The Seasoned Gourmet adds a Spice Bar for more inventive cooking
Spices have an abundance of use: medicinally, religiously, cosmetically (i.e. perfumes and makeup) and of course within the culinary world. The beauty of cooking with spices means adding natural flavors to every dish, which also can boast health benefits. For instance, cinnamon isn’t only a lovely addition to cookies or even sauces, but it can help with the common cold and kidney troubles. Turmeric isn’t simply a sure way to add earthiness to a soup, but it benefits skin health and has been linked to treatment for allergies, cancer and Alzheimer’s. While enhancing one’s well-being always proves a plus in cooking, when it comes to getting the most from spices, freshness remains top priority.
The shelf life of spices differ between varieties. “The herbs are more fragile because of the nature of what they are,” Susan Boyles of The Seasoned Gourmet (TSG) says. “Being essentially leaves of plants, they lose their pungency more rapidly than say a ground whole spice like cumin.”
Since 2006 Boyles has run the culinary retail shop and demo kitchen, where cooking classes are offered frequently. In 2011 she founded the Cape Fear Wine and Food Club, which provides educational and recreational events, not to mention discounts throughout the store. In 2013, she added the Spice Bar to TSG to suit a niche in clientele. Thanks to finding a true professional in Greg Patterson of Spices Inc., TSG provides high-quality ingredients that can transform any pantry and meal.
“Greg’s absolutely a perfectionist,” Boyles notes. “He tries to source the best stuff—grinds and blends. He hand-blends a lot of it when I place an order, like herbs de Provence and fines [pronounced feens]. It’s all really fresh. He utilizes different purveyors and growers. He makes sure it’s the best quality and that it’s not [coming from] big pesticide farms, or that it’s not mass-produced.”
One of the reasons Boyles thinks people may be intimidated by using spices in cooking is because of their perceived hefty cost paired with cooks not having the proper knowledge on how to use them. The Seasoned Gourmet offers background on the spices, and staff even can print off recipes for customers. Because Boyles buys in bulk, it allows folks to purchase as much or as little as they choose. Customers can bring their own small containers to fill, or buy small jars from the shop for a one-time fee; the cost for refills is only for the spice or herb. However, TSG also offers plastic zip bags as
“We have a scale where we can tear out the jar or baggy weight so they’re just paying for the product,” Boyles notes. Seeing as herb and spice prices can be high at regular grocers or retail shops, here when one buys 0.3 ounces, they truly buy that amount. “There’s no packaging involved with us, so it’s a really great deal,” Boyles states.
Currently, around 20 spices are available at TSG, including the most popular organic Saigon cinnamon powder. Native to Vietnam, the oil content remains high at 5 or 6 percent, which provides greater pungency and shelf life.
The store also offers New Mexican chile powder, which has a dark reddish-brown hue and earthiness, backed by a piquant bite. It can turn any tamale into a work of art, and it’s perfect for sauces, rubs and, of course, chili and beans. “Chiles last a long time in powder-form,” Boyles informs.
Louisiana gumbo fans will find some of the most fragrant ground sassafras leaves in the store’s filé powder. The thick leaves are cooked down, dried and then ground. Filé acts as a thickening agent, so adding the powder to the end of a soup not only ups the ante on any taste profile but provides a thick texture.
“If you do it too soon, it will just be a glop,” Boyles forewarns. “When gumbo’s made, it looks like soup until at the end, when the filé is added—that’s the authentic way. There still should be a nutty, dark brownish/reddish rue involved, but the rue is more for flavor than thickening.”
By far, however, the Grains of Paradise remain the most unique spice sold at The Seasoned Gourmet. The whole seeds look like baby peppercorns, but have a spiciness in flavor from the pepper, cardamom, coriander and ginger. “They’re great in stewed tomatoes or as a spice in fruit syrup,” Boyles notes.
Sumac, indigenous to Iran, but most popular in Sicily and Turkey, also turns around chicken, fish, garbanzo beans or lamb. “Sumac’s been talked about a lot in the new vogue culinary circles lately,” Boyles says. “It’s definitely got old-world implications.” With a low sodium content, its stringency isn’t much on its own, but it’s magic when paired with other foods. “It’s like an amplifier—deep red, almost purple in color,” Boyles states.
The Seasoned Gourmet, of course, carries the popular herbs de Provence (with pops of real lavendar throughout, nonetheless); raw, organic cocoa powder and raw cocoa nibs (good for raw-food dieters and delicious for baking); a blackened seasoning (made up of domestic paprika, Mexican oregano, yellow mustard, garlic, powder, black pepper, cumin, onion, cayenne, celery seeds and basil leaves); an espresso rub (“sweet, hot—great for your next steak, but also good on potatoes or sweet potatoes,” Boyles says); Mediterranean oregano; Himalayan pink salt; crystallized ginger; a Tuscan bread dipping seasoning (perfectly served with TSG’s La Coniko European-standard olive oil (also available through their refill program); juniper berries; as well as salt-free offerings, like a citrus-herb and a garlic-sesame seasoning.
“We incorporate the spices into classes we already teach at the store,” Boyles states. “Like, I have a soup class where I know my fines herbs will come out. It just opens your eyes about the possibilities.”
Easy Rotisserie Chicken Soup (SERVES 4)
1 cooked rotisserie chicken (plain, no seasoning)
2 packages More Than Gourmet Poulet Gold Chicken Stock
2 quarts (8 cups) water
3 tablespoon The Seasoned Gourmet’s fines herbs
12 ounces egg noodles (or your favorite pasta for soup)
Salt and pepper to taste (taste and season just before serving)
Special Equipment: 4-6 quart stock pot
Dissolve concentrated chicken stock in two quarts of water in a large stock pot over medium heat. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken and pick the meat from the bones. Chop and add it to the chicken stock, with three tablespoons of fines herbs. Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, reducing heat if needed to avoid hard boiling. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper, if desired. Add the noodles and simmer, uncovered, until noodles are tender. Serve hot.
NOTE: If freezing this soup, do not add noodles. They will become mushy if left in the broth. Add noodles when reheating.