Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce: The Umami Mother Lode

Umami is a difficult taste experience to explain. Even Firefox's spell-check is confused and wants to replace Umami with "Mamie" (note to Mozilla: taste and Al Jolson don't exactly go together). Umami sounds like a cat call, a fumbling step towards ecstasy; it sounds nothing  like "pleasant savory taste" which is the word's literal translation from the Japanese. Technically speaking, umami is the savory sensation provoked by glutamate containing foods such as shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, eggs, beef, pork, chicken and a long list of other umami rich foods containing the nucleotides inosinate and guanylate.

When it comes to understanding umami, experience trumps explanation. Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce is Umami 101. Apple cider vinegar, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Michigan wildflower honey, ginger, paprika and cayenne build the body of this hot sauce, but the kicker isn't the spice; it's the umami packing, wheat-free tamari-infused bouillon base, which also includes dulse (that's seaweed for all you meat eaters).

Colleen Clancy invented Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce in Ann Arbor, Michigan while trying to add a bit of zip to a recipe for Tofu Pepperoni. After serving her hot sauce at a vegetarian potluck dinner word of mouth led to a successful Michigan-based hot sauce business that's 30 years old. The only thing that has changed since Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce was created is Ms. Clancy's diet; she's a meat-eater now. Ooh, what a little moonlight umami can do for you...

Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce can be purchased at their online store. The hot sauce is formulated in three strengths: mild, hot and extra hot. Bottles are sold in 3.75 oz. and 7.5 oz. sizes.

The Umami Information Center offers an extensive amount of data on "the fifth taste". This link provides a list of the types of foods containing umami.

Our feline friends have a leg up on umami when it comes to cat cravings. Like humans, cats have T1R1, T1R2 and T1R3 taste receptors. Sweet tastes bind to T1R2 and T1R3. Umami tastes bind to T1R1 and T1R3. Cats' T1R2 gene is non-functional which is why cats are not fond of sweets, but love umami.

Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce is great for people living with smell and taste disorders. Umami rich foods have a savory character that induces salivation which in turn stimulates appetite. A diet high in umami also helps cancer patients who experience taste disorders and dry mouth from their treatments. The mild version of Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce is suited to delicate palates. To learn more about anosmia read "Anosmia Matters: Whether You Can Smell or Not."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Art of Spice Blending: Lebanese Seven Spices

When it comes to adding flavor with spice home cooks regularly add a pinch of this or a pinch of that to their culinary creations. Whether you cook by instinct or prefer the carefully measured approach of a finely tuned recipe, the art of spice blending is a worthwhile indulgence. The most rewarding aspect of blending your own spices is the level of intimacy one develops with individual materials that comprise the blend, as well as resulting synergies amongst the spices. A deeper understanding of flavor transpires as does a level of sensuality that is transmitted from the hands of the cook to the palate of the guest.

Lebanese Seven Spices is a versatile mixture that can be easily made by the home cook. It can be used to season vegetables, meat or as a seasoning to coat mirepoix used in soups and stews. There are as many variations of Lebanese Seven Spices as there are cooks, but one of the best versions can be found in Faye Levy's Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible. Glass Petal Smoke cites specific spices over Levy's general choices in the formula for Lebanese Seven Spices:

Lebanese Seven Spices Blend
by Faye Levy
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground Black Tellicherry Pepper
  • 1 tbsp ground Chinese Cassia Cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground Ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground Guatemalan Cardamom
  • 1 tbsp ground Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground Coriander Seed
  • 1 tbsp ground Cumin Seed (Allspice can be substituted in kind)
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated Nutmeg (1 tsp Chili Powder or 1 tsp Ground Cloves may be added if using Allspice in the previous step).
If you would like to marry Lebanese Seven Spices with a Middle Eastern creation, Glass Petal Smoke's Turkey Baharat will do nicely. Substitute two tablespoons of Lebanese Seven Spices for the Baharat seasoning in the original recipe and voila; you are a mistress/master of spices!

Faye Levy's Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible book is out of print, but you can find used copies online. It is filled with excellent recipes and it a worthwhile addition to any cookbook collection. The recipe for Lebanese Seven Spices is on page 13. Ms. Levy writes a food column for The Jerusalem Post. 

The Spice House in Chicago is a great source for fresh spices. They sell spices in jars and in bags so you can purchase the amounts you need. 

Bormioli Rocco manufactures terrific glass jars in a variety of sizes in their Quattro Stagione line. Their half ounce canning jar is perfect for storing homemade spice blends. Ace Hardware sells individual jars in-store in a variety of sizes at terrific prices. P.S. Bormioli Rocco is also known for manufacturing beautiful perfume bottles.

The photograph that accompanies this post was taken by Riyaad Minty on Flicker Creative Commons with embellishments by Glass Petal Smoke. Some rights reserved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Olfactory Diary: A Tool for Developing Your Sense of Smell

Winter is the perfect time to focus on developing your sense of smell. Nature hibernates as landscapes reveal starkness and texture, animating imagination in leafless boughs dusted with snow. Though you cannot see them, the leaves that will bud in spring exist in a state of potential; just like your ability to develop your sense of smell. 

Beginning an olfactory diary in winter allows you to focus on the ordinary in your surroundings. We are naturally drawn inward during the colder months; in the physical space of buildings and in our souls. Our sense of smell can relish the mingling of spices in an aromatic stew, the scent of fireplace embers, the comfort of a cup of coffee; all with the same level of mindfulness. Keeping an olfactory diary allows one to catalog olfactory impressions for future reflection and see how they evolve over time.

The best way to keep an olfactory diary is by taking advantage of the simplicity of paper and pencil. If you want to add a sensorial element to the experience you can choose a pencil like the storied Palomino Blackwing (602) made of fine incense cedar, the same material used in perfumery.  Many wonderful notebooks exist that are well suited to an olfactory diary. Hermes house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena is fond of using Moleskine notebooks which might inspire those with a penchant for the art of perfumery. Glass Petal Smoke's favorite notebook is the orange Rhodia Webbie as the paper is extraordinary sensual for pencil writing.

Keeping an olfactory diary allows you to catalog scent and time. All you have to do is stop, smell, listen to your inner voice and write. Make 2012 the year you get in touch with your sense of smell. You'll have 365 scent memories worth cherishing that will last a lifetime.

Click on the "Stop, Smell, Listen and Write" graphic created for this blog post and print a copy for inspiration; visually or as the cover page of your olfactory diary. 

Jean-Claude Elena shares his experience as a perfumer and reveals the inner workings of the "business" of perfume in "Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent."

"Developing Your Sense of Taste & Smell," offers tips on how to develop an olfactory/gustatory vocabulary.  

Palomino Pencils enjoy a cult following and peaked the interest of Fortune magazine last May. 

Graphic of "Stop, Smell, Listen and Write," ©2012 by Michelle Krell Kydd.  All rights reserved.