Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spice Delight

One of the things my sweet Hubs gave me for Christmas was the gift of organization, in the form of a new system for storing my spices. The more I've delved into cooking over the past few years, the more spices I've collected. The collection outgrew my previous system (if you could call half my spices on a stair-step thing in the cupboard and the other half jumbled in a basket in my pantry a "system") and it had gotten to the point that I had a hard time remembering which of the more "exotic" (i.e. rarely used) spices I actually owned vs. had only thought about buying. Which resulted in lots of rummaging, and a few accidental duplicates.

After quite a bit of research online to see what my options were (the Hubs knows me well, and wisely discerned that while I asked for a spice rack for Christmas, I would want to pick it out myself, and so at his invitation I did), and after contemplating what was really important to me when it came to my spices, I decided on The Spice Stack. It met my criteria of:
  • I can leave my spices in the bottle they came in. 
  • It can accommodate various sizes of spice containers.
  • I can arrange the spices in the order I choose. 
  • It fits in a cabinet (and specifically my unconventionally-sized over-the-sink cabinet).
  • It has space for labels, so that each spice has a designated home.
  • It requires no hardware or installation (since we rent).
Each drawer of the Spice Stack has six divided slots for spices. The three slots on the top can accommodate larger spice bottles, while the slots on the bottom can accommodate standard size spice bottles, or two of the little ones (see photo below). Each drawer pulls out and can rest open on its own as you select your spices. There's space on the end of each drawer to affix a label identifying the contents as they lay inside.

I regret that I did not think to take a "before" picture before I embarked on my spice system overhaul. It was only after I'd finished and stepped back to admire my organized cupboard that I thought "this is so beautiful I should take a picture and blog about it." And so here I am. I apologize that the photo quality isn't great, but hopefully you can still get a sense of the blessed orderliness the Spice Stacks have brought to my kitchen. (These go for $24.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond if you're interested. And don't forget to use one of their 20% off coupons!)

The start of a new year always seems to get us Americans thinking about reorganizing, decluttering, simplifying, etc. Have you taken on any such projects in this new year? Discovered any helpful products? Have a great tip to share? Leave a comment!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Destination Date Night: Marrakesh

When we got married, the Hubs and I set aside Friday evenings as our regular date night. Sometimes date night means we go out; sometimes it means we stay in and do something special together at home. For Christmas, I gave the Hubs a DVD set that I found at Costco: Jamie Oliver's Food Escapes. It's a 6-volume set in which Jamie Oliver (a.k.a. The Naked Chef) travels to various cities to experience and introduce the viewer to the local customs, culture, and cuisine. My idea behind it was this: for those weeks when a low-budget date night is in order, we'll stay in, watch one of the travelogues, learn something together, and enjoy a home-made (or perhaps take-out) dinner representative (or at least somewhat resembling) the cuisine of the featured country.

This last Friday was our first of these "Destination Date Nights," in which we savored a Moroccan-inspired dish (keep reading for the recipe) and went along with Jamie on his adventures in Marrakesh. The evening ended with an SDP (spontaneous dance party), attended by Brutus (who is still adorned with the ornaments of the season). He's a bit of a wallflower, though.

Moroccan-spiced Chickpea Chili

2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup diced carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 ground cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (29-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tb lemon juice

Heat oil in a dutch oven over med-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to pan; saute 5 minutes. Stir in spices (cumin through cayenne); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and lemon juice. Salt to taste.

This chili has a nice heat to it without being too spicy (for my tastes). Besides being a low-budget wonder, it's also vegetarian (if you use veg broth) and gluten-free (if that's a concern for you).