Cooking, Food

Max for the Minimum

I’m reluctant to post this because I don’t want all the good stuff to sell out before I get there.  But, since no one reads this blog, I will go ahead and share.

I used to be skeptical of the food section of the discount department stores. My concerns were the length of the stay of their food items, as well as the fact that the shelves always looked ransacked and unsystematically put together (think noontime on Black Friday). But one day I threw caution to the wind and bought a can of escargot. I admit it was not the best first choice, but since I was already in uncharted territory I figured I might as well go for the gusto.

The quality of the escargot was debatable. However, if cooking with ingredients to which you would not have otherwise been exposed, then I’m all for it.  It broadens your repertoire.  I gave them a quick rinse, and prepared them in a simple sauté of olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, and finished with a pat of butter. To choke it down enhance the experience, I drank a lovely white burgundy whose name escapes me. A buttery chardonnay may have been a better choice, but white burgundy was open.

Here are just a few things I’ve picked up over the years:
Whole vanilla bean
Dried lavender
Pink salt, grey salt, black salt, smoked salt, salt flakes, rose petal spice blend
Whole black truffles
The aforementioned escargot
Truffle oil – I use this to finish risotto dishes and if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll toss French fries in it just before serving. (attention truffle enthusiasts:  I know truffle oil gets a bad rep because it’s not considered the true truffle experience, but hear me out. This is how I was first exposed to the flavor of truffles, which made me want to try an actual truffle when the opportunity presented itself. And I did. And I liked them.).

So today I will be testing a recipe using the rose petal spice blend. Even before I tasted it, I already had lamb on my mind.  But do I have lamb in the freezer? I rummage past the wild boar (I’m saving that for another day) and Score! Lamb chops in the freezer.

rosespiceI crusted the lamb with the rose petal spice blend and let it rest. I want to keep the sauce simple, so I’m making a quick pan sauce using a beef and chicken stock combo (no lamb stock on hand), and some leftover red wine I had in the freezer. I also want to try this dish with fresh herbs, so I make a quick chimichurri using fresh parsley, mint, shallot, olive oil, and white wine vinegar.

Since my husband’s opinion is a tad biased (I do give him special favors after all), I invited a friend over for dinner to get the ‘person on the street’s’ opinion. I don’t want to taint her judging, but I figured I’d offer generous wine provisions. Châteauneuf-du-Pape ought to do the trick. Or maybe I should have gone with a red blend. Too late, I already opened the Châteauneuf. Who am I kidding? I’ll also open the red blend (we do enjoy our wine).

I grilled half on the stovetop and the other half I pan seared. The grilled I served with the chimichurri. I will taste once without sauce and the other with the sauce.


I am a bit nervous tasting, but I dig in. The verdict…”that’s good” was the person on the street’s response.
“Wait. How much wine have you had?” I asked.
“I’m not drunk”.
Sounds like two thumbs up to me.
Next we try it with the chimichurri. I hand her a piece of lamb topped with chimichurri. Silence…a head nod in delight.
Now the pan seared. She likes the saltiness of the pan seared better, but I preferred the char of the grilled. The meat was tender in both cooking methods and thanks to a soak in buttermilk it was not at all gamey.


I could not taste any hint of rose in either preparation. No matter. The lamb was good. The wine was good. Not a bad way to spend an evening. I’ll worry about finding dried roses to add to the spice blend later.

Even though the rose spice was not what I had hoped, the successes I’ve had with spices and herbs from the discount department stores outweigh the flubs.

So the next time you find yourself trolling the food aisles of those department stores, take a walk on the wild side and go for the jar of pickled string beans, or any other weird thing that’s in packaging that grabs your attention. If you come across dried lavender, save some for me.

Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid. When she’s not looking through your cart at the discount stores to make sure you didn’t buy all the good spices, she’s home using all of the good spices.

For more tales of food aisle triumph, or suggestions on ways to use spices found at the discount department store, contact