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Posted by Claire

Howdy, folks.

For our non-Calgarian readers, today is the first day of the 2015 Calgary Stampede, which is a 10-day celebration of everything Western. If the hot weather didn’t already have us dreaming about backyard barbeques and summer drinks, this definitely moved those things to the top of our priority list. In honour of that, we’ve released two videos showcasing easy ways to incorporate spices and bitters into your summer entertaining.

 

The first video addresses a common question we get at the Calgary shop — namely, how to use our steak spices (or any dry rub) to season a steak.

 

The second demonstrates a Silk Road twist on the classic Caesar, Calgary’s most iconic cocktail. It’s called the “Hell and High Water” as a nod to the 2013 floods that inundated both the Stampede grounds and our neighbourhood, and we’ve played on the name by enhancing the seafood elements of the drink.

 

If you’d like to read up on the spices we use in the videos, here are the links to their descriptions on our website:

Have a safe Stampede, everyone. Yeehaw!

 

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By Vanessa Gillard

Nicole Fewell, owner of Cheezy Bizness food truck, shows off the main attraction, a melty grilled cheese. Look for her truck at catered events this winter.

Nicole Fewell, owner of Cheezy Bizness food truck, shows off the main attraction: a melty grilled cheese. Look for her truck at catered events this winter.

As we head into our busy season at The Silk Road we are seeing lots of familiar faces returning to the shop. After all, this isn’t just our busy season: everyone is shopping, making plans with family and friends and anticipating all the beautiful food to be enjoyed in the next month. One of those familiar faces is Nicole Fewell, owner and head chef of the Cheezy Bizness food truck, as well as the proprietor of Porter’s Tonic, a tonic syrup company.

Along with being the owner of two successful businesses, Nicole is also a wife, mother and all around palate temptress. Don’t be surprised to see her orange truck popping up at the city’s best street festivals in the summer or her famous grilled cheese sandwiches being served at events of all sorts. Rain or shine, summer or winter, people come in to our shop specifically to find her unique tonic syrup that “adds a grin to your gin.” We asked Nicole to have a chat with us about herself and her philosophy on all things tasty.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Are you from Calgary? How did you begin your culinary career? 

My first industry memory was working at an inn on Mayne Island, BC. In grade 6, I went with a friend to her Aunt’s place and we worked in the dining room. I loved it.

I moved to Calgary in September of 1999. I had been working on the line in a pub in Invermere and had one friend here in Calgary. She helped me get a job at Concorde. I started as a server and then did some bartending and front of house management. After Concorde closed I worked at the Barley Mill and then became a Flight Attendant with West Jet. When I had my son, who is now 8, I was luckily able to stay home with him for until he was in Grade 1. That’s when I started to make a plan to open Cheezy.

Another great job I had in the industry was with Shelley Adams up at White Water Ski Hill in Nelson, BC. I got to work behind the scenes there. Sometimes I was the first person in the building besides the Cat operators, making cinnamon buns and watching the sun rise on the mountain.

Both of your businesses are based on taking something classic and putting a new spin on it. What inspired this approach and why do you think Calgarians have embraced it so enthusiastically? 

Classics are classics for a reason: they are beloved, cherished and timeless. I chose a grilled cheese truck because everyone finds a grilled cheese comforting, and the creative possibilities are endless. I can keep coming up with new sandwiches and flavour profiles to entice people to come back while also craving our classics, like the Hot Mess.

What ingredient did you have the most fun pairing with your cheezy sandwiches this summer?

My favourite ingredient this summer was the in-truck made Goat Ricotta paired with our Olive Fig Tapenade. I love to play with layers of flavour and texture, and this sandwich had all that.

Your businesses take you all over Calgary and you take part in culinary events quite consistently as well. How would you describe your personal sense of community?

From the day I first moved here I couldn’t believe how friendly and open this city is. When I walked down the street and strangers actually looked up and said hello when passing by, I was shocked. The culinary community is very much this way as well. So collaborative, welcoming and supportive, not to mention inspiring. When you’re passionate about what you do and meet others who are the same way, it’s natural to become friends, whether you’re a writer, chef, food truck owner or wholesaler of fine food. I’ve welcomed a lot of new industry friends into my life in the last couple years which has been amazing. When starting my business, I also relied on old industry friends like Brendan Bankowski of Taste Restaurant, who was so supportive. As one of the original Perogy Boyz owners, he and Chef Shawn Greenwood were so generous with their knowledge.

You appear to support and collaborate with lots of local producers, farmers, chefs and entrepreneurs. Why is this important to you?

Shopping local has always been a priority in our family, so it was very natural for to me to incorporate that into my business. I feed my guests as though they were in my kitchen at home with quality local, fresh ingredients.

Do you recall what your first cocktail was and what is your favourite these days?

I think my first cocktail was probably a Long Island Ice Tea, being that I graduated in 1987 (LOL). My favourite these days is Spirit Bear Gin with Porter’s Tonic Original (of course). I’m also a fan of the Bourbon Manhattan and the Moscow Mule.

When and how did you discover The Silk Road Spice Merchant and what are some of your go-to spices and/or blends from the shop?

I discovered Silk Road through reading an article in Avenue. I buy almost all my spices from Silk Road, for home and the truck. Two of my favourites are sumac and nigella seeds.  I love to use them in salads to take it up a notch. I use nigella instead of chives a lot. I also started making mustard from your seeds this year, which is surprisingly easy and fun to play around with. My current favourite is a Cabernet Mustard inspired by Model Milk’s Pinot Noir Mustard that they used on their Rabbit Mortadella.

Check out Cheezy Bizness and Porter’s Tonic.

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Submitted by Vanessa Gillardblending_bowls2

Spice blends are enjoyed worldwide by all varieties of cultures and peoples. A region’s cuisine is usually heavily influenced by the herbs and spices that are native to the area. Those ingredients typically end up in the local dishes in various quantities and combinations. Some spice blends contain up to 50 spices and herbs and all blends will vary from region to region, from family to family and from cook to cook.

However, a spice blend doesn’t need to be complex to tickle the palate. Many of us as children enjoyed a simple blend of sugar and cinnamon on toast at breakfast. It was certainly always a big hit at our breakfast table, but I suspect that if someone had mixed just about anything with white sugar I would have gladly put it on my toast. The Silk Road’s Vanilla Sugar is a simple blend—containing only sugar, vanilla beans and vanilla extract—and yet goes incredibly nicely with coffee, fruit salad or (you guessed it) toast, cookies and other baked goods.

At The Silk Road we hand-mix over 80 spice blends on a consistent basis and are continuously developing new recipes. Some are our own creations and some are our versions of tried and true favourites. The creation of a new blend can involve quite a lot of research (as well as trial and error) because there are always infinite possible variations of each blend. The final product that you find on our shelves has been tried, tested and tweaked by staff members who try out the newest creations at home. It’s a collaborative process to be sure, leading to multi-layered flavours in our blends.

This being said, all our blends begin with an idea and underlying all bright ideas are some basic spice-blending principles.  Anyone can make their own mixture, but as in cooking, spice blending needs to strike a balance between sweet, salty, sour and bitter taste elements. Ian Hemphill, author of The Spice and Herb Bible, breaks spices into five categories in order to achieve this balance with more ease.

Amalgamating spices: These spices recur in many (though not all) spice blends and will give the mixture a base of flavour to build upon. This category includes things like coriander, turmeric and paprika. These spices will tie the recipe together without commanding too much attention.

Sweet spices: These spices have their own natural sweet tendencies and are often used in desserts like puddings, cakes and pastries but they have their place in savoury foods as well. The sweet spices include cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and aniseed.

Pungent spices: These spices may be camphorous and astringent and will have quite apparent aromatic “top notes”. Pungent spices have a freshness of flavour that may be otherwise be lacking in food and should be used rather sparingly due to their strength. Cardamom, ginger, cloves, nigella seeds and star anise are among the family of pungent spices.

Tangy spices: Just like sweet and sour can balance each other quite nicely, tangy spices have a sourness to them that will balance a blend with their fruity citrus-like vibrancy. The most common tangy spices are citrus peels, tamarind, sumac and amchur.

Hot spices: This group is one that can easily be used too generously. The ideal amount is relative to the palate so it’s always a good idea to start small in this hot little group. Chiles, horseradish, mustard and pepper can make or break a blend, so be warned.

The proportions that Hemphill recommends for spice blends are approximately 3% hot, 5% pungent, 12% tangy, 23% sweet and 57% amalgamating. These numbers are not set in stone, but they are a useful starting point when thinking about a new blend. Incidentally, once a blend is mixed, it can take a further 24 hours for the flavours to marry. A blend we’ve made one day will often be a different colour the next day once the ingredients have mingled and dyed each other.

In the hopes of capturing some of the mystery of the mosaic of spices that is our Ras El Hanout blend, we’ve documented some of our process here (though we aren’t giving TOO much away). Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan blend whose name translates to “top of the shop.” Each spice shop has their own secret recipe for this blend that traditionally uses the best spices in the shop. Our recipe uses over 25 different spices and involves many different blending steps.

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By Colin Leach

A selection of the bitters available at The Silk Road.

A selection of the bitters available at The Silk Road.

Cocktail bitters are becoming more and more prevalent in good drinks mixed in good bars. 10 years ago, Angostura Bitters was the only brand available in Canada. Most bars and some home liquor cabinets had one of the distinctive bottles with the yellow cap and weird paper label sitting neglected in the back. But nobody really seemed to know what they were or what they should be used for. Now, thanks to the artisanal, DIY ethos and obsessive attention to authenticity that permeates everything from bartending to pickle-making, there’s a whole range of bitters brands and flavours available. These range from the very traditional orange and celery, to the more obscure habanero, sarsaparilla and Thai curry. There’s something for every palate and every type of cocktail. Savoury bitters are great in drinks like caesars or gin & tonics; citrusy bitters work great with gin and tequila; darker, stronger bitters are great in whiskey drinks; and just about anything can work in a martini or Manhattan.

Bitters, in a nutshell, are strong infusions of herbs, spices and roots that are added to cocktails to enhance the flavours and add an undertone of bitter complexity. Most are made with an alcohol base (since alcohol is needed to extract the flavours from the spices and botanicals), but they are classified as non-potable alcohol, so they can be sold in shops like ours (as can vanilla extract). You use so little that they are perfectly safe in virgin cocktails or just splashed into soda water. The amount of alcohol they add to a drink is negligible.

Making your own bitters at home is a really fun and interesting project for someone who wants to feel like an alchemist. You get to work with interesting and strange-smelling plants, you get to have jars of colourful infusions resting in cupboards, and at the end of it all, you have wonderful and delicious tinctures that you can use in your own cocktail-making efforts and give as gifts to imbibing friends.

If you’re interested in making bitters at home, we can’t recommend highly enough Brad Thomas Parsons’ book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. It’s a wonderful book with history, shopping guides, cocktail recipes and 20 or so recipes for making bitters. But to get you started we’ve developed a recipe for our very own Yuzu-Lemon Bitters. Yuzu is a wonderful and unique citrus fruit from Japan that is more or less impossible to find outside of that country (at least in it’s fresh form). We carry dried and granulated yuzu peel, and we’ve paired that with fresh lemon peel for this recipe.  All you need apart from some spices is 3 fresh lemons, some honey, a large jar or two, and some high-proof vodka or grain alcohol (we use Everclear, which is available here in Alberta). Some small dropper bottles or woozy bottles are also useful for packaging the final product. The whole thing takes about a month.

Yuzu-Lemon Bitters

Some of the necessary ingredients.

Some of the necessary ingredients.

Ingredients:

Fresh zest of 3 lemons
¼ cup dried yuzu peel
6 cracked cardamom pods
½ tsp whole coriander
½ tsp gentian root
½ tsp hops (1-2 flowers)
1 tsp cut lemongrass
¼ tsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 cups Everclear grain alcohol
Water
2 Tbsp honey

 

Instructions:

  • Place peels, spices and botanicals in a mason jar and cover with grain alcohol.
  • Seal the jar and let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks. Give the jar a good, vigorous shake once a day.
  • Strain the alcohol into a clean mason jar through a cheesecloth to separate the liquid from the dry ingredients. Once the majority is strained, gather the cloth into a ball and squeeze it to release as much liquid as possible. Store the infused alcohol for now.
  • Put the solids into a saucepan and add 1 cup of water.
  • Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  • Pour this mixture into the original (now empty) jar, cover and allow to sit for 5 days. Again, shake vigorously once a day.
  • Strain the water through cheesecloth and discard the solids. Then add the infused water to the jar of infused alcohol.
  • Add honey to the bitters mixture.
  • Seal the jar and allow the mix to sit for 5 days, shaking occasionally.
  • Strain again and pour into small bitters bottles. Label.
  • For optimum potency, use within a year.
Peeling lemons.

Peeling lemons.

Adding alcohol.

Adding alcohol.

Ready for infusion.

Ready for infusion.

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Submitted by Vanessa Gillard

Supporting local farmers is good for you and your community.

Supporting local farmers is good for you and your community.

With August upon us, there is a very long list of fruits and veggies that are in season — the most in the entire year. This is a perfect time to make it out to the farmer’s market to harvest yourself some vibrant, locallygrown produce, and reap the health and taste benefits around your dinner table and in your day-to-day routine.

Among the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables you’ll see piled high at your favourite vendor’s stall this month, there are a few that pair particularly well with The Silk Road’s blends and spices. The freshest menu with the freshest spices is sure to make summer memories that will serve you well in those frigid winter months that will come all too soon.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables to pair with The Silk Road’s blends and spices:

Carrots and dill weed: Roast some colourful carrots with honey and Silk Road dill weed for a side dish just like Grandma’s (or at least how it should’ve been.)

Cauliflower and Panch Poran: Our Panch Poran blend will complement any cauliflower dish but Cauliflower Dal, from the Bengali region of India, will absolutely knock your flip flops off.

Sweet corn and Saltwater Chili-Lime Seasoning: We’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — corn-on-the-cob with a little butter and our Saltwater Chili-Lime Seasoning is a perfect addition to any midsummer barbeque.

Seasonal fruit and Vanilla Sugar: Anjou and bartlett pears, apricots, blueberries, nectarines, peaches, plums, melons and apples are in season, and if these sound like the makings of the most mouth-watering fruit salad on Earth then a dusting of our Vanilla Sugar or Lavender Vanilla Sugar will make it out of this world. Perfect for picnics, barbeques, and snacks for hungry little mouths, and check out our apricot recipes for more fruitful ideas.

Broccoli and Ginger-Sesame Asian Seasoning:  If you’re struggling for a new side dish idea, try some fresh broccoli from your favourite farm and our Ginger-Sesame Asian Seasoning. Just a few flips in the wok and a dash of sesame oil, and you’re set. This blend is perfect for stirfrys of all kinds.

Beans and Herbes De Provence: Green and yellow beans are like peas in a pod…but they’re beans. A quick steam, a wee bit of butter or olive oil and our Herbes De Provence will prove that beans can still surprise you.

There are plenty of vendors and markets in Calgary to choose from but our favourite, quite naturally, is The Calgary Farmer’s Market where you will find plenty of fresh, local produce from vendors like Innifail Grower’s Co-op, Souto Farms and The Cucumber Man. Oh and don’t forget to stop by The Silk Road’s stall where you’ll find all our blends, spices and accessories.

Buying and eating yummy, local fruits and veggies is good for you, and good for the community, so enjoy what summer has to offer while supporting the hardworking men and women that deliver what’s in season while throwing in a smile and a handshake.

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Where would our society be without beer can chicken? This method of barbequing chicken has become immensely popular over the years, probably because it requires only a barbeque, a chicken, some beer and some relaxation. So pull up a lawn chair, grab a beer and get roasting.

1 whole chicken
1 can of beer
Around 5 Tbsp of Driftwood Texas Bar-B-Que Rub

  • Pre-heat your barbeque to high. Rinse off the chicken (inside and out) and pat the skin dry with a paper towel or tea towel. Sprinkle Driftwood Texas Bar-B-Que Rub all over the chicken. Use your fingers to rub it evenly into the skin.
  • Open the can of beer and drink half of it. Stick the half-full beer can in the cavity of the bird, keeping it upright. If you have a beer can chicken stand, you can use it, or position the chicken legs out like a tri-pod and prop the chicken up. The weight of the bird should keep it vertical.
  • If using a 2-burner gas barbeque, turn one side of your barbeque off and leave the other side on medium-high heat. Put the chicken on the side of the side that is off. If you’re using a charcoal grill, push all the coals to one side and put the chicken on the other side. Basically, you’re looking for indirect heat at around 375-400 degrees F.
  • Leave with the lid closed for 45 minutes and check to see if the juices are running clear and the meat is firm. If you have a thermometer, check the thickest part of the breast; it’s done at 165 degrees F.
  • Take the bird off the barbeque and let rest for 10 minutes, tented with foil it stays nice and juicy.
  • Using an oven mitt, take the can carefully out of the cavity and serve the chicken however you want.
Driftwood Beer Can Chicken

Driftwood Beer Can Chicken

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Claire's favourite double-scoop blend is Toasted Coconut and Mango ice cream. My favourites are Rootbeer and Cardamom. The rootbeer is made with spices & botanicals from The Silk Road Spice Merchant, as well, the green cardamom ice cream is infused with our whole green cardamom pods.

Claire’s favourite double-scoop blend is Toasted Coconut and Mango ice cream. My favourites are Root Beer and Cardamom. The Root Beer is made with spices & botanicals from The Silk Road Spice Merchant, and the Cardamom ice cream is infused with our freshly ground green cardamom seeds.

Submitted by Vanessa Gillard

Calgary is brimming with culinary talent and amazing new and old establishments to excite your palate. We regularly have local restaurateurs coming through our doors to buy spices, herbs and even botanicals, but one that may perhaps seem a little unorthodox is Village Ice Cream owner and operator Billy Friley.

I say unorthodox because, when daydreaming about the silky, delicate delicacy that is ice cream, people don’t necessarily think about spice flavours. However, as I discovered on my first visit to the little parlour in East Victoria Park, spices are essential to the wares of this creamy dessert delicatessen.

Since The Silk Road provides many flavour elements to Village, some of us felt that a field trip was in order, you know, for research. I had heard that the ice cream was unparalleled, so having never been, the anticipation was a little overwhelming. You see, like many, I tend to scream for ice cream. And so, after very little coercion, four of us piled into a car one rainy Thursday after work and made the short trip from Inglewood to Vic Park.

Upon arriving, I was surprised to see that people had defied the rain and were sitting on the pint-sized patio in front of the store enjoying their creamy treats while the rain had let up a bit. Inside there were tourists taking photos with the obliging ice cream expert, Palmer. They certainly seemed happy with their cones, grinning and giving a bow before leaving.

The menu was so enticing it was almost heartbreaking to choose just two of the 14 flavours available, four of which are seasonal.

Jenny in deep contemplation over what flavour to sample first.

Jenny in deep contemplation over what flavour to sample first.

The menu is a formidable hurdle to getting your hands on the delectable treat itself.

The menu is a formidable hurdle to getting your hands on the delectable treat itself.

The waffle iron at Village is the cherry on the sundae, so to speak.

The waffle iron at Village is the cherry on the sundae, so to speak.

As I took photos, my comrades settled in to enjoy their fresh waffle cones. Then I was up and Palmer happily gave me dollops of any flavours I wanted to try. After much agonizing, I settled on a Cardamom and Root Beer combo in a waffle cone fresh from the waffle iron. Incidentally, those are two flavours that The Silk Road provides spices for. The next 30 seconds of my life were a blur. One of the Silk Road gals commented that I appeared to be having “a real experience” with my ice cream. She was right. I needed to sit down.The Root Beer scoop was on top and it tasted like childhood, like that first root beer float in all its bubbling glory that someone had first handed me, no spoon required. The warm waffle cone melted the two flavours together ever so slightly and the expertly spiced Cardamom was a perfect complement to the depth of the Root Beer’s complexity. Yes indeed, I was having an experience, possibly the out-of-body variety.

Village sources as many ingredients as possible from local and organic sources and this may be why they have earned some renown in the dairy-loving community of our snowy city. But if you don’t do dairy, worry not, there are a couple flavours for you too (which change seasonally). Hibiscus Juniper Sorbet is a great option for the lactose-challenged and the Oaxacan Chile Chocolate is not only dairy-free but vegan as well. They both include The Silk Road’s botanicals and spices.

The Village philosophy.

The Village philosophy.

The Silk Road is proud to supply the freshest spices, herbs and botanicals to many local restaurants and pantries, and Village Ice Cream is one place where you can taste ice cream that is about as local as it comes and all made on the premises. Have your own out-of-body taste experience today, rain or shine. You’ll thank yourself when you’re looking down on that double scoop.

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