I finally had the chance to visit the The Spice and Tea Exchange, which opened a couple of months ago on Park Avenue, Winter Park. As an almost 20 year devotee to Penzeys Spices it is hard for me to stray but I also feel very strongly about supporting local businesses. Owners Bryan Behling and Jeffrey Schrader purchased the franchise for Winter Park and moved here from Tampa, a story not unlike one of my own franchisees, so I feel even more connected.
The store is very warm and inviting, with lots of herbs, spices, rice and teas, but also salts, sugars and accessories. I found the partners to be very friendly and helpful, answering my questions and giving plenty of advice for using some of their blends. I picked up a few things but my favorite acquisition was Ras al Hanout, a classic spice from the bazaars of Northern Africa. After a quick run through The Cheese Shop, a few doors down, for a half pound of Coolea (my favorite cheese, maybe after two year old Parmigiano-Reggiano) and a piece Cypress Grove Purple Haze I headed home for dinner.
Ras al Hanout is a spice that translates to “head of the shop”, or the best blend from the store. In ancient times a shopkeeper’s blend was a source of pride, and they often employed hashish as one of the ingredients in order to ensure their customer’s enthusiasm. Thankfully that is not the case today, with a common blend including lavender, dried rose petals, allspice, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and in my bag, something that looked like a little pine cone. After toasting in a pan until even more fragrant, I pounded the concoction into a fine powder that made the whole house smell like fall. My target meat was a couple of pork tenderloins, destined for grilling over oak charcoal. After I rubbed the mix into the meat I left them to dry in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and started looking for wine and accompaniments.
While digging in the ‘fridge I found a bottle of pomegranate syrup from a trip to The Spice House in Chicago last summer. The pungent, sharp tang of the syrup seemed perfect with the spices in the meat so I pulled the bottle out of the back and started to rethink the wine. Originally I was going to open a collection of whites I bought this week but now that I was into a flavor as strong as pomegranate I figured the natural paring became Pinot Noir. After rooting around the cellar for a few minutes I found a 2002 Brickhouse Pinot Noir from Oregon, a wine I never intended to keep this long. I pulled the cork, dumped the wine into the decanter and went about working on some saffron rice and zucchini for side dishes.
The preparation for this meal was easy. After a couple of hours under the coat of spices I squirted olive oil on the tenderloins and rolled them around the grill for 15 minutes, part direct and part indirect heat. The sides came together easily enough but my pride and joy was the sauce. One cup of beef stock reduced to 1/2 a cup, then a 1/8 cup of pomegranate syrup, a squirt of honey, a generous pinch of the remaining Ras el Hanout and I let the whole thing reduce even farther. Then I finished the sauce with two tablespoons of frozen butter and a few drops of heavy cream. Absolutely mind blowing.
The wine showed perfectly, starting as a fruit bomb of little more than raspberry jam, then evolving with notes of new leather, pomegranate (see?) dried cherry, thyme and bay leaf. The meal would have been perfect but I forgot to make a clafoutis of prunes soaked in Sauternes that I started to prepare mid-week.
No big message with this post except maybe shop local, from those who have a passion for what they do, and don’t ever throw out a bottle of pomegranate syrup, you never know when you will need it.