Posts Tagged ‘The Spice Trader’

Flavours For The New Year

Spices For A New Season

It’s early still, but I’m thinking of dubbing this the year of the olive (for me, anyway).  Although truth be told, I think the Everyman has unofficially gone ahead and done it for me already.

My hunt for those elusive Cerignolas last week led me to The Spice Trader, but only after I’d already picked up an overpriced jar of Lucques olives (that barely resembled them) while I was out procuring supplies for New Years Eve dinner at the Leslieville Cheese Market; this was prior to Carlo Catallo contacting me with their name.

Once I arrived home and received his reply, I began a) kicking myself for not using my iPhone as nature intended (to check email while away and thus circumventing this problem) and b) wracking my brain for possible sellers of the Cerignola olive that would be open on the day before New Years Eve.  Terroni and The Olive Pit (sister store of The Spice Trader) immediately sprang to mind, both of which auspiciously happened to be in my neighbourhood…

Heading back out into the cold, I wandered down the street to The Spice Trader, half convincing myself that in my sickly state I should just turn around and go back the next morning, but for whatever inane reason I pressed on.  It was a good thing I did, too, because once I got there I found a holiday hours sign pasted to the door advising me that the 30th was the last day they were open until the new year.  Fortuitously, they also happened to be having a 25% off sale.

Of course, once I got inside I couldn’t help browsing  to see what was new and interesting in herbs and spices.  In the basement of The Olive Pit, I found my precious Cerignolas, plus an intriguing bottle of pear vinegar that I decided to bring home.


What I Learned From Splendido


To commemorate 4 years spent not killing each other, the Everyman and I visited Splendido for our anniversary on Monday night.

It was a blustery night, full of fierce winds and drifting snow, but once we entered the dining room the outside world was forgotten, until the table next to us (a mother and son) began kvetching about all manner of nonsense at a fairly audible level.  We were lucky that they left before we were halfway through dinner, because they certainly made quite the racket and distraction to our romantic intentions.

To keep things interesting, shortly after we arrived Conviction chef Marc Thuet and his wife sat down at the table behind us, ushered in on a cloud of stale cigarette smoke and dour French arrogance.  They seemed to enjoy the food but every time I glanced over, they certainly looked miserable.  Such is the life of a minor celebrity, I guess…

At our table, the lovely meal began with a proffering of bread, grissini and hummus, as well as a finger bowl of olives.  The Everyman enthusiastically consumed the hummus, while I tentatively nibbled an olive.

Now normally I don’t care for olives at all, but I always make a point of trying them when they are presented to me because as I’ve learned many times before, you just never know when your tastes are bound to change.  As it happens, my aversion to olives took a flying leap that evening as I greedily sucked on the briny, meaty flesh.  Even the small black olives that accompanied the massive egg-shaped green ones were appealing to me and before I knew it, the tiny teaser plate of house-cured beauties was gone.


In Excess

This Week's Haul

Yesterday afternoon after my sojourn to the farmer’s market, I had to make a stop at my favourite spice emporium, The Spice Trader to procure some of their delicious wares.

Despite the fact that I always go to the store with a very precise list, I invariably end up leaving with 3-4 times more product than I had anticipated.

Of course, yesterday’s visit was no different, and even though I only intended to buy 3 or 4 things, $100 later I arrived home with 13 items.

Most of what I purchased were refills for my already overflowing spice drawer, but a few new items called out from the shelves for experimentation.  Choice among those were the roasted paprika, which I was advised is quite different and more complex than pimenton, and is an ashy brownish black.  There were also crushed olive leaves, and though I’m not much of a fan of olives beyond their oil, something told me I wouldn’t be disappointed if I purchased these leaves, so I did.  The other item earmarked for messing around with was the rose petals, which off the top of my head might make an interesting addition to my pink pepper fleur de sel cocoa shortbread.




While I’ve been cognisant of pomegranate molasses since at least 2001 (thanks to Christine Cushing harping about it every chance she got) it was never an ingredient I rushed to experiment with.

Examining my habits, I’ve found that my cooking experimentation and infatuation with ingredients tends to be rather transient.  When I hone in on something that intrigues me, I work with it obsessively until I get bored and then move on.  In essence, I’m trying to “master” the ingredient in a way that I find palatable (not in every way, because that would take a lifetime) before I take my next step.  In some ways I suppose you could say that I have culinary ADD (attention deficit disorder) because I jump around so much to ensure I keep those synapses popping.

As I mentioned in a previous post, while I was visiting The Spice Trader on the weekend, I happened to grab a bottle of the aforementioned pomegranate molasses, along with some argan oil (more on that later), more coffee olive oil, and some white balsamic.

I first read about argan oil back in 2007, in a book called In Bad Taste?: The Adventures And Science Behind Food Delicacies by Dr. Massimo Marcone.  Argan oil comes from the argan tree.  In Morocco, goats climb these trees and eat the argan nuts, and then dispose of the rest.  What’s left when they’re done eating is collected and oil is extracted from the remnants.  When I saw it on the shelf at The Spice Trader, I knew I couldn’t resist picking up a flask of this highly unusual oil.


Hey Pig, Piggy, Pig Pig Pig… All Of My (Dreams) Came True

There are probably less than a handful of people reading this blog who will get the titular reference, but to those that do, I salute you ;)

After a slight delivery snafu on my part last weekend, I finally took possession of my side of pork on Wednesday night from Bob, our friendly organic grocer.

Well, most of it.

It turns out that the slaughter weight of my particular hog was slightly larger than the average I’d been quoted (80-100 lbs) so my fridge, freezer and all available space is now crammed full of 147.5 pounds of high quality porkiness.  That includes one completely intact belly side, which I’ve been lusting after since I saw it and intend to use for a half dozen preparations of bacon, a whole boned out shoulder for grinding into various forms of charcuterie, a couple slabs of ribs, a bone in leg that I’m deliberating over turning into prosciutto (I’m not sure I’m experienced enough for that), plus a shitload of meat packaged into chops.  There was also a full third box that did not get dropped off containing the fat from the animal to be used for charcuterie and rendering into lard.  Luckily, Bob offered to hold it at his store for us for a few weeks while we get busy making some room, because after I put away what he did deliver, we are completely and totally full.  And that includes the large upright second freezer that we keep in the basement just for things such as this.

Ah, but what a nice feeling of fullness it is.  My mind is whirring full speed (no, it really isn’t just the godawful noise from the Indy cars) with all of the potential and possibilities ahead of me with this cache full of meat.  Just this morning I stopped off at The Spice Trader to pick up supplies for other projects and was inspired to purchase some fennel pollen with the intent to use it on one of the versions of bacon, plus some grains of paradise, vanilla powder and exotic Saigon cinnamon that I thought would be fun to experiment with, aside from my regularly scheduled purchases.  I always love going there because I come home with so many unique and interesting things to keep myself busy in the kitchen.

Stay tuned for more tales of pork possibilities.


The Foodie 13 – Pantry Essentials

Human beings are creatures of habit.

Ever noticed you’ve eaten the same few foods for breakfast or lunch every day for 3 weeks straight, or regularly cooked with the same flavor profiles week in, week out?

If you ask anyone who loves to cook, they’ll probably tell you they have a few favorites or secret weapons in their arsenal used to spice up everyday meals.  In this installment of The Foodie 13, we’ll take a look at the few staple ingredients I always need to keep on hand.

1 – Chili Salt - I first started grinding my own chili salt last fall, after my Chinese 5 Color Pepper plant produced so many little peppers that I didn’t know what to do with them all.  A small bite on the deck early one morning convinced me they were much too piquant to eat on their own, and by that time I’d already canned my pickled jalapenos for the year.  Not wanting to waste any of my harvest bounty, I buried the chilis in a jar full of sea salt.  Once the chilis were completely dehydrated, I dug them out, removed the stems and then pulsed them with salt in the food processor.  A tiny pinch is all you need to make any dish sing; from simply grilled grass-fed burgers, to sticky roasted pork belly, to sumptuous salted caramel, everything it touches tastes that much better.  The bit of kick it brings to the table isn’t half bad either.

2 – Tomato Powder - Several years ago while walking home from work one day, I discovered The Spice Trader, at the time a newly opened flavor emporium.  I wandered in curious and walked out with $250 worth of oils, vinegars and spices – there really are some things I have no restraint over.  While there were many more exotic spices purchased that day that I still love and use all the time, tomato powder is the one I most often come back to.  A pinch of it often turns up to season my grilled grass-fed burgers, and a few dashes works wonders in a marinade or dry rub.  It can be stirred into sauces for a quick and concentrated hit of flavor, or dusted onto bread dough before it goes into the oven.  While the texture and color may remind some of the crusty clumps that can be found at the bottom of a bag of ketchup chips, I can assure you that tomato powder is to it what olive oil is to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter; a relative only in that they share a similar name (in the second case, that would be fat, in case you’re wondering).

3 – Coffee Olive Oil - Another one of my prized finds from that first outing to The Spice Trader was a rather expensive bottle of coffee olive oil.  It may sound strange, and it’s definitely a little extravagant, but the 500 mL bottle will last you forever (if it’s properly stored) and has a multitude of uses.  Start off slowly by using it instead of regular olive oil in an oil and balsamic bread dipper.  The roasted, nutty undertones are quite unlike anything else; except perhaps coffee (which I don’t drink, so I wouldn’t know).  It tastes divine drizzled on fresh tomatoes off the vine, sprinkled with a pinch of salt and a few basil leaves, and adds that bit of je ne sais quoi to a loaf of focaccia just before it hits the oven.  Used to dress a simple sauteed mushroom sauce for pasta, there’s almost nothing better.  The first time the Everyman tried it he said he didn’t like it all that much, but since then I’ve used it in a variety of foods that he almost always loves (and usually doesn’t even discern that this is what’s in there).

4 – Sherry Vinegar - It’s only recently that I’ve started to enjoy sherry vinegar, but it’s one of those things I can’t believe I missed out on for so long.  I first purchased some at the beginning of the year to make one of the many homemade chorizo recipes I was testing.  The chorizo recipe may not have wowed me (it was the one that turned out watery and unappetizingly grey) but the sherry vinegar came out a winner.  Its flavor marries well in pickling liquids, vinaigrettes, and especially the fresh shredded vegetable salad I make that the Everyman loves so much (beets, carrots and sunchokes or celeriac).  Now that I’ve found it, I can’t live without it, and I’m coming up with more uses for it every day.


Mighty Cheeky

After work today I ambled over to The Healthy Butcher, eager to finally get my paws on a couple jowls for guanciale.  I say finally, even though the plan for this guanciale-making endeavor was only formulated several weeks ago.  What can I say…?  I’m an impatient foodie.

The various recipes I’d consulted led me to believe that a single jowl would weigh in at nothing larger than 1.5 pounds or so.  Working with that rough estimate, I asked the butcher to order in 2 for me.  I figured that would be safe because it would leave me a spare if I messed up the first (highly unlikely) or a second to play with at a later date once I got the base flavor down.  Well… when I got to the butcher I found out that they’d put aside about $50 worth of jowls for me.  At approximately $4.99 per pound, you can do that math and figure out how much meat I ended up with.  I’d ordered it in though, so I took the meat and figured that at the very least, I was now set for jowls for the next year or so.

Getting the meat home, I began unwrapping my prize.  Lo and behold it turned out that I actually had 4 jowls.  I opted to freeze one whole package for later, and make a double batch with the other package for now.  As one of my recipes suggested, I began picking over my jowls for any errant glands; apparently these need to be removed prior to curing.  I didn’t see anything that looked like glands, but there were several sections of small, bubblewrap-like pockets, so for safety’s sake I pared those back.  Once that was done, I started to mix together the curing concoction.  It’s a pretty simple ratio; just use equal parts of salt and sugar, and whatever fresh spices you want your meat to take on the flavors of.  I’ve heard talk of people also using something called pink salt; I’m not 100% sure what that is, but I know it contains nitrites, so it’s not going in my food.  Next, you massage the mix into the meat, pressing it well into both sides and all the edges.  Place the thoroughly coated meat into a large freezer bag with any leftover mixture, close it and put it in the refrigerator.  Let it rest for 5-7 days, and make sure to flip the bag daily to evenly distribute the cure.

Once I was done with the basic guanciale, (which in addition to the salt, sugar and peppercorns also contains thyme) I decided I wanted to get a bit crazy with the next one.  Instead of using thyme, I opted for a healthy pinch of several types of chili flakes.  Once mixed, patted and put away, I started to feel a bit dejected.  All of the anticipation and excitement of the last few weeks was over in less than 20 minutes.  The next 7 days will be relatively boring, and the 21 after that absolutely excruciating.  If everything goes well after that, I’ll have guanciale instead of a thriving bacteria population eager to kill us all.  Obviously I’m sure you can tell which one I’m hoping for.  During the next month I’ll continue to post periodic updates on Project Guanciale, and if it turns out, I may even post a few pictures.  In the meantime, here are some recipes for cures you can use, since people always tell me I need to write this shit down.  Um, no, I don’t, but I’ll humor you this once nonetheless.

And as an aside, I also finally got to the bottom of the Everyman’s squeamishness regarding guanciale.  When he took a peek at the butcher package today, he remarked incredulously to me, “Hey, this is pork?”  Well of course it is, and I thought he knew that.  It turns out that the first time we had guanciale was at Cowbell, on one of those mixed beef nose to tail plates that the chef loves so much.  The Everyman didn’t care for it then, and ever since had wrongly assumed that the guanciale I keep talking about was also made with cow cheeks.  Now that he realizes that I’m using pigs, I think he’s alot more receptive to the idea of Roman bacon.  Success!  Now all I have to do is make sure it tastes good… hmmm… maybe I should ask Grant from The Black Hoof for some tips…