Wow, what a great way to start off 2015! Our first demonstration of the year was presented by Personal Chef, Nancy Cordi. She is the owner of Mediterranea Catering, a Personal and Private Chef Service. Nancy describes herself as a “corporate girl gone chef” who was raised in a Middle Eastern family and has loved food all of her life. After working for someone else for several years, she decided to become her own boss and follow her dream. We could all see the passion in her eyes as she described the true flavors of the of the foods that represent who she is. If the sparkle in her eyes and the glow in her cheeks is any indication of how much she enjoys cooking then she exudes joy in what she does.
I asked Nancy where her inspiration came from that led to her interest in cooking. She described being around her family at a young age and experiencing the aromas and flavors of family recipes. As she got older she became interested in various Israeli chefs and Persian cuisine. She has a strong desire to cook with the freshest ingredients to bring out the best flavors in all of her dishes. Nancy complimented Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants on the freshness of our spices by telling us there is nothing like cooking with the wide array of herbs and spices that we carry to bring out the best in her dishes. Thank you, Nancy.
The goal of this class was to bring out the warm flavors from Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants spice jars into the savory and sweet dishes Nancy was about to create for us. What impressed me the most about Nancy was how she could take something as simple as rice and mushrooms to create a fantastic side dish. All of the recipes she prepared were done with a few ingredients that packed in a lot of flavor. The key? She used fresh spices that were very warm and bold.
First she showed us how to peel and cut up a butternut squash. It never occurred to me to par-cook the squash before I began to peel it. That was step one. Step two was to use a stainless steel peeler that she showed to us. The squash peeled effortlessly once it was par-cooked in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. I was so impressed that I went out and bought a squash today so I can try it this week! Our Autumn Spice blend and local honey from the Temecula Valley Honey Company were the key to the Butternut Squash in Pecan Honey Glaze. She coated the cubed squash with the Autumn Spice blend and olive oil before baking it. Vietnamese Cinnamon and nutmeg were added to the golden Orange Blossom honey glaze with butter and toasted pecans for a crunchy finish. Yum! So simple, yet so tasty.
I bet you didn’t know that the little spice called nutmeg is actually a powerhouse for health benefits. It is said to have benefits such as aiding in relieving a toothache with it’s oils to controlling acne and eczema. Not a very appetizing thought considering it tastes so good in a variety of dishes, but it is worth looking into how healthy nutmeg is for use in future recipes.
The second dish Nancy prepared was using our Himalayan Red Rice. Just like on the cooking shows you may have seen on television, some things had been prepared to save some time. The rice was already to go and all she had to do was heat it up and prepare the Crimini Mushroom sauce.
Now, if you have never tried Himalayan Red Rice then you have been missing out on a whole new world of rice. It is truly red in color and has a firm texture that is similar to a brown rice, but is a bit more chewier and nuttier tasting.
I would like to digress just for a moment and let you know the health benefits of Himalayan Red Rice. These days, there are people who won’t eat rice because it is a four letter word ~ CARB! It really doesn’t have to be a bad word. Let me explain. Using this rice as an example, it actually has a lot of beneficial components in it. If you tend to be on the anemic side, then it may be a good food for you to try. It contains about 2% of your Daily Value (DV) of Iron per serving. Combine it with a food that is rich in Vitamin C like diced red bell peppers, broccoli, or kale to help with Iron absorption and you will have an very healthy side dish. If you have a family history of diverticulitis, Himalayan Red Rice, as part of a healthy diet, may help to decrease your risk of developing the disease. There are compounds called proanthocyanidins that are antioxidants which are linked to helping with hypertension and also hyperglycemia. So, if you high blood pressure or high blood sugar, this may be a good food for you to incorporate into your diet. Talk to your doctor to see if this would be a good choice for you. It is also gluten-free for those who need to choose foods to fit into that diet style as well.
One cup serving of the rice has 200 calories, 48 grams of Carbohydrates, 3 grams Fiber, 4 grams of Protein, 0 Fat, 80% DV Manganese, 20% DV Magnesium, 20% DV Phosphorous & 6% DV Zinc. Overall, it is a flavorful choice for a great accompaniment to any meal.
Okay, back to the rice dish. Basically, Nancy had already cooked the rice with some chicken stock, sea salt, butter, garlic powder, allspice, and nutmeg. While the precooked rice was heating she combined sliced mushrooms, unsalted butter, sea salt, sherry wine vinegar, and bit more allspice together. Those simple ingredients made the most incredible sauce for the rice. Then, she topped it off by toasting some almonds and garnishing it with some freshly chopped Italian parsley. It was warm, crunchy, and fresh tasting.
Now, what would the evening be without some type of dessert? Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants carries Candied Ginger pieces and many people don’t know what to do with them. Well, here is one answer that ended up tasting superb! Nancy made an Orange Yogurt Loaf with Candied Ginger Glaze. She used Greek yogurt for added protein.
If you are looking something good to do with orange zest then this is the recipe for you. There are three teaspoons of zest in this loaf. Nancy mentioned that she often zests an orange and keeps the zest in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks to have on hand. After it is zested it can be juiced. It will be easier that way.
The warm spices for this loaf were cardamom and ground ginger. Cardamom is often used in Indian cuisine. It has a whole list of health benefits on its resume. Did you know it is an anti-spasmodic? It may help you get rid of the hiccups the next time you come down with a bad case of them. It is also a great digestive aide. Since it comes from the ginger family it is no wonder it helps to relieve bloating, nausea, and heartburn.
The glaze is where the candied ginger was used. Nancy put some Orange Blossom honey, orange marmalade , water and the candied ginger in a saucepan. While the marmalade was melting down, the ginger pieces were softening. When it was all done, she poured it over the entire sliced cake. It was rich and gooey. When it was served I didn’t hear any complaints. Just silence as everyone was savoring each bite.
Now, all of the actual recipes can be found at Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants should you want to give them a try. I can’t wait to put on a nice pork roast and make the Butternut Squash with Pecan Honey Glaze and Himalayan Red Rice with Slivered Almonds & Crimini Mushrooms as a side dish. The Orange Yogurt Loaf with Candied Ginger Glaze will be the perfectly light ending to a fantastic meal.
I can’t wait for Nancy to come back in the future and show us what else she has up her Chef sleeve!