French Four Spice (Quatre Épices)

As you all know by now I'm off enjoying a two week vacation to Paris with my husband. We're staying in the arrondissement des Gobelins, or 13th arrondissement. This out of the way section of the city isn't as popular with tourists, but the quiet residential area appeals to me and our hotel is located within meters of a metro stop giving us easy access to the rest of the city. It's also within walking distance of the largest Chinatown in Europe, which I can't wait to explore. This trip is sure to be an amazing adventure full of new people, new tastes, beautiful architecture, and museums I never dreamed of seeing. I'll make sure to give you all an update once I return.

Since discovering that I was going to be taking a trip to France I've done all I can to read up on their cuisine. Much like the different regions of the U.S. each region of France has it's own distinct style of cooking. Île-de-France the district where Paris is located is somewhat of a melting pot when it comes to food. You can expect to find the latest in haute cuisine as well as more traditional dishes from other regions. During my reading I was surprised to discover how simple, yet flavorful many of the regional dishes were. I think due to the reputation the French have with elevating food to a whole new level many people wrongfully assume that it is difficult to prepare. As I've discovered that isn't the case with many regional dishes, which are very unlike the haute cuisine of Paris that typically comes to mind when many people think of French cooking. While I'm off on my trip I'll be sharing several recipes with you that even the most inexperienced cook will be able to prepare at home with little difficulty.

I'll be starting off with a blend of spices called French Four Spice, or quatre épices. Even if you don't commonly cook French cuisine it's a great spice blend to have on hand. In traditional French cooking it is commonly used to add depth to charcuterie (prepared meats such as sausage or ham) as well as soups, stews, and desserts. When I first discovered it I was surprised by how much it resembled the combination of spices I use to make gingerbread; all the blend lacked was all-spice, which I later found is sometimes added to the blend in place of ginger. At first it seemed like an odd combination to use with savory dishes, but when combined with a little kosher salt it quickly became one of my favorite spice rubs to use with pork roast. I hope you enjoy experimenting with it as much as I have.

French Four Spice
makes 4 - 6 servings

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons white pepper, ground
2 Tablespoons nutmeg, ground
2 Tablespoons ginger, ground
1 Tablespoon cloves, ground

Directions

  • Combine white pepper, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Mix well and store in an airtight container.

Eggnog French Toast

Sometimes you need a sugar rush to get your morning started which is why French toast easily makes my top 5 favorite breakfast foods list. It's perfect for Sunday brunch, dinner, any time you need comforting, or as is often my case, when I need to feed a large crowd. The recipe scales easily to accommodate larger groups or you can make enough for an individual serving or two if you're cooking for one. If you don't have eggnog on hand you can substitute milk, half and half, or heavy cream for the eggnog. If you aren't going to make this with eggnog, try adding a teaspoon of vanilla to the batter before cooking to give it a little extra flavor. As you can see this recipe is flexible, which is one of the reasons I love it so much.

EggnogFrenchToast.jpg

Eggnog French Toast
makes approximately 6-8 servings

Ingredients

2 large eggs
1 cup eggnog
6-8 pieces of Texas toast, or bread of your choice
Real maple syrup (don't skip this, you'll thank me later for forcing you to use the real stuff!) 

Optional:

butter
powdered sugar
ground nutmeg

Directions

  • Preheat a non-stick electric griddle to 300°F or melt butter in a skillet with heat set to medium.
  • In a bowl whisk together eggs and eggnog until well combined.
  • Soak both sides of the bread in eggnog mixture, making sure both sides are well coated. Cook until golden brown, then flip and cook second side. 
  • Place cooked French toast on a baking sheet covered with foil to keep warm while cooking the other pieces. Sprinkle with nutmeg (optional), then serve. 

Pumpkin Pie Spice

This time of year so many recipes call for pumpkin pie spice, but what spices actually make up this popular blend? The answer really depends on which brand you use, so lets take a look at some common brands.

McCormick: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sulfiting agents
Penzey's: China cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, mace, cloves
Simply Organic: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves
Spice Hunter: cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, Chinese 5 spice
Trader Joes: ground cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom

Just for fun, lets also take a look at some vintage pumpkin pie spice combinations I found using Google Image Search.

Ann Page: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, sweet orange peel
Ben-Hur: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, mace
Farmer's Pride: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and salt 
French's: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg
Jack Sprat: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves
Schilling: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice

You may have noticed that these blends can vary widely depending on the brand and this is likely why your pumpkin pie never tastes quite like your grandmother's. Feel free to use my recipe as a jumping off point and experiment until you find your perfect combination. I'll admit, I'm intrigued by some of the additions listed in the vintage brands and fully plan on trying some additional combinations once I run out of my current batch of spice mix.Pumpkin Pie Spice 
makes approximately 25 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg 
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cloves

optional

cardamom
Chinese five spice
lemon peel
mace
salt
sweet orange peel

Directions

  • In a small bowl, combine together cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves and any optional ingredients. Mix well and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Recipe Inspiration

Pumpkin Pie Spice I - Allrecipes.com