Casella Okulaja

In the Kitchen with David: More on His Inside Look at Spice Islands

I was thrilled when David Lebovitz agreed to partner with Spice Islands as a Flavor Explorer blogger! To initiate him to the team, we took David to The Chopping Block in downtown Chicago where one of our food scientists gave him an inside look at Spice Islands products – where they are grown and harvested, and how they are handled once they pass through our doors. For example, did you know that vanilla orchids must be pollinated by hand on the very day they bloom to produce vanilla beans? The painstaking process means the beans are quite valuable. In fact, some growers physically brand each bean to prevent theft. (Check out David’s thoughts on that day in his blog post here!)

And yes, I am obligated to mention David’s love for Spice Islands wasabi I’ve never seen anyone take a straight shot of so much wasabi at one time. I’m glad his taste buds were still functional after that! We decided that only David would use Spice Islands wasabi as a palate cleanser.

The best part of the day was sampling and cooking with the spices. David took our popular cinnamon challenge, a head-to-head comparison of Spice Islands Saigon cinnamon to traditional grocery store cinnamon. Saigon cinnamon has a much more robust, warmer flavor. It was great to witness David seeing, smelling and tasting the difference! Want to try it yourself? You’ll need a bottle of Spice Islands Saigon cinnamon and a bottle of traditional cinnamon. Compare the color and aroma, then put a tiny bit of each on your tongue (one at a time). I promise the difference will amaze you!

The next day, David was signing copies of his popular book The Sweet Life in Paris for his fans at the fabulous Hotel Allegro. The hotel’s pastry chef, Kim Schwenke whipped up some tasty Spice Islands desserts in honor of the occasion. And, they were so good that we begged Kim to share the recipes with us. Thankfully, she obliged. Now go grab your bottles of Spice Islands cinnamon and vanilla and hit the kitchen!

Until next time,

Casella Okulaja
Senior Associate Brand Manager
Spice Islands

Meyer Lemon Ginger Limoncello Spritzer

Recipe by Kim Schwenke, Pastry Chef at 312 Chicago

Yields 8 drinks
6 Meyer lemons
1 tbsp. Spice Islands ground ginger
2 pieces Spice Islands crystalized ginger
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups water
16 oz. club soda
6 oz. Limóncello
2 cups ice

To make the lemon ginger syrup: Peel the six Meyer lemons.  Blanch and chill the peels twice to remove bitter taste.  Combine blanched peels with sugar, both gingers, water in a pot and bring to a boil.  Cool down and reserve overnight to infuse flavor into syrup.  Juice the peeled lemons, strain the juice and reserve until the next day.

The next day, strain the syrup and store in a glass or plastic container.  Combine 8 oz. of syrup, the club soda, lemon juice, and Limóncello and stir to combine.  Pour over glasses filled halfway with crushed ice.  Omit the Limóncello to make non-alcoholic versions.

Walnut Crepes with Saigon Cinnamon Rhubarb Jam
Recipe by Kim Schwenke, Pastry Chef at 312 Chicago

2 tbsp. (1 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. Spice Islands orange peel
½ tsp. Spice Islands whole nutmeg, grated
¼ tsp. Spice Islands ground cloves
1 tsp. Spice Islands ground Saigon cinnamon
½ tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients except the walnuts in blender. Blend until crepe batter is smooth.  Scrape down sides of blender several times until all the flour is combined.  Add the walnuts and blend one more time, until the walnut pieces are small enough not to tear the crepes while cooking.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.  Cook crepes in a nonstick sauté pan over medium flame. Fill with Saigon cinnamon rhubarb jam (see recipe below).

Saigon Cinnamon Rhubarb Jam

1 lb. fresh rhubarb
8 oz. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. Spice Islands ground Saigon cinnamon
½ tsp. Spice Islands ground nutmeg
1 tbsp. Spice Islands orange peel

Wash the rhubarb, cut off both ends and cut stalks into slices ½ inch long.  Mix with sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon and store in a non-reactive container (such as glass or ceramic) overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, strain the rhubarb pieces out of the juice.  Put the juice in a stainless sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Cook for five minutes boiling, and then add rhubarb pieces back into syrup.  Cook for another two minutes just until rhubarb pieces are heated through.  Cool and store in refrigerator.

Chevre Vanilla Cheesecake
Recipe by Kim Schwenke, Pastry Chef at 312 Chicago

1lb, 4oz (20 oz.) goat cheese
8 oz. nonfat Greek yogurt
4 oz. heavy cream
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. Spice Islands Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Spice Islands vanilla bean, inside scraped out. Reserve scraped out bean for garnish.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Let goat cheese soften.  Mix goat cheese, heavy cream and Greek yogurt in mixer with a paddle just until combined.  Do not add air.  Put sugar, salt, vanilla extract, scraped vanilla bean, eggs and yolk into mixer with whisk attachment and beat on high until the mixture falls like a ribbon from the whisk when it is lifted out of the bowl.  This will take about 3 minutes.  Fold the egg mixture into cheese mixture and bake in greased 10-inch spring form pan for 20 minutes.

The pan should be resting in a larger pan with a water bath.  After 20 minutes, turn oven down to 275 and continue to bake until the cheesecake wobbles but does not wave when tapped on the side.  If the cheesecake starts to color on the top, use a piece of aluminum foil to cover.

This recipe was inspired by a recipe in Kate Zuckerman’s excellent book “The Sweet Life”.

Polenta Cookies
Recipe by Kim Schwenke, Pastry Chef at 312 Chicago

3 cups toasted cornmeal
12 oz. butter (softened)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 Spice Islands vanilla beans, insides scraped out.
1 tbsp. Spice Islands Pure Vanilla Extract
4 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place your cornmeal on a baking sheet and spread across pan.  Toast the cornmeal in the oven until it is golden brown, the color of a croissant.  This will take about 30 minutes.  During the toasting, stir the cornmeal around a few times to expose the bottom layer of cornmeal to the toasting.

When the cornmeal is toasted and cooled, put in an electric mixer with the butter, sugar, scraped vanilla beans, vanilla extract and salt.  Beat with the paddle attachment on high until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, scrape down the butter mixture and mix just until combined.  Add the flour and mix just until combined.  Chill the dough for 2 hrs.  Roll the dough out to a thickness of ½ inch. Cut to desired shape.  You can combine and re-roll the scraps two times. Bake on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

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One Response to In the Kitchen with David: More on His Inside Look at Spice Islands

  1. nik says:

    Must have been a fabulous cinnamon-scented field trip! Thanks for the great recipes…I haven’t had Limoncello for ages and this will be a perfect summer chiller. Cheers!