I was checking out a new restaurant the other day in St. Louis, and as I wandered out the door after a somewhat so-so meal, I caught a whiff, just a whiff mind you, of a familiar smell. I realized that it was coming from a tiny storefront next to the restaurant. As I drew closer, the delightful aroma grew stronger, until I was standing in front of the Penzey’s Spice store on Manchester, the only one in St. Louis, Missouri. It had been awhile since I had stopped by, so I decided to go in and see if I could replenish my slightly depleted and neglected spice cabinet. The shop is patterned after an old-fashioned general store, with wood floors
that creak, and row after row of fragrant spices, all stocked alphabetically. I sort of had an idea on what I was running low on, but there was one seasoning that I just couldn’t remember for some reason. The clerks at Penzey’s are unusually helpful, so I started to describe what I was looking for, though I still couldn’t come up with a name. “I think I know what you are looking for.” The clerk said and took me right to it. The help at this place always reminds me of the aunt that you might call up and ask for help with a recipe: “I’ve got just what you are looking for.” The aunt says. “Just throw in a pinch and stir it well.” After you get what you need at Penzey’s, stick around for a few minutes and browse through the aisles and try something new. With prices that are almost half of what you pay at the supermarkets, you can afford to experiment. With Ã?Â¼ cup sizes in the $1.50-$3.00 range, you can try first it and then get the larger sizes if you like it.
Bill Penzey has grown his little Wisconsin spice shop to some twenty-eight units across the country. He has the envious job of traveling around the world looking for unique and flavorful spices and herbs that will make any palate start to dance with paroxysms of joy. With the variety of spices and seasonings available, it can get pretty confusing at times on what is best to keep on hand. It really depends on what you like to cook. And, you can always see what aunt Hazel has in her cupboard. Penzey’s carries a good selection of boxes that are tailored for every need, but if price is a concern, start with the basics like basil, bay leaves, rosemary, and thyme. Add some onion and garlic flakes and some peppers; if you like it spicy, then just buy small amounts according to the recipes and experiment. You will have a cupboard full before you know it.
As the weather turns cooler, I usually trot up to Penzey’s to get the ingredients for my mother’s Oxtail soup. Making it however, is an all day affair. First you have to find a butcher shop that still carries the oxtails, (cow tails), and then you have to boil them for several hours until the meat falls off of the bone and the bone marrow seeps out. This is what gives the soup its unique flavor. Then you have to chop up the fresh vegetables and simmer the soup for another few hours. It’s best if you then put it into the refrigerator and let all of the ingredients steep together for a couple of days. If you don’t have the time, here’s a condensed, (just like Campbell’s), version that you can have ready in about 30 minutes:
Walt’s Faux Oxtail Soup
1 can Veg All canned vegetables
1 can Veg All large cut vegetables
1 sm. can french style green beans
1 8 oz. can tomato paste
Ã?Â½ can seasoned stewed tomatoes
Throw in the following herbs and spices to taste, usually a pinch or so will do:
Basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, chives, dill weed, tarragon, white pepper, black pepper, chervil, cilantro, bay leaf, and tumeric.
You can also add a little seasoned salt if you prefer.
Combine all of the ingredients in a stockpot and heat slowly, adding water to the desired consistency. If you prefer a meaty soup, or a stew, add either cooked stew meat or hamburger. About ten minutes before the soup is finished cooking, add a handful of egg noodles. The noodles will thicken the soup and add some consistency. Then sprinkle a little cheese on top or your favorite crackers and you have a hardy meal that has a ton of flavor. And, remember, it gets better after a day or two in the fridge.