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Originally published Friday, July 22, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Tips on using cloves in cooking

Seasonings: Monica Bhide shares recipes for the drink Aperol Spice and Cinnamon-Clove Syrup.

Scripps Howard News Service

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Unfortunately, my first memory of cloves is associated with excruciating pain. I must have been about 10, with a horrid toothache. My father wrapped two cloves in some cotton and told me to bite on the cotton with the tooth that hurt. Ouch. I did, and a few minutes later the pain subsided enough for me to feel human again.

Luckily, there are other people in this world who have kinder, gentler memories of this lovely spice.

"My mother loved any kind of spice cookie with cloves in the recipe. I think I inherited that from her," says Karen Adler, who pairs with Judith Fertig as the BBQ Queens. Their most recent cookbook was "300 Big & Bold BBQ & Grilling Recipes" (2009). "As I began to bake, I would do combinations of cinnamon and cloves for more flavor. I also like to pickle olives, and a small bunch of cloves in the pickling juice adds a wonderful earthy dimension of flavor. When I began barbecuing, I found that cloves added to barbecue rubs or sauces added a very nice depth of flavor."

Cloves are actually dried flower buds, and they add a deep, sweet aroma to dishes. They can be used whole or ground, but one thing remains constant: The taste is strong, so use them sparingly. Raw cloves are bitter.

Cloves — used in Asian, Mexican and European cooking — generally accompany spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Cloves have long been used in ayurvedic medicine and incense, but they're also found in some cigarettes.

And that toothache? The essential oil in cloves is a local anesthetic, and it's sometimes used in mouthwash.

Adler has a wonderfully simple suggestion for using cloves: Flavor one package of yellow cake mix with a teaspoon of cinnamon and two teaspoons of ground cloves. Bake according to directions for an easy spice cake.

I add whole cloves to infuse hot oil, removing them before continuing to cook. Add them whole to rice dishes and grind them for desserts.

APEROL SPICE

Cloves scent this drink featured in Kara Newman's "Spice & Ice — 70 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails" (Chronicle Books, 2009). It uses Aperol, an Italian liqueur with bitter orange, rhubarb and other ingredients.

Makes: 1 drink

2 ounces Aperol

1 ounce gin

1 ounce cinnamon-clove syrup (see recipe below)

1 ounce lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine Aperol, gin, cinnamon-clove syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Dash in bitters and serve.

CINNAMON-CLOVE SYRUP

Make a batch of this spiced syrup, which will keep for weeks. Use it to add depth and zing to cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks. Ad a splash to club soda or drizzle it over waffles or desserts.

Makes: about 1 cup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

1 tablespoon ground or whole cloves

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, uncovered. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool and remove the cinnamon pieces and cloves (strain through cheesecloth if using clove powder). Pour the syrup into a glass container with a secure cover. Keep refrigerated.

Contact Monica Bhide: monica@monicabhide.com

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