Saturday, October 22, 2011


Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Although available throughout the year, the fragrant, sweet and warm taste of cinnamon is a perfect spice to use during the winter months. Cinnamon has a long history both as a spice and as a medicine. It is the brown bark of the cinnamon tree, which is available in its dried tubular form known as a quill or as ground powder. The two varieties of cinnamon, Chinese and Ceylon, have similar flavor, however the cinnamon from Ceylon is slightly sweeter, more refined and more difficult to find in local markets.

Medieval physicians used cinnamon in medicines to treat coughing, hoarseness and sore throats. As a sign of remorse, Roman Emperor Nero ordered a year's supply of cinnamon be burnt after he murdered his wife. The spice was also valued for its preservative qualities for meat due to the phenols which inhibit the bacteria responsible for spoilage, with the added bonus being the strong cinnamon aroma masked the stench of aged meats. Old home remedies use cinnamon in preparations to combat diarrhea and morning sickness, because it is a carminative (an agent that helps break up intestional gas).

Recent studies show that cinnamon enhances the ability of insulin to metabolize glucose, helping to control blood sugar levels. Although these tests have not been conducted on humans yet, many diabetics have added 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon per day to their daily diet, proclaiming favorable results. Controlling diabetes can help prevent coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Cinnamon also has antiseptic and astringent properties.

Now, all this medical info is from the internet and — as you know — anyone can say anything on the internet. So don’t change your medication yet!

I'm no doctor, but I do know a little about food, so let's talk about using cinnamon in cooking! Everyone loves cinnamon buns and there are thousand of recipes out there, so I won’t bother. Just remember that a good recipe clue you into the fact that you can make them the night before and do the last rise in the fridge overnight, and just pop them in the oven in the morning in time for breakfast!

I also like to fold cinnamon into good quality vanilla ice cream, it's great with pie. Another one of my favorite things to do with cinnamon sticks is the throw them into warm cider —this is greatly helped with a little shot of bourbon, if you go that way. But then I found this super easy and very exotic recipe for a cinnamon and bourbon Panacotta on Food 52, it’s the bomb! Check it out:

Bourbon-Cinnamon Panna Cotta:

1/4 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) powdered gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 cinnamon sticks, broken
1/2 cup Bourbon whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin on top and set aside to soften. Place cream, milk, sugar and broken cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. When mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes to allow cinnamon to infuse.

Meanwhile, place bourbon in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup. Remove from heat. Reheat cream mixture until beginning to steam. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin until dissolved, then add bourbon and vanilla. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large glass measuring cup with a spout. Divide mixture evenly among eight 4-ounce ramekins. Allow to cool a few minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.