Photo credit: thefoodnetwork.com

Normally I shun getting too obsessed with the spices that go into a dish. I tend to keep a small herb arsenal of potent seasonings like cumin, basil, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and other easy-to-find spices on hand. Sure, I have a couple novelties, like ground ancho chiles and tamarind paste, but I don’t think of myself as a ‘spice enthusiast.’ That’s beginning to change thanks in large part to a spice shop a ten-minute drive from my house in Colorado, called Savory.

The shop made aromatic waves in Denver when it opened its first shop in 2004—three more locations soon followed. Now, when I say spice shop, I don’t blame you if you might yawn a bit. But this spice haven begs customers to try out each and every variety they offer. The fresh-ground spices are divided into logical sections like barbecue rubs, curries, Mexican chiles, baking spices. As you venture through the store there are large canisters of each spice, along with small, glass-bottled varieties for purchase. You can buy the standard spice jars or just a couple ounces in a baggy if you’re looking to try out something new. You can also bring in your old glass bottles for a refill. One bottle is marked ‘tester’ so that you can sniff and taste each spice. Although I will caution that the last time I was in my daughter urged me to take a whiff of the mole blend and I inhaled a little too deeply and felt like I was breathing in chiles for the rest of the day (actually, wasn’t too bad).

I meant to pick up only a few standards when I was in last, but I couldn’t resist picking out a few extra things. Since my kids were with me I ended up buying even more. My kids loved being able to try out new flavor combinations. The staff encouraged my kids’ curiosity and even told them if they tried out something and didn’t like it to just brush it off their hands and onto the floor.

Savory Spice Shop isn’t just a favorite destination of Coloradoans, though. The Food Network has noticed too. Janet Johnston, who co-owns Savory with her husband Mike, premiered her show “Spice & Easy” a couple weeks ago. The time slot seems dismissive—7:30am on Saturdays, but with our DVR we’ve been able to watch each episode. I was skeptical that a ‘spice’ show could hold my attention, but I was quickly won over (granted I already loved Savory spices).

What I liked about the show was first that you don’t have to be using Savory spices to make the recipe—Johnston imitates some of Savory’s best combos with dried and fresh herbs. For example, on last week’s episode she made an herb-infused popcorn. The popcorn was topped with a mix of grated Romano cheese, dried dill, salt, fresh chives and tarragon. Now, if you go into Savory, you can just buy the Paris Cheese Sprinkle that this recipe is based on, but it’s nice to have a few hints about how I can recreate some of the blends at home. (And I must admit that I also thought myself privileged that I could cheat my way through some of her on-air recipes because I could just buy the mixes at the store.) Johnston’s style also caught my attention. She seemed easy-going and approachable, her hair wasn’t plastered in place, it was  like you were in the kitchen cooking with your sister.

What really sells me on Savory is finding fresh spices that I haven’t found anywhere else (not even Penzey’s, which opened its own shop a couple doors down about a year ago). From their eclectic, creative blends to the store’s down-to-earth style, which makes spices…cool…I’m a fan. So here are my favorites—

Black onyx powder: It’s like cocoa powder on steroids. Dark, rich. I add it in every chocolate recipe I make (and our homemade mole). The powder intensifies the depth of the chocolate flavor—and enhances it. I’ve never bothered with buying a jar, I just go for the large baggies.

Lodo Red Adobo: With a mix of paprika, Mexican oregano, cumin, Chile powder and more, this is the one spice blend I’ll reach for when I don’t have time to make my red enchilada sauce from scratch. You can whip up a sauce using a little apple cider vinegar and chicken broth to create a spicy, soothing, satisfying sauce. I also mix it with sour cream to top quesadillas, nachos.

Peruvian Chile Lime Seasoning: Start with cumin, add hints of tumeric, chiles, lime, cilantro and a few other spices and you have the complex flavors behind this blend. I use it as a rub on barbecued chicken or fish. (Sometimes, I just sprinkle it on plain rice—it’s that good).

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