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.

Basic Cajun Seasoning Mix

Cajun seasoning easily makes the top 5 list of spice blends that I consider a necessity to always have on hand. It's often called for in dishes such as dirty rice, gumbo, or jambalaya, but Cajun and Creole dishes aren't the only thing it's good for. It's a great way to spice up fish or chicken to make it a little more interesting, you can try it on french fries, corn, or any number of other dishes that could use a little kick. If you haven't tried Cajun seasoning before, then you're really missing out, it's one flexible spice blend. SPOILER ALERT! We'll be using it next month for the dirty rice recipe I'll be posting for Mardi Gras.

Now lets take a look at what spices actually make up this popular blend. 

Frontier Organic: Organic paprika, organic onion, organic garlic, organic marjoram, organic thyme, organic fennel seed, organic cumin, organic cayenne

McCormick Gourmet: Garlic, Spices (Including Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Oregano, And Chili Pepper), Sea Salt, Onion, Paprika, Red And Green Bell Peppers.

Penzey's: paprika, salt, celery, sugar, garlic, black pepper, onion, oregano, red pepper, caraway, dill, turmeric, cumin, bay, mace, cardamom, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme

Slap Ya Mama!:Salt, Red Pepper, Black Pepper, Garlic. No MSG

Spice Hunter: Paprika, onion, garlic, black pepper, lemon peel, chile pepper, allspice, thyme, cloves, mace, red pepper, bay leaf

You'll find a few key herbs and spices in each of the above blends, but every commercial manufacturer adds something different to make their blend stand out. Feel free to use my recipe as a jumping off point and experiment until you find your perfect combination. Even though I've been making this spice blend for years, I still continue to tweak my recipe every time I make it. I thought the inclusion of marjoram in a few of the blends was an interesting addition so I think I'll try that out the next time I need to make another batch.

CajunSeasoning.jpg

Basic Cajun Seasoning Mix
makes approximately 5 servings

Ingredients

4 teaspoons garlic salt 
2½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1¼ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon thyme

optional:

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions

  • Combine garlic salt, smoked paprika, oregano, black pepper, white pepper, minced onion, cayenne pepper, basil, thyme, and optional red pepper flakes. Mix well and store in an airtight container.

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