The Family Dinner, by Laurie David…and YOU

We’ve just returned from the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. One of the featured guests at the show was activist Laurie David.

Laurie’s new book, The Family Dinner, draws on one of Laurie’s passions: creating more awareness about the importance of the family dinner to the health and well-being of both children and parents.

We’re all for this crusade, and also appreciate her tips to help make it easier for you all to start, keep, and pass on this tradition in your homes.

We have a Cooking with Kids article on our website offering you ideas for ways you can creatively engage your kids in the kitchen. We’ve found that involving them in the process makes them want to share the meal afterwards all that much more.

And while sharing the responsibilities of cooking with the younger people in your life, introduce them to the fun of using spices. It’s a great way for them to use their creativity and curiosity to dream up new and interesting dishes, which in turn keeps them coming back for more fun and sharing.

This recipe dresses up peas with spices and pasta. It’s a good way to integrate farmer’s market goodies into the lessons in the kitchen, too.

Give it a try and let us know what happens!

Picnic Peas & Pasta Salad

You can add any garden-fresh veggies (like cukes, peppers, green beans, tomatoes) to this salad staple.

Ingredients:
4 cups cooked pasta (bowties work well)
1 cup cooked and cooled green peas
1/4 cup shredded carrot
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon thyme leaf
1 to 2 teaspoons tarragon leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions:
Combine pasta, peas and carrots together in a serving dish.In a small bowl or jar, whisk together remaining ingredients (except pepper). Pour dressing over pasta combo and mix well. Sprinkle with pepper.

Please share your family meal ideas with us. Did you grow up in a house where this was a priority? How do you make sure you all sit down together in your house? Do you see the benefits?

Creating the Perfect Pickle

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who’s never forgotten the fun of canning and pickling the bounty from your garden. Or you’re one of the many new people joining in this time-tested way to enjoy your crops all year long.

A symbol of both thrift and abundance, the pickle jar is a staple in every well-stocked pantry. If growing your own pickles doesn’t strike your fancy, you’re still a pickler if you enjoy mixing up that lively relish recipe or gourmet side dish of spicy pickled mango.

Using an array of spices and a variety of produce (think outside the cucumber patch), you can easily make your own signature pickles.

You’ll find it easy to experiment when making pickles, because the basic ingredients and processes are similar

If you’re going to make pickles, good spices are essential to good pickling. If you have fresh spices in the garden, like stalks of graceful dill, include those for visual interest and fresh taste.

But dried spices — whole, ground, and crushed — are really all you need.

For ease and dependability, you might want to keep a ready-made pickling blend on hand. You can have some fun concocting your own custom spice combinations, too. One person’s favorite pickles might highlight the warm sweetness of cardamom and allspice, for example, while another cook’s favorite blend might pop with chili peppers and garlic.

Here’s our favorite blend to get you on your way.  This is where the bulk section can really be your friend – buy a pinch or buy a pound of these ingredients, depending on the size of your project.

GET-YOU-STARTED PICKLING SPICE BLEND

Use this recipe as a rough guideline, and vary amounts and spice choices according to taste. Simply combine all ingredients to make about 1/4 cup of blend. Make small batches of several blends and use your assortment on pickling day.

one 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken up

3 bay leaves, torn into small pieces

2 small dried chili peppers cut into small pieces

2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed

2 teaspoons dill seed

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed

Finally, here are a few key things to keep in mind:

  • Use soft water, or distilled or bottled water. Hard water interferes with the curing process.
  • Use vinegars—cider, white, or others—with 4 to 6 percent acetic acid. Commercial vinegars meet this requirement, and you can buy a ph meter to test homemade vinegars.
  • Use pickling salt—not table salt that contains iodine or anti-caking agents or sea salt, which contains trace minerals. Pickling salt (and kosher salt) is free of additives that might discolor ingredients.
  • Use pots, pans, and bowls that are unchipped enamel, stainless, or glass. Galvanized, copper, brass, or iron pans or utensils can react with the salts or acids and change the color and taste of the pickles or even form toxic compounds.

Please visit our Facebook page and post a photo of your pickle or canning project – we’ll randomly choose one of you to win a great batch of canning accessories and spices!

New Twists on Everyday Spices

As we seek healthier eating habits while dealing with tighter budgets, cooking and eating at home is more attractive than ever. If you’re an at-home cook looking for an easy way to expand your culinary horizons, you might try creating some new taste sensations in familiar dishes by using new versions of your favorite spices to liven up family favorites.

Here are some to consider:

Cinnamon is an especially popular spice that comes from the bark of an evergreen tree. For an even sweeter seasoning, try Vietnamese cinnamon. Compared to the more familiar Indonesian types, Vietnamese cinnamon has a distinctly sweet flavor and exceptionally high volatile oil content, the key flavor component. Gourmet cooks rate it as the highest-quality cinnamon in the world. Try using it in everything from oatmeal and baked goods to desserts, beverages and savory dishes.

If you love heat in your food, you’ve probably learned the ways of cayenne. Cayenne adds color and flavor to Southwestern salsas, Indian chutneys, Thai curries, Mexican enchiladas, Chinese stir-fries, Texan chili con carne, Cajun hot sauce and many other recipes. But for a smokier flavor, try chipotle peppers, which are actually dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Their smoky-sweet flavor is often used in Southwestern and Mexican dishes. Add a dash to liven up everything from chili to barbequed fare.

Freshly ground black pepper is popular in a wide variety of foods, works well in combination with other herbs and spices and is commonly found in spice blends. To change things up, try using Sichuan (Szechuan) pepper instead of black pepper to add an exotic twist to recipes. Gourmet Sichuan pepper is grown in China and offers an unusual, pungent flavor that begins as warm and lemon-like with woodsy overtones and finishes with a more intense bite. It intensifies the flavor of fish, poultry, cheese, and vegetables.

You’ve probably been using vanilla extract to flavor all kinds of desserts, beverages and other dishes. One way to ramp up the flavor is to switch to vanilla beans instead of using the liquid extract. Simply substitute one vanilla bean for each teaspoon of extract, cooking it with the liquid used in the recipe and then removing it. The most common type of vanilla, Bourbon vanilla beans, are grown in Madagascar and are very aromatic with a full, rich taste. But to bump up the flavor, try Papua New Guinea vanilla beans, cultivated in the lowlands of the Pacific Basin. They have a fruitier taste than that of the Bourbon beans, with some notes of cherry that add a deep, longlasting flavor to ice creams, frosting, and many beverages.

Nutmeg is the dried seed of the fruit of an evergreen, which most often comes in ground form. However, nutmeg, like many spices, loses both flavor and aroma after it’s ground. Instead, buy whole nutmeg and grind it yourself using a special nutmeg grater or a fine grater. Grinding it fresh produces a much more robust and fresher flavor. Warm and sweet, nutmeg adds depth to desserts, cheeses, savory dishes and a variety of vegetables. Don’t forget to sprinkle it on eggnog, mulled wines and punches. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes are delicious with a light dusting of nutmeg, too.

With just a few simple substitutions like these, you can go beyond the everyday with your spices and create a whole new meal experience. You’ll be amazed at the difference small changes like these can make — and you’ll have fun bringing new, creative flavors into your cooking.

Don’t forget, it’s easy to try these spices by buying from the bulk section, because you only buy the amount you need.

Here’s an easy recipe that allows you to experiment with some varieties of the spices above.

Pumpkin Parfait

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons sugar
6 ounces lowfat vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup granola with raisins

Directions:

In a small bowl, stir together pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, milk, and sugar. In 2 small bowls or ramekins, layer the pumpkin mixture and yogurt. Sprinkle with granola.

Layer in a parfait glass for a fun visual treat.

A Timeline of Frontier’s History

We’ve had some fans ask us about our start…here’s a timeline with some brief highlights about milestones in our history — and we look forward to many more!

FRONTIER TIMELINE

1976

Frontier begins as two-person operation.
Frontier started out offering difficult-to-find herbs, spices and botanicals to local co-ops.

1978

Establish $1/hr childcare subsidy and employee lunch program.
These two early employee benefits set the tone for three decades of family-friendly and innovative benefits for Frontier workers. We believe a company that creates, produces, and markets wholesome, natural foods and personal care products should also focus on workplace policies and practices that promote personal well-being.

Add first organic products to line.
Frontier was an early leader in promoting organic products and the environmental and social benefits of organic agriculture. We have held that position of leadership throughout our 30-year history. We were the first to offer organic herbs and spices and first to be certified as an organic processor. We have provided ongoing support of the organic industry and organic agriculture worldwide with programs like the donation of 1% of Simply Organic sales to organic farming causes.

Buy 5,200 sq. ft. grocery store in Fairfax, Iowa, and convert into operations facility.

Begin bottling essential oils in response to store requests.

1979

Begin selling other manufacturer’s products in response to store requests.

Incorporate as cooperative owned by customers.

1980

Return first patronage refund.
As a co-op, Frontier returns profits to its member/owners in the form of patronage refunds. Since the first check was sent out in March 1980, Frontier has returned almost $7 million dollars to members.

Implement computerized order systems.

1981

Elect Frontier’s first Board of Directors.

1982

Purchase 10 acres near Norway, Iowa and build 22,152 sq. ft. facility.

1983

Frontier listed 78th on Inc. magazine’s list of “America’s Fastest Growing Companies.”

Establish subsidized on-site childcare and cafeteria.

Produce 135-page Herb & Spice handbook.

1984

Expand Norway facilities to 31,992 sq. ft.

Change by-laws to allow non-co-operative stores to be Frontier members.

1985

Purchase first personal computers.

1986

Become first herb and spice manufacturer with certified organic processing.

1988

Introduce line of packaged spices in response to consumer demand.

Purchase additional 46 acres adjoining Norway site and expand facilities to 37,824 sq. ft.

1989

Introduce CO2 fumigation.
Frontier was the first in the Natural Products Industry to use a natural CO2 process to control infestation in herbs and spices. This natural process allows us to avoid the use of chemical fumigants and provide greater purity in our products.

Expand Norway facilities to 57,360 sq. ft.

1990

Start Frontier Research Farm for testing and developing methods of organic agriculture.

Launch line of bottled spices.

1991

Introduce line of herbal extracts.

Introduce Frontier Coffee, a line of gourmet, 100% organic coffee.

1992

Re-establish tall grass prairie on 21 acres of Norway site.

Introduce cryogenic grinding to preserve product quality in processing.

Begin selling Frontier products through natural food distributors.

Host first Herbfest.
Frontier hosted 13 HerbFest conferences. HerbFest was the country’s largest annual conference on herbs and sustainable living, drawing as many as 1,425 participants each August to the Frontier site in Norway, Iowa. Recognized experts from around the country and the world led hundreds of seminars on natural living that were attended by people from all over the United States.

Frontier CEO Rick Stewart receives Iowa Small Business Person of the Year Award.

1993

Create botanical garden at Norway site.

Working Mother magazine picks Frontier as one of the “100 Best Companies in America for Working Mothers.”

Introduce organic Frontier beer.

Expand Norway facilities to 86,076 sq. ft.

1994

Working Mother magazine again picks Frontier as one of the “100 Best Companies in America for Working Mothers.”

Establish Frontier Coffee social programs.

Build coffee roasting facility in Urbana, Iowa.

Buy Aura Cacia Aromatherapy brand.

1995

Launch first line of certified organic essential oils.
Another example of organic leadership, with Frontier using the expertise gained in sourcing organic herbs and spices to bring the first organic line of essential oils to the marketplace. Just as Frontier’s early promotion of organic botanicals helped create the market for organics, this cutting-edge move into organic essential oils set new standards and built support for organic growth in aromatherapy.

Launch first Frontier web site.

Distill basil essential oil in conjunction with Purdue University.

For the third consecutive year, Working Mother magazine picks Frontier as one of the “100 Best Companies in America for Working Mothers.”

1996

Establish Goldenseal Project.
The Goldenseal Project was created by Frontier to encourage the development of cultivated sources of goldenseal to counteract overharvesting of the plant’s native populations.

Aura Cacia begins in-house gas chromatography testing program.
The expansion of Frontier’s in-house quality testing program to include gas chromatography testing for all oils allowed us to achieve a new level of control and make a truly meaningful guarantee of quality and purity. Our industry-leading quality-testing program with GC allows us to determine the chemical composition of oils to a greater degree of accuracy than other methods allow.

1997

Move marketing office to Boulder, Colorado.

1998

Frontier given “Socially Responsible Business Award” by Natural Products Expo.

Create herb preserve and research farm in Meigs County, Ohio.
Frontier purchased 68 acres in the Appalachian region of Ohio and founded the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs (NCPMH) to preserve native populations of at-risk herbs and research methods of cultivating them to counter the effects of over-harvesting.

1999

Founder and CEO Rick Stewart retires.

Expand Norway facilities to present total of 115,248 sq. ft.

2000

Hire Steve Hughes as CEO.

2001

Sell Frontier Coffee to Green Mountain Coffee.

2002

Donate NCPMH to Rural Action.

Organic certification regulations go into effect; Frontier already in full compliance.

Introduce Simply Organic, 100% organic line of spices, seasonings, flavors, mixes and boxed dinners.
The Simply Organic brand is Frontier’s most ambitious effort to date to increasing the reach of organics with affordable, convenient culinary products that fit the modern lifestyle.

Eliminate share money requirement for members.

CEO Steve Hughes resigns. Board creates committee to assume day-to-day operational control and rehires previous key managers. Return executive and management functions to Norway, Iowa.

2003

Hire Tony Bedard as CEO.Move Aura Cacia to former coffee facility in Urbana, Iowa.

Sell boxed dinner portion of Simply Organic to Annie’s.

2004

Adopt mission statement “To convert the world to natural and organic products.”

Begin offering Fair Trade teas.
Fair Trade certification ensures standards are met for wages, living conditions and working conditions for tea pickers.Establish Frontier wholesale web site with online ordering. As we steadily expand and enhance our online service, we expect it to grow in importance to our customers. Over $2 million of sales have been placed on the wholesale site since it went online in September 2004.

Achieve record sales and profitability.

2005

Establish Well Earth program to develop high quality and socially responsible suppliers around the world.
Frontier’s Well Earth program was created to proactively find and develop high-quality and socially responsible organic suppliers around the world and partner with them in producing products and implementing social programs. Our first Well Earth partner is an Indian vanilla supplier that offers workers unusually good job opportunities and pay and contributes to feeding disadvantaged schoolchildren throughout India. Well Earth is a valuable tool in providing our customers with products of the very highest quality and integrity.

Establish Aura Cacia’s Online Aromatherapy retailer training.

$43.4 million in sales leads to record year in sales and profitability.

Achieve new records in market share for aromatherapy and spice products.

2006

Celebrate 30th anniversary!

Today, after even more expansion and advancement, we’re dedicated to continuing our tradition of excellence in all we do.

Summer Soups

Here’s a very quick idea for a summer dinner. A cool soup! If you’ve never tried a summer soup, you’re in for a treat. You’re likely to come across some new flavor combos when exploring cool soups. And this delicious summer fare made with the weekly bounty from your local farmer’s market is a perfect way to eat healthy and support local growers.

Cool summer vegetable soups are a nice variation from serving a salad. They can also be a hearty meal by themselves. Unlike the desired smoothness of a fruit soup, summer vegetable soups are often rich and full of texture. To get texture, feel free to add beans, rice, or bread to the mix.

Again, there’s nothing like a summer farmer’s market to offer you an array of vegetables for creating soups: spinach, avocados, cucumber, tomatoes, beets, carrots, corn and asparagus. Any of these creatively combined with herbs and spices in a summer soup will revive your weary taste buds after a long summer day.

Here’s a sweet and tangy recipe to get you started.

Chilled Carrot Honey Soup

Ingredients:
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups water
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons mild honey
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6  thin lemon slices
1 tablespoon mild honey for drizzling
Directions:

Combine all ingredients except 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice in a 3-qt heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 30-40 minutes.

Purée soup in 2 batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids) until very smooth, then chill soup quickly, stirring occasionally, in a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and water, about 30 minutes. (Alternatively, cool soup, uncovered, 30-40 minutes, and then chill covered, until cold, about 4 hours.)

Stir in remaining 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice and salt to taste. Divide soup among 6 bowls with a ladle. Float a lemon slice on top of each serving, then drizzle with honey and serve.

 
Remember, when cooled, some of the flavors of your vegetables may fade, so you need to start with the freshest ingredients you can. Newly picked vegetables will give you the most satisfying results.

Here are more summer soup ideas, and creative serving suggestions. Enjoy!

Kirkwood Community College: Hospitality Arts Program

We’d like to introduce you to one of Iowa’s newest luxury hotels – and it’s run by and for students.

Students in Kirkwood Community College’s Hospitality programs prepare for careers in the field via practical experience in management and food preparation at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, a world-class teaching hotel in Cedar Rapids.

Instructors supervise students in the daily operation of the bakery and catering service. The Class Act, the facility’s restaurant, features creative gourmet dining for the public, at very reasonable prices.  Students also cultivate the Vineyard, and sell the fruits of their labors at the Hotel as well.

In addition to learning management techniques and food preparation, 300+ students also study technical subjects such as financial record keeping, food fundamentals, nutrition, computers, food purchasing, sanitation, equipment, human relations, and the safety and legal aspects of the hospitality industry.

The newly built center is eco-friendly. Some highlights of the energy efficient features include seven pumps that freeze ice in nine “ICE KUBE” units late at night when energy rates are lowest. That trapped ice then melts the next day, cooling the classrooms, kitchens and Class Act restaurant when daytime electric rates are much higher.

The Hotel uses geothermal ground-heat exchangers, with more than 200 bored wells. It brings up cool temperatures in the summer and warm temperatures in the winter to help cool and heat to the 117,000 square foot facility.

A system of motion sensors detect when no one is in a classroom or other space, turning lights off when no one is in the room. Unoccupied guest rooms are put into a “dormant” mode when unoccupied. A new guest registration will automatically re-activate the room.

Oh, and they use Frontier spices in their classrooms and kitchens!

David Horsfield, Department Chair of the Hospitality Arts Program, recently took time out to answer some of our questions about his work and the program. His commitment to training exceptional hosts is inspiring. We’re especially appreciative of his insightful comments on working with spices.

Tell us about what you do at the Hotel.

My position as Department Chair of the Hospitality Programs at Kirkwood Community College involves overseeing the 5 separate hospitality programs offered at the College: 2-year Associate of Applied Science Degrees in Restaurant Management, Culinary Arts, and Hotel Management, and 1-year Diplomas in Culinary Arts (Bakery Emphasis) and Food Service Assistant. I have been teaching at the College as a Chef Instructor for 5 years, and we currently have approximately 315 students studying within our programs.

Our structure is somewhat unique in that our curriculum is delivered in a blended format that includes classroom instruction, practical labs, and also practical work within the various outlets and departments that comprise the full service, 71-room Hotel at Kirkwood Center.

Our Culinary students spend time working in the Class Act restaurant and in the busy banqueting kitchen. Restaurant students both serve and ultimately manage service within the restaurant dining room. Bakery students work with the Hotel pastry chef to produce wedding and special occasion cakes. Hotel Management students spend time in housekeeping and front office.

Our model embraces the best elements of using faculty and industry professionals to give students the skills and insights necessary to be successful in the hospitality industry.

What are some of the main things the students learn in this environment versus a classroom?

Our blended learning environment allows students to acquire knowledge and skills through a variety of class formats that include classroom instruction, practical labs, and the by working with professionals in our restaurant and hotel customer contact points.

Our practical lab classes are a blended format where we deliver a detailed theory session in the kitchen before transitioning to cook dishes related to the theory we have just covered. As an example, our Indian Cuisine class, which runs for 12 hours over 3 consecutive days, begins each day with a discussion of Indian culture, ingredients, and the interplay of how different religions within India impact the processes and ingredients with which Indian dishes are prepared.

This allows us to reinforce concepts through practical application. Personally, I find that food always tastes so much better when it has been prepared with a deeper understanding of how the elements within a dish join together to create the broader flavors and textures that are enjoyed by a diner.

There really is no substitute for the practical learning gained from working with professional staff and directly with guests.

What seems to surprise the students most about the hospitality field?

A lot of our Restaurant and Culinary students begin exploring the hospitality industry as a profession with the intent of entering straight into the restaurant sector, assuming that this element is really the only option for the industry.

I really enjoy exposing students to the fact that the hospitality industry encompasses so many broader options, such as working with cruise line operators, health care providers, major amusement parks, and specialty food producers.

Watching students develop a greater appreciation for food, wine, & ingredient pairings is a great part of being involved in training the next generation to enter into this great industry.

All photos courtesy Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

What are some of the ways you use our spices?

We utilize Frontier herbs and spices on a daily basis both in our culinary labs and in our outlets.

Our plan of study includes a 6-week intensive class on International Cuisine that encompasses exploring the ingredients, culture and flavors of so many of the world’s great spice-oriented cuisines, including Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, Thailand, India, and Italy.

Using top-quality spices in our recipes makes a world of difference when it comes to authenticating the true flavor profiles of these cuisines.

Second-rate spices lead to second-rate food. Our chef instructors are big believers in the principle that respecting the balanced flavors of ingredients – especially spices – leads to the creation of memorable flavor combinations.

Knowing how to correctly cook with spices takes careful thought and attention so true flavors are gently extracted for maximum benefit. The cuisine of India is one of my personal favorites as is it incorporates the subtleties of so many diverse spices.

Do you have a popular recipe you’d like to share with our readers?

Here’s a great-tasting vegetarian Indian dish that perhaps looks a little complex at first glance at the ingredient list, but it’s really quite simple once you’ve gathered the spices.

The asafoetida could be substituted with onion powder and a couple of pinches of garlic powder. Jaggery is a solidified extract of molasses that can be found at an Indian grocery, but dark brown sugar will provide a fine substitute.


SWEET AND SOUR SQUASH

3/4 teaspoon tamarind pulp

1/2 tablespoon ghee

1 each bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed

1/4 teaspoon black sesame seed

1/2 pinch asafoetida

2 ounces fresh fennel bulb, cut small to medium dice

3/4 teaspoon ginger, grated

4 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut medium dice

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon red chili powder

1/16 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 cup yogurt, drained through cheesecloth for 10 minutes to remove excess whey

1/4 teaspoon jaggery (or brown sugar)

1/8 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 each serrano chili pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

1/2 sprig fresh cilantro

1/8 cup yogurt

1 teaspoon cucumber, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon fresh mint

1/8 teaspoon lemon zest

1 pinch black mustard seeds

Directions:

Soak tamarind pulp in 1/2 cup of warm water for 20 minutes or until soft – knead the pulp to break it down before straining and keeping the juice / water and discarding the remaining pulp solids.

Heat ghee in a medium skillet over medium heat and when hot, add bay leaf, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, black sesame seeds, asafoetida and sliced fennel; sauté for 2 minutes until all ingredients are very aromatic.

Add the ginger and butternut squash and continue to cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.

Mix in the turmeric, dry chili and season lightly with salt. Add coriander powder and stir in yogurt; cook, covered, over low-medium heat for 15 minutes or until squash are half cooked through.

Add jaggery, tamarind juice, garam masala and green chili.

Cover again and cook over low heat until squash is cooked through and tender.

Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs and serve with steamed basmati rice.

Do you have any advice for those who are considering entering the hospitality field?

I truly believe that the key ingredient to success in the hospitality industry is passion. Really caring about exceeding the expectations of guests, whether it is in the hotel or food service sectors is the defining characteristic that makes your interaction as a hospitality professional memorable for customers.

For me, passion means truly loving what you do and striving to deliver quality at every opportunity. Gaining knowledge and a thorough understanding of ingredients and the ways in which they work together is a great way for a chef to create dishes that will exceed expectations every single time.

I always tell my students that cooking is a form of art and that they are training to become artists with ingredients as their medium… oh, and also that cooking should be fun!

Thanks so much, David. We really appreciate the value you place on spices as a chef’s expression of individuality.

For a final treat, here’s the in-room video you’ll see when you’re a guest at this unique facility.

The Tea Ritual

Many of our customers tell us their favorite product from our company is our tea. In fact, one of our customers loved the Earl Grey tea her local cafe served, so she asked them what kind it was. No one working there would tell her, saying it was their special blend. As she was leaving, another patron said, “It’s Frontier. I used to work here, I know. ” She ordered from us, and began enjoying her favorite Earl Grey cup of tea at home, too.

The traditions and rituals of tea date back to at least 2737 B.C. in ancient China. A popular myth claims that tea was born when a Chinese emperor and herbalist was boiling water and leaves from a nearby tree fell into the water. He discovered that when the leaves were infused in hot water, the beverage created was delicious. The Chinese then went on to explore what they referred to as “tea mind” — a calm, yet alert state they achieved when drinking this concoction.

This exploration continues today — amazingly, tea is the second most widely-consumed beverage in the world, only behind water. Tasting tea has become an art form, as well as, in some cases, a science. There are so many kinds of tea available today that some newcomers might be overwhelmed by what to try first.

One consistent fact is that all tea comes from the same species of plant, Camellia sinensis. (Other plants are infused like tea leaves but are technically tisanes, not true teas.) The variances arise because different varieties are grown in different places and in different ways, different plant parts are used (leaves, leaf buds, and internodes) and there are different processing methods. But in all cases, the aromatic beverage that results when the cured leaves are combined with hot or boiling water is what tea drinkers celebrate.

The state of mind many tea drinkers cultivate is to relax, slow down and “appreciate the moment.” Finding the right tea for that moment starts with a basic understanding of the main types of tea. By trying different kinds of tea you will be able to decide what you like best for different occasions. You might want to buy small quantities of a tea to sample it before buying a large amount. Buying bulk tea offers you this opportunity – as well as the highest quality tea, since tea bags usually contain siftings from leaves.

Here’s a quick rundown on types of tea:

Black teas are produced by withering, rolling and drying fresh tea leaves. This process oxidizes the leaf and allows many unique aroma and flavor elements to form. The robustness of black tea lends itself to the addition of sugar, honey, lemon, cream and milk. While black teas have more caffeine than green or white teas, they still have considerably less than a cup of coffee.

Chai is a special flavored tea beverage created in India. Traditional chai is a strong black tea infused with aromatic Indian spices, including black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and others.  Most chai teas contain caffeine levels similar to black tea.

Green tea is uncured and possesses fresh, grassy, vegetal flavors due to its unique processing. Green tea leaves are plucked, withered, rolled and dried before any curing or oxidation takes place. Green teas have the least caffeine – and the highest levels of beneficial antioxidants — of all true teas (Camellia sinensis).

Oolong is only partially oxidized after the fresh leaves are plucked and withered. Before the leaves are fully cured, a quick drying preserves the flavor and aroma elements of the green leaf and combines them with black tea characteristics that arise from the partial curing. Oolong has slightly less caffeine than black tea, but slightly more than green teas.

White tea is made from the very young, unfurled leaf tips of Camellia sinensis. The delicate young leaves and buds are covered with soft, silvery white hairs…thus “white” tea. White teas are generally uncured in the style of green teas and are similarly very low in caffeine.

Herbal Teas (Tisanes) are beverages brewed from herbs (or combinations of herbs) other than Camellia sinensis. The herbs are blended to create unique flavors and/or desired health benefits. Herbal teas do not contain caffeine and offer their own opportunities for achieving the “tea mind.” These teas can be refreshing, calming, invigorating– or simply a delight to the senses.

Here are some basic suggestions for brewing the perfect cup of tea:

• Make sure your tea has been properly stored. The best way to store tea is in an airtight container, at a constant temperature, away from light, moisture, and other odors. Once exposed to air, tea leaves quickly lose flavor. Keep bulk teas in a large container, and use a smaller one for daily tea use, so you don’t have to keep opening the large container.

• Use fresh, cool, oxygenated water. Never use tepid, long-standing, pre-heated or hot tap water.

• Heat the water and pour it directly over the leaves. (Use about one teaspoon of tea per cup.) For green teas, heat it to the point where bubbles just begin to form. For oolong teas, heat the water until the bubbles start to release and it is beginning to boil. For black tea, allow the water to come to a gentle boil.

• Steep the tea in an infuser — about three to four minutes for green tea and four to five minutes for oolong and black tea. Don’t overpack the infuser so the leaves have enough room to unfurl completely. Or simply steep the loose leaves and then pour the brewed tea through a strainer into a serving cup.

• Perfect tea is brewed one cup at a time. Personal tastes, vary, of course — you’ll want to adjust the measurements and brewing times according to your own preferences.

Try making this wonderful exotic blend yourself:

BEDOUIN TEA

Bedouins have their own special blends of teas that they make from the dried leaves of various desert plants. On special occasions, they mix the leaves from those plants with other spices. Many tourists have tea with the Bedouins they meet and then buy the blends to take home as a reminder of their amazing experiences. Bedouin tea is quite expensive because it is scarce. In the United States, dried thyme or sage can be substituted for the Bedouin tea.

Ingredients

4 teaspoons Bedouin tea or 4 teaspoons dried thyme or sage

4 teaspoons dried organic rosebuds

1 stick cinnamon

4 teaspoons loose black tea, regular or decaffeinated

sugar, if desired

Directions

Heat 4 1/2 cups water, Bedouin tea, dried rosebuds, cinnamon stick, and loose black tea in a teapot or saucepan over high heat. Once the water boils, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, and steep the tea, covered, for 5 minutes. Strain into tea cups and sweeten with sugar, if desired.

What’s your favorite tea ritual? Please share.

Spork Foods

Spork Foods is a Los Angeles-based gourmet vegan food company owned and operated by sisters Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg. They offer live cooking classes in Los Angeles and online vegan cooking classes at www.sporkonline.com, one-on-one in-home healthy pantry makeovers, and recipe development/trainings for chefs, food companies and colleges.

Heather Goldberg, left and Jenny Engel, right, of Spork Foods.

Their cookbook, Spork-Fed, will be released in October 2011, with a foreword by fellow fans and sisters, Emily and Zooey Deschanel. Based on the Spork philosophy that veganism is about all of the wonderful things you can have, instead of what you can’t, Spork-Fed features over 80 original recipes, gorgeous full-color photographs and healthful tips sure to make any mouth water.

Stay tuned to our blog for more info about this book as its publication date approaches.

Heather and Jenny took time out recently to answer some questions for us about their past, present and future plans for Spork Foods.  They also generously shared one of their fantastic recipes.

What started you on the vegan path? What was it about environmental studies that made you decide to go vegan?  

Although 3 years apart, but virtually twins in all other aspects, we became enlightened to the world of veganism in college as Environmental Science majors. With Heather living in San Francisco and Jenny studying at UC Santa Cruz we each took classes called “World Ecological Crisis”, “Environmental Economics”, and “The Future of Rain Forests.”

Needless to say we were both very alarmed!  What we learned about was the connection between the degradation of the planet and the meat and dairy industry! Right then and there, and very separately, we went vegan over 11 years ago.

We worked together at an environmental non-profit organization called TreePeople in Los Angeles for a few years, sharing lunches and dreaming of running our own sister-business, until our hearts inevitably led us into the kitchen to do the work we were meant to do.

In your videos, you talk about the benefits of using herbs. What are some of your favorites to use? Do you have a favorite recipe you could share that takes advantage of herbs?

Lemon thyme is our fave herb! It has a gorgeous scent that is mildly lemony and super fresh!  We fold it into cashew cheeses, make zesty light potato salads with it, and throw it into spiked lemonade!

One of our main goals is to keep you out of the doctor’s office and show you how to take the health of you and your loved ones into your own hands every time you eat! Our food is more than just calories and protein. When you eat well and eat naturally, you have the ability to improve your body and mind. We’ll drink some carrot juice to that!

Here’s a recipe using lemon thyme — you might try it at your next party.

White Wine Cashew Cheese (on black bean sliders)

WHITE WINE CASHEW CHEESE

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups roasted unsalted cashews

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon light miso paste

2 teaspoons brown rice syrup

1 tablespoon neutral tasting oil, organic safflower preferred

3 tablespoons unsweetened almond or soymilk

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup vegan white wine

3 sprigs fresh lemon thyme, stemmed and finely chopped

Directions:

In a large food processor, add cashews, garlic powder, sea salt, miso, brown rice syrup, oil, almond or soymilk, lemon juice and wine.

Scrape the sides of the food processor occasionally and blend until smooth.

Fold in lemon thyme once.

Transfer to a bowl and ENJOY with crudités or crackers!

© Spork Foods, 2009

Tell us about your online classes! Can you tell us what some of the out-of-the-kitchen experiences might be?  

We launched our on-line classes at www.sporkonline.com less than a year ago! It is a membership-based website for anyone who wants to learn how to prepare fun, easy, delicious, vegan recipes – served anytime!

Our classes are shot and edited in HD by professional filmmakers to create an entertaining and engaging experience.

A NEW COOKING CLASS featuring a four-course meal and built around a specific theme is posted online and available to members once a month.  The classes are filmed with an eclectic group of students (including celebrities, authors, activists, farmers, parents, entrepreneurs and more) that spark interesting conversation around the dinner table and offer their own expertise.  As a member, you get to watch their conversation unfold!

Each month the site will also offer EXCLUSIVE BONUS RECIPES and classes that feature specific holiday and seasonal themes – all designed to enhance your cooking repertoire!

You will have access to extended OUT-OF-THE-KITCHEN EXPERIENCES with Jenny and Heather, taking members on mini adventures with us!  In our favorite one, we take our bestie Rory Freedman, Author of Skinny Bitch, to a farm where we eat things we’ve never even seen before! We have an ARCHIVED CLASSES section so you can master your kitch skills like a pro day or night! Don’t forget to ask the sisters your pressing foodie questions on our FOOD 911 page!

Whether you are a lifelong vegan, veg-curious, or just want to expand your cooking repertoire, Sporkonline offers tried and true original recipes that will please all of your friends and family!

Do you find that being based in LA is an advantage? Do find more vegans there, or a more vegan-oriented culture?

As 4th generation Angelinos, we love being in L.A. and in fact, we’re never leaving! Living in L.A., we are lucky because there is an abundance of Farmer’s Markets all over the city with incredible local fruits and veggies everywhere you look.

We actually take a sister trip each year to a place we have never been and can’t speak the language.  We have truly found a vegan culture in every single corner of the earth that we have explored, from Japan, to Greece, The Cayman Islands to Cuba. We vegans are everywhere!

Are other people in your family vegan?

Mom and Dad are vegan, and as my Dad’s doc says, “You’re the healthiest patient we have!” On no meds at age 70 and looking spry as a teenager, Mom and Dad are sticking with it. We’re still working on Grandma…

Tell us a little bit about some of the things your parents and grandparents taught you about cooking — we love stories of families in the kitchen, and traditions that are passed down. 

No need for explanation, we will let YouTube do the talking! In this video, Grandma Jeanette teaches us her strudel recipe, veganized, of course!

In our cookbook Spork-Fed we will feature Grandma’s Birds Nest Cookies that she has been making for us since before we can remember.

The one huge lesson that our mom taught us in the kitchen is to never be afraid.  She adds whatever spices she has, puts all sorts of veggies in a pot – and it always turns out amazing.

We love to teach people about harnessing their “kitchen intuition” so they can go from relying on a recipe to becoming masters of cooking improvisation.

Feel free to tell us what you like about our spices. Do you have any particular favorites?

We adore Frontier spices and we use them in everything!

We’re thrilled that you offer a wide array of organic spices, and we’re pretty much in love with your Ceylon cinnamon!

But the other thing that we really appreciate about your spices is that you have a picture of what the spice looks like on the container.

When we pass around the turmeric in our cooking classes, for example, people notice that it looks a bit like ginger root when they see the bottle and they feel more connected to their food.  It makes us so happy when people make connections with the foods they eat and the plants they come from  – so thanks for that!

Thanks so much, Heather and Jenny. We can’t wait for your book!

The World Needs More Pie

On a recent trip through Frontier’s home state of Iowa, we saw a sign that pointed us to “The American Gothic House.” We’re fans of the painter Grant Wood, who lived and worked in Iowa, so the actual house in his most famous painting, American Gothic, is something we’d always meant to see.

So we followed the signs into Eldon, Iowa.

It was a beautiful summer day, and there were a few people milling around as we drove up. The house appeared in front of us, quite unassumingly, in spite of its international fame.

As we walked toward the house, it seemed strange and a bit surreal to be able to get so close to such an iconic structure. We were surprised at how tiny it is.

You can walk right up onto the porch.

And right up to the lace-curtained window.

A peek inside the screen door revealed…

Pie!

All kinds of pie. Now it really did seem like a dream.

A young girl appeared, and we asked if the pie was for sale. “Yes!” she said, and started telling us the story of who lives in the house, and why pie’s for sale there.

It turns out Beth Howard is the pie maker, and she rents the house. Who knew such a thing was even possible? We enjoyed our pie and a nice chat with our hostess, Beth’s niece. Then as we were leaving, we met Beth herself.

Beth Howard.

As you can see from what’s happening in the background of the photo above, visitors are encouraged to dress up and take photos in front of the house.

Beth’s story is quite fascinating. As her blog profile states:

Beth Howard is a writer, pie baker and pie evangelist.

Her popular blog, The World Needs More Pie, chronicles her travels and adventures in pie, and explores how pie helps her heal from the unexpected death of her 43-year-old husband.

She learned how to make pie at age 17, when she got caught stealing apples from the orchard of a retired pastry chef. She has baked pies for celebrities in Malibu, she’s been a pie judge at the National Pie Championships and at the Iowa State Fair, and she’s taught pie baking to groups of all ages.

She lives in the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, where she sells pie at her Pitchfork Pie Stand. Her memoir “Making Piece: Love, Loss and the Healing Power of Pie” will be published April 2012. She is developing a TV series about, what else, pie.

Check out Beth’s website The World Needs More Pie for more about her Pitchfork Pie Stand, her book, and all things pie!

In honor of Beth, who told us the spice she uses the most is cinnamon –

Here’s our selection of pie recipes for you to try.

Please tell us about the pie in your life!

Moroccan Food

A team from Aura Cacia, our essential oil brand, recently traveled to Morocco on a sourcing trip. We always like to hear about the cuisines encountered on these trips. A few notes they shared with us about the food: Tagines were often used to cook the food, no pork was ever served, fruit was served as dessert, argan oil was used in many dishes, and the photos don’t really show how large the dishes were!

Because of Morocco’s interaction with many other cultures and countries throughout history, today’s Moroccan cuisine is surprisingly diverse. In addition to imported spices, many ingredients are home grown, including saffron, olives, lemons, and mint. Common spices used daily include cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, pepper, paprika, ginger, coriander, sesame seeds and anise seeds.

We’re going to let the team’s photos do the rest of the talking.

Veggie and meat dish.

Salad in Morocco.

Main course served in Moroccan home.

Honeycomb appetizer, for dipping bread.

Fruit platter, served as dessert.

Cous cous veggie dish made with argan oil.

Chicken dish with almonds.

Here’s a recipe from our recipe files for creating your own Moroccan spice rub, using coriander, fennel, cardamom and cloves.

Moroccan Barbecue Spice Mix

Dry toasting whole spice seeds intensifies their flavor and fragrance. You can liberally rub this enticing spice mix over salmon, halibut, pork, chicken or beef before cooking, or add it to sautéed onions with chopped kale, collard greens, or cabbage, sea salt, and black pepper with a little bit of broth, then cover and simmer for a delicious side dish. Thanks go to Chef Bruce Sherrod of Berkeley, CA, for sharing this recipe.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
1/4 cup whole fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole shelled cardamom seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
Directions:

To toast seeds: Combine spice seeds in a dry, medium-size skillet over moderate heat. Stir until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Pour seeds into a shallow bowl to cool.

To grind: Finely powder the toasted spices in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder (not the same one you use for coffee) or mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight jar at room temperature for up to 6 months (use sooner if possible).

To use with fish or meat: Season steaks, chops, fish, beef or pork roast with coarsely ground black pepper and finely ground sea salt; roll the meat in a portion of spice mix and press firmly to coat all over. Allow the seasoned meat to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, or cover loosely with unbleached parchment paper and refrigerate for up to 4 hours before cooking.

Sear seasoned fish or meat in a heavy, oven-proof skillet with coconut oil, clarified butter or ghee (2 tablespoons per 1 1/2 to 2 pounds fish or meat) until hot but not smoking. Sear 1 to 2 minutes per side, then finish in a preheated 400°F oven.

To shell whole cardamom seeds, place 1 tablespoon of whole cardamom pods (they have a beige color) on a cutting board. Rock over them with a heavy-bottomed skillet or chef knife. Pull away and discard the shell fragments, then measure the black seeds. Repeat as needed. To skip this step, buy shelled cardamom seeds.

Let us know if you have experience with Moroccan foods, or any favorite recipes you’d like to share!