods. For best results, add at the very end of cooking. But be willing to expand this favorite herb to other areas.

Try a truly fun summer salad of basil, warm strawberries and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Add to tomato soup with a little orange juice for a twist that will have guests asking for your recipe.

Mix with cream cheese and smear under chicken breast skin, wrap with a rasher of streaky bacon and oven bake.

Chili powder

The volatile oil capsaicin found in chilies provides the fiery heat essential in Asian, Mexican and West Indian cuisines. Use as much as you dare. Here are some uses besides the traditional:

Mix with butter to smear on corn on the cob or grilled steak.

Mix with butter and spread over flour tortillas. Cut into strips and bake in the oven as an alternative crisp to serve with drinks. Make extra…your guests will love them.

Smoked paprika

This bittersweet paprika has a distinctive smoky flavor and is a main ingredient in Spanish cuisine but also can be used in everyday cooking to provide a flavor boost.

Mix with crème fra”che and heat for a sauce for pork or chicken.

Mix with a little sour cream for a dip with tortilla chips. Notice I said a little sour cream, not a little smoked paprika … go for the wow taste.

Dust over beef strips before cooking for smoky fajitas.

Add a little to oil for roasted sweet potato wedges with a different flavor.

Pine Nut Cookies with Rosemary

Toasted pine nuts and a splash of best-quality olive oil lends these crumbly-chewy cookies rich flavor. Rosemary adds a savory note to each bite.

3 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted, plus more for topping cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 large eggFine sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Finely chop rosemary in a food processor. Add pine nuts; pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in 2 cups flour, baking soda, ginger and salt; set aside.

Put batter and granulated sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in oil. Reduce speed to low. Mix in flour mixture. Add cream; mix until well combined, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg, then remaining 1/4 cup flour.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls, and space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatter slightly with fingers; top each with a pine nut. Sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake cookies until golden brown, about 13 minutes. Let cool. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers up to 3 days.

Makes about 6 dozen

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