I spend over an hour each weekend in my pantry. It’s a strange place to spend one’s time, but then, it’s my own fault. You see, I started this game with my toddler called “What’s the Spice?” It basically involver her taking each little jar (and there are over 100 of them) out of the cabinet, hold it out to me, and demand, “Open!” I then open it, and we both smell the spice and I tell her what it is. Sometimes with the blends I close my eyes, inhale and try to guess what all the spices are in the mix.
We started this game at the spice store next to our farmer’s market. There they have hundreds of spices and blends with smelling jars placed in front of each. It’s amazing. It started out as fun and a way to expand my child’s taste since smell and taste are so connected, but then I remembered a handout I got in culinary school on the importance of sensory education in early childhood. While pre-school offers many sensory experiences, smell and taste are not exactly topping the agenda.
“Sure, the kiddos are going to see and learn colors and pictures at school, they are going to be presented with different textures to touch, tools to handle and music to make and listen to. But taste and smell? The only unique tastes on the menu at toddler school include things like Hot Dog Tacos, Tater Tot Casserole. And an occasional bite of crayon or paste. Both of which probably taste better than the casserole. As for smells, chances are the most exotic thing you are going to find there is coming from someone else’s diaper.”
(You can read the rest of this rant and a longer post on this theory — one of the tenets of the Montessori method — here in The Kitchen.)
Thus, here I sit, in my pantry smelling jar after jar, relearning each spice. Who would have guessed my little one would be my best teacher, too? Not only did I get a sensory refresher, but I also learned which spices she responds to most and what her favorites are. It makes it easier to cook dishes she will like.
The following recipe was drafted from a meat pie I saw in “Gourmet.” I modified the recipe a lot, and cut the saturated fat and the prep time by more than half, swapped out a healthier sweet potato for the white potato and used grass-fed, low-fat ground bison in place of the high-fat ground chuck and doubled the meat quantity. I also changed the spice profile from my little one’s less favorite curry to a mix of Garam Masala and Tandoori. She loved the end result.
Indian-spiced Beef Pies
1 lb ground bison
1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
¾ tablespoon Garam Masala
¼ tablespoon Tandoori
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (1 cup)
6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 (17 1/4-oz) packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Special equipment: parchment paper;
Heat olive oil in skillet over moderately high heat, add onion and sauté until transluscent. Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up beef into small pieces, until browned, and cooked through. Add soy sauce, sugar, and salt.
Add spices, water and sweet potato and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Stir in peas, then cool filling, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheets with parchment.
Roll out one sheet of dough into a 12-inch square on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Put half of filling on one side of dough, leaving a ½ inch border at edges. Brush edges lightly with egg and fold over gently stretching to cover filling completely. Gently press edges with tines of a fork to seal.
Repeat with other sheet of dough and remaining filling. Transfer pies to baking sheet. Brush tops of pastry lightly with egg and bake in upper third of oven, switching position of baking sheet to lower third of oven halfway through cooking, until pies are deep golden brown and puffed, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool pies to warm, about 10 minutes, or room temperature.
These can be made one day ahead and chilled, covered, or 1 week ahead and frozen, wrapped well. Bake frozen pies (do not thaw) an additional 5-10 minutes.
Pies can also be fully assembled and baked one day ahead, cooled and chilled. Reheat on a baking sheet in middle of a 350°F oven until filling is hot, about 15 minutes.