Some people get excited about buying a new outfit or a killer pair of 4 inch high heels, I sadly get excited about buying food. Yep that's me....the sad food geek that can't resist buying fancy food items. Take last week for example – I was over the moon to track down some beautifully elegant and exotic Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup! Perfect, a total delight and just in time for Valentines Day! I also particularly love gourmet items like flavoured oils, salts and spices. You can imagine my delight therefore at some of the beautiful Christmas presents I got from my brother and sister-in-law. As mentioned in my 'Cute As A Button' post, the beautiful, sparkly, pastel sugar buttons were from them. But they didn't stop there! Add to the buttons 12 pastel silicon cupcake cases and I was all set for making my pretty little cupcakes. Next (and like the buttons, also from Paris) was a delicate jar of dried purple flower petals, ideal for scattering over cakes and desserts for a beautiful finishing touch.
Merging into the savoury side was a jar of vanilla salt (courtesy of Heston & Waitrose). I don't think I've mentioned it yet but I have a slight thing for different types of salt and can't resist buying anything I see that is a little bit different. Up until Christmas I certainly didn't have any vanilla salt but I couldn't be happier to add it to my collection (which I will tell you about later). Also added to my collection (yes there was more!) was a bag of gleaming pink “Diamond Crystals of Rose Salt” - the name says it all! From Terre Exotique (www.terreexotique.com) these rose hued Himalayan rock salt crystals came complete with a fine grater ready to be put on a dish and on the table for everyone to help themselves to – what a conversation starter and another salt ticked off my list that I didn't have!
And last, although I have purposely saved the best for last, was the most amazing and magical box I have ever seen for the kitchen - Laura Santtini's Alchemical Larder. Entitled '16 magical ingredients & some notions for potions' just looking in this box makes me schoolgirl giggly and gives me a ridiculous sense of being somewhat closer to being a student at Hogwart's and concocting delicious, but magical meals! Within the box are 16 little glass pots ranging in colour from yellow, orange and fuchsia to lavender, jade and turquoise, all sealed with a gleaming gold lid. Each beautiful pot contains its own special ingredient. Some are filled with spices that you will have heard of and possibly have such as Sumac, Saffron, Nutmeg and Smoked Paprika, but then there are the real 'magical' ingredients like White Mischief; Persian Rose; Grains of Paradise and Carnal Sin to name a few. I could tell you what they all actually are but for the time being I'll leave you guessing what wonders are contained within those beautifully named jars. Honestly just peering into this box at the gleaming jars makes me feel like an alchemist! To go with the box was a little cylinder of 'Inca Stardust Savoury Sprinkles', an alchemy of bitter chocolate, chilli, burnt orange, edible silver & gold dust! It is without doubt the most amazing food-related present I've ever had, so thank you Scott and Susan!
Unfortunately however since I'm not an alchemist my culinary skills related to food luxuries only goes as far as some flavoured oils, salt and syrups. That being said the whole point of the Alchemical larder is to add flavours that enhance your meal and really it is just a blend of spices and salts that enhance certain flavours so I get pretty excited by my own flavour enhancers!
In the UK you can very easily get flavoured oils that aren't overly expensive,however I've noticed that here in Canada it's not only quite difficult to get such items but if you do track them down they are generally pretty expensive, which is why I decided to make some of my own and share them with you.
I don't expect you to get as excited as I do, but for me knowing that I have some homemade oils and salts in my cupboard ready and waiting to enhance something with makes me happy, so let the magic begin!
Wickedly Hot Chilli Oil
I use this intensely hot oil to drizzle over things just before serving. Since I don't generally cook with it I like to add a little Extra Virgin Olive oil once it has cooled – if you prefer though you can miss this out. Delicious drizzled over pizza, pasta, mozzarella and other salads that you want to add a little heat to!
250ml olive oil
4-5 dried red chillies, cut lengthwise in half (stopped just before the green stem)
100ml extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Put the oil and chillies into a small pan and heat over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring to a bottle or jar.
Since I use this oil to cook with I use a mild olive oil. Use it whenever you would normally use ordinary olive oil and would like an extra flavour of garlic.
5-6 cloves of garlic
300ml olive oil
Using the flat side of a knife (or can can just use your hands) crush the garlic cloves. Peel the crushed cloves then add them to a small pan. Add the olive then gently heat until the edges of the garlic are just beginning to bubble and sizzle ever so slightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring into a bottle or a jar. (You can add the garlic cloves to the decanted oil if you want - I normally do but only leave them in for a couple of days before removing them.)