Does anyone else have a spice wish list? Please tell me it isn’t just me. How the contents of tiny little spice jars can transform dishes still seems like true magic. A bland dish can be picked up by just a pinch of the right thing. It’s one of my favourite things about cooking and my love of spices would be pretty evident if you were to take a peek in to our spice cupboard.
A member of the Harvey Nichols PR team heard about my obsession and sent me my dream Christmas present, the Alcehmical Larder from Laura Santtini.
It’s a 16 jar kit of spice, seasoning and sheer genius- a far cry from the typical ‘spice kits’ you see in most department stores. Let’s take a look at my latest love…
They remind me of Moroccan lanterns with their warm and vibrant colours. If all these jars were empty, I think I’d still love them. Some of the spice names are equally magnificent: renaissance star dust, white mischief, carnal sin and salt of the earth.
It’s the floral, spicy salt of the earth you can see in the pink jar at the front of the above photo. It’s probably the prettiest of the pack with pyramids of salt and tiny purple flower heads. I haven’t used it yet but it’s only worthy to top a show stopping dish.
The spilled pinkish beads from the blue jar are baies rose, a type of pink peppercorn from Peru. They’re incredibly sweet for a pepper and lend them selves well to spicing up desserts.
In pink above we have persian rose petals and three purple jars with Mediterranean lavender, whole nutmeg and raw cacao nibs (which I used in my seed brittle recipe). The two orange jars here hold bitter orange (also used in my seed brittle) and furikake, a Japanese rice seasoning.
The green jar above contains grains of paradise. Legend has it these seeds floated out of the Gardens of Eden on the rivers of paradise where they were collected for trade. Their use in food is certainly ancient but somewhere along the way the story grew in to something quite far fetched. Is there a pinch of truth in the tale? Sadly, I doubt it. I’m far from a Bible scholar but the grains are native to Africa’s West Coast and most biblical theologists would place Eden much further East than that.
Although the back story is a little bit disappointing, the grains really are worthy of the paradise tag, combining flavours of pepper, lemon, cardamom and coriander. They’re easily substituted for black pepper but show off exceptionally well on steak or fish. Have you tried them? You’ve probably tasted these without knowing as they’re commonly used by brewers in ales and beer.
The red jar on the far left contains the rather cheekily named ‘Pene de Diablo’ or devils penis chillies.
According to Heston Blumenthal these African birds eye are the crucial ingredient in his chilli con carne. I must say he isn’t wrong, I’ve made a fair few chillies in my time and parts of Heston’s recipe have made their way in to mine and Matt’s ‘perfect chilli’.
The set of 16 is £29.95 from Harvey Nicholls which I think is a bargain considering the contents. The saffron alone would account for a sixth of the cost if bought from the supermarket yet you can rest assured the standard of spice in this kit is far superior. The smoked paprika, albeit more of a ‘normal’ inclusion, is the best I’ve smelled.
I can’t think of a gift more suited for the foodie in your life. If you order by standard delivery before the 20th, it can be here in time to surprise someone special this Christmas. They also have a wonderful selection of Christmas hampers if you’re still looking for gifts.
P.S After taking these photos I learnt that the best way to get to know your spices is to take all the lids off and try and match them up again by scent. Sniff!
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