Notes from the Field
There exists an old spice merchant proverb dating back to the early 21st century which, roughly translated, advises that “the better the cocktail; the better the party. The better the party; the better the friends.” E’er here to help, we’ve compiled some of our favorite reference materials on the topic. Serve these delicious, humorous, and historical (and of course, spicy!) signature potent potables at your holiday soiree for insurance on a years’ worth of favors from your party-goers.
“Let’s Bring Back; The Cocktail Edition” touts itself as a “compendium of impish, romantic, amusing, and occasionally appalling potations from bygone eras.” The recipes hail from two-hundred year-old sources, right up to the archives of 1950′s iconic restaurant bars. From chuckles to laughs-out-loud, the history and suggestions accompanying each cocktail will have you and your guests tittering for hours, a la, “think only pure thoughts while sipping [The Bishop],” or consume a Scofflaw to give you the courage to “Wear white after Labor Day… Sprinkle Parmesan Cheese on Seafood Pasta… and all sorts of comparable acts of insurrection.”
“Savory Cocktails” is a slender little tome; an ode to all things sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, high, and strong. These drinks are undeniably sexy — what a modern-day Don Draper might imbibe. They’re interesting and nuanced, and legions away from fru-fru — no neon-hued apple-tinis here! Sophisticated foodies only need apply. Try a subtle Green Tea Gimlet (I’d pick jade green Mao Feng to offset the lime), or a Dog’s Nose, made with, of all things, powdered porcini mushrooms in combination with porter and shaved nutmeg. This book calls for a wide variety of flavored bitters- pick up a Scrappy’s sampler pack or two to complete the package.
Though we love classic Mulled Wine and Eggnog, there’s so much more to winter-y cocktails than these two standbys. Enter, “Winter Cocktails.” Learn how to give hot chocolate a grown-up twist with lavender flowers and Earl Grey tea, or elevate your ski-lodge lounge with a “Rosy Cheek,” sprinkled with the rosy cheeks of cracked pink peppercorns. In addition to inspired beverages, this book also has a fabulous section on infusing alcohols at home — Rose-infused gin, anyone? Pair any one of these liquors or cocktails with their suggested finger foods. This is a one-stop-shop for great winter entertaining.
No list of cocktail books would be complete without a mention of the “Drunken Botanist,” shop best-seller and staff favorite since spring. As the name implies, this book unites the best of science and insobriety, leading an alphabetical nature walk from Agave to Strawberry and hitting all the best booze-making plants in between. Learning and jubilating skip hand-in-hand in this volume, the pages dotted with recipes for classic cocktails, as well as tips for updating old favorites in single servings and “pitcher” fulls.
Out of a workshop in Brooklyn comes “Shake,” self-described as “one part instructional recipe book, one part photo journey, and one part inspirational pep talk” for mixing spectacular cocktails at home. The approach is seasonal and straightforward, focused on simplicity, socializing, and, above all, fun! Our copy in the shop comes with the sweetest Mason jar cocktail shaker, pictured on the front of the book, for an automatic out-hipster of just about any one. (Pair with the Art of Fermentation- pickle it! for the win.)
Recently, Holly admitted her powerlessness over the char grilled prawns at the West Edge’s favorite eatery, Lecosho. She recommended following the dish with this fantastic cardamom olive oil cake for dessert, and my ears perked right up. (As a Sicilian, when you say “olive oil,” I say “more!”) I called over to beg pastry chef Andrea for her recipe, and she graciously gave it up. The Ranier cherries that she serves with it are at the end of their season, now, but don’t let that stop you from attempting this cake! Try a few slices of Northwest pear, poached in wine and sugar, or a few cubes of caramelized pumpkin, roasted until soft to garnish. This cake is heavenly with freshly ground cardamom, but is also a brilliant vehicle to feature any number of exotic spices- try pink peppercorns, saffron, fennel (or fennel pollen!) or anise seed, paired with a different flavors of gelato.
A word on the recipe itself: “Real deal” bakers and pastry chefs weigh their ingredients, much like we weigh our spices here in the shop. Weighing provides far more consistent and accurate measurements, which is why we choose to sell our spices that way, too. I left Chef Andrea’s original weights in the recipe in case you’re in possession of a gram scale, but also translated them to the more commonly used volume measurements for the average home cook, too.
The Autumn Equinox brings many things around the Pacific Northwest: our infamous drizzle begins anew, the few maples and oaks color aflame in between the miles of evergreen, the oysters are firm and plump again, garden kale stems grow thick and tough in preparation for wintering over, and, perhaps less famously but no less excitingly– my spice cabinet gets its quarterly makeover! Fall is when my cooking gets hearty, and I rely the heaviest of blended spices to warm my belly and my soul through the short, grey days, and the long, cold nights. It should come as little surprise to anyone who follows my blog-y musings that I delight in the unexpected, so here I’ll share a few of my top, must-have-on-hand blends that add cheer, color, and interest to my standby fall dishes.
The man who shares my life also shares with me an almost unnatural love of Harissa. At once familiar and unexpected, Harissa adds such depth and warmth to everything it touches. Instead of the traditional thyme and rosemary, I rub harissa on a chuck roast before sealing it in my dutch oven and slow-roasting it overnight. The juices from the meat mingle with the exotic spice, and makes the most sumptuous little pan sauce- after you’ve pulled your tender roast, just reduce the liquid by half, and add a pat of butter. Our cous cous with roasted vegetables and Harissa sauce is a year-round classic in my house, too.
My family is a bit “leftovers-challenged,” which is a nice way of saying that even the meals that get raves on night one, die slow deaths in the refrigerator if not re-imagined in to other things. When I make our Turkey Mole, the first night I’ll use the meat to make enchiladas or tacos, while the second, I’ll thin the sauce with chicken stock until it’s just thicker than broth consistency, and add chopped tomatoes, white beans, corn, and onion, and simmer for half an hour to make the world’s fastest and most delicious chili. Soul satisfying, and infinitely more interesting that your traditional “bowl of red.”
Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Hubbard, Kabocha, Spaghetti, Turban… Gardens and markets abound with scores of winter squashes — to say nothing of the dozens of pumpkin varieties — all delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and begging for a roasting. A dash of cinnamon, a grate of nutmeg- fine, I suppose, but who settles for “fine” when “amazing” is available? I stock Kashmiri Curry and Besar for just these occasions. Both have the toasty, sweet spices that bring out the inherent sweetness of the squash, but add so much more, whether you’re roasting whole to mash, or cubing and caramelizing your gourds.
The easiest side dish at this time of year is roasted root vegetables. Heat a sheet pan in a 450 degree oven, toss a sampling of carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and onions in a bit of oil, spread in an even layer on your hot pan, and roast until tender and golden. It may be natural to reach again for the rosemary, or even the Italian Herbs, but I prefer the savory crunch of Svaneti Seasoned Salt. This eastern European blend is so versatile that I find it pairs no matter how I’ve seasoned the main dish — European, north African, Middle Eastern, or Indian. I go through quarts of the stuff, I just can’t get enough.
I have to preface all of this by saying that I do not consider myself a baker. I usually find the excessive measuring and strict orders of operations stifling, and too math-like to be enjoyable to my free spirit. However, creatively spicing puts the joy back in. Pumpkin pies abound at every gathering this time of year, and though I love them, I do grow weary. I prefer this pie, adapted from a very traditional Southern recipe, using sweet potatoes and Sri Lankan curry. Deeply toasted and just a bit spicy, this warm, sweet blend has all but replaced Pumpkin Pie Spice in my kitchen, for sweet potato and pumpkin pies.
This Apple-Carrot pie has also become a standby in my kitchen. When I first posted it, great Seattle food blogger cook.can.read commented that “Cinnamon is the gateway drug. Chinese Five Spice is the destination.” I couldn’t agree more! Try using Chinese Five Spice anywhere your autumn baking calls for cinnamon- I’m talking pumpkin or zucchini breads, muffins- even toss it with sugar to coat the outside of your snickerdoodles!
So, if you’re open to any advice from your humble spice merchant, although nature may be hunkering down for the chilly months ahead, use this time to re-awaken your spice stash. Grab a few unfamiliar and exotic blends, and turn over those spices that have been languishing for six months or longer. The bright flavors of fresh spices will all but erase the dreary skies from your psyche. We’ve got an entire display dedicated to these blends and a few other fall staff favorites, (as well as a bunch of new books!) so drop by for a sniff and a chat!
They’re back! After years of searching we are happy to announce that we were able to get our hands on a shipment of mace blades that meet our quality standards. The mace blade naturally grows in wiry fingers around the nut of the nutmeg tree. Most often this outer membrane is simply ground and sold as mace powder. When the crop is good, however, and merits the extra care required to harvest the whole mace blades, workers carefully snip the blade away from the nutmeg. As you can imagine, harvesting this spice is incredibly labor intensive, behind only saffron and perhaps pollens.
Mace, like its cousin nutmeg, can be very overpowering and “hot” on the tongue. Used in small amounts, however, mace can act like pepper; exciting the pallet and complimenting all the flavors of a dish. It’s fairly easy to overdo it with ground mace powder, I’ve ruined a few soups, cream sauces, and rum butters by going overboard with the mace. This is where whole mace blades can be particularly useful. By using the whole mace like a bay leaf, a chef can impart just a hint of mace flavor. Steeping just a couple mace blades in cream can yield a béchamel that will leap off the plate and dance across the tongue.
Although we love freshly ground spices, and encourage everyone to grind their spices a la minute, the home chef may be disappointed in the results of trying to grind mace blades. If the blade is dry enough to grind, it’s far too dry. If one is particularly determined to grind their whole mace into a powder, freezing or lightly toasting the blades can make the process a bit easier, but at the cost of lost flavor. This is one of those rare cases where it may just be best to buy the powder if a recipe requires powdered mace.
If you’re thinking about giving this exotic spice a try, you may not want to wait, we were only able to secure a small shipment. We hope we can get more, but the spice markets can be unpredictable. Come back next week for a few recipes using mace blades. I’ll be using mace blades to spruce up our pickling spice to make one of my favorite snacks: beet pickled eggs!
My position at World Spice’s professional division has afforded me wonderful opportunities to connect with some of the best chefs around Seattle. One of the most rewarding parts of my role as a spice merchant actually happens when I’m off the clock and I get to experience the delicious dishes that our products enhance. From newcomers like Mamnoon to all the restaurants in the Tom Douglas empire, I never have trouble coming up with great restaurants for date night (deciding on which one is the hard part!) But until recently I had never had the chance to experience the cuisine of one of our most loyal and long standing chef clients, Lisa Dupar Catering.
Last weekend I was honored to attend one of the winemaker dinners as part of the Auction of Washington Wines fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Chef Lisa Dupar and her talented crew teamed up with Dunham Cellars, Willie Green’s, and World Spice for a fabulous “Farmers AT the Table” dinner. Hosted by the gracious and generous Midori Chan and Paul Strisower, this event gave guests the chance to meet some of the people behind the food being served, while giving purveyors like us an opportunity to enjoy the magic that Lisa Dupar creates with our ingredients.
When Lisa first approached us about participating in this dinner we were ecstatic; after getting a sneak peak at the menu, I knew we’d have to do something extra special for the guests who came out to support the Seattle Children’s Hospital. One of the services we offer both our retail customers and professional clients is custom spice blend production, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a limited edition spice blend. I was immediately drawn to the goat on the menu and knew I wanted to create a rub for it that was either Persian inspired or with some Caribbean flair. After playing with a few different mixes, it struck me, why not do both? After a few hours of tinkering and a few delicious taste tests, I settled on the playfully named Rastafari el Hanout. By taking the well-known middle eastern spice blend, Ras el Hanout, and adding a few traditional Caribbean ingredients, I believe I created the perfect goat rub.
Unfortunately space in our little shop is extremely limited, so we can’t offer every custom blend we make; only those in attendance at Riverside Falls last weekend got to taste the exact recipe for this particular limited edition blend. That doesn’t mean we can’t create something special just for you! If you have a big event coming up and want to offer your guests something extra special, ask us about creating the perfect custom blend for you.
The evening soiree at Riverside Falls was an unforgettable night, and I’d like to wrap up by thanking Lisa Dupar (check out her wonderful cookbook), Jeff Miller from Willie Green’s, Eric Dunham, the indulgently hospitable Midori Chan and Paul Strisower, and of course all the guests who came out to support such a great cause.
This month World Spice Merchants was happy to host Georgina Koomsen from Ghana and Nefisa Siraj from Ethiopia. Participants in the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, both women work in the spice industry in their home countries and visited Seattle looking to connect with their peers in the United States. Lucky for us, our own Amanda Bevill was on their list.
As business leaders in their respective countries, Georgina and Nefisa are both pursuing fair trade and organic production practices. In September 2006, Georgina was the first woman and the first African ever awarded the ‘Spirit of Organic’ Award, by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in recognition of being the most progressive organic-producing co-operative having overcome huge odds.
Are these women representative of the type of farmer co-operatives with which we’d like to partner? You bet. Ghana happens to be the world’s largest supplier of Grains of Paradise, a perennial herb belonging to the same family as ginger and turmeric. Georgina’s farm grows many acres this exotic and expensive spice, and we are hoping to get just a modest quantity of that deliciousness to supply customer demand and to satisfy our own desire for Grains of Paradise Peanut Soup.
This last photo shows a sampling of their wares including from left to right, dried turmeric root, nigella seed, mixed sesame seed, coriander, white sesame seed, and dried ginger root. We’re currently taste testing these and other samples provided against our current stock, and if they are superior we will be placing our first order. Either way, it was a delight to discuss trade with these two visionaries.
Is there a spice or blend that you would like to see added to our inventory? If so, please put in a comment below, and we’ll investigate adding it to our shelves.