The other day I happened upon my new favorite store in San Francisco: Spice Ace on Steiner Street. Jonathan and I were just walking Eddie to get a bath when I realized the spice store that I’ve always wanted to check out; and was always closed when I drove by in the evenings—was actually open.
“Can we go, can we go, can we go?” I begged and pleaded.
Jonathan just rolled his eyes, knowing he’d have to carry whatever bag of goodies I got.
“We don’t need anymore spices,” he said, lamenting over whatever cash was left in his wallet.
“Oh sha!” I said, a little overwhelmed as if I was channeling Dorothy on her first steps into Oz.
Inside was glorious. The entire store is full of dried spices, salts, and herbs. They have so many different types of salt I couldn’t keep them straight: pink, red, black, wet, fine, sea, pasted, etc. Two of the most interesting being the smokey and porcini mushroom flavored, which, shockingly smelled and tasted like hickory smoke or porcini mushrooms. Duh!
A few cubbies away was the wall of chilies: flakes, powders, whole chilies de arbol, ghost, Mexican, Japanese, Indian….and the list goes on. Some were at the top of the Scoville scale (ie: spiciest in the world). Twenty minutes later, just when I felt like I had a grasp on one wall, I turned around to see another—the wall of herbs and extracts! Finally a place where I can find all the random extracts Thomas Keller calls for in his Bouchon Bakery cookbook. The herbs come in various grounds: tea-bag cut or powdered, depending on your preference.
My excitement was so strong I didn’t even feel Jonathan’s stare-of-death searing into the back of my head.
I wanted to buy something, but I didn’t know what or where to begin. Fortunately, we were greeted by the owner and mastermind behind all the blends and spices they carry (Olivia). Sporting an infectious smile and a head full of vibrant red curls, it’s easy to see how she’s earned the nickname Ginger Spice; San Francisco’s very own spice grrrrrl!
Olivia explained how Spice Ace operated, choosing it’s spices first and foremost for their flavors and quality. Second is the freshness of the ingredients and how they check harvest dates with suppliers and farmers, discarding anything that’s less than perfect. And the entire time, she’s looking for organic and sustainable farming practices from local farmers (not everything is available this way). Her prices are also the same (if not better) than the local grocery store charges for an inferior product.
After smelling everything twice, my nose was spent, so I enlisted Olivia’s expertise in picking out a new and exciting spice to use in some braised beef short ribs I was making the next day. We ended up walking away with a new (well new to me) French spice blend called Quatre Epices (four spices)! Jonathan got some mulling spices. And then Eddie got his bath.
The quatre epices mixture is full of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Loads of flavor and reminiscent of Thanksgiving and the leaves changing. It’s perfect Fall blend for stews and hearty comfort foods on a cold night with a delicious red wine.
So in honor of the star studded night of the Golden Globes, we invited some friends over, and served celeb-worthy plates of braised beef short ribs with fennel in red wine and quatre epices. The meat and fennel mixture was served atop a bed of giant lima beans, collard greens, garlic, and crispy sage croutons.
Braised beef short ribs with fennel and red wine
- 2 large bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tblsp coconut oil (heated to liquid before measured…you can also substitute vegetable oil or olive oil)
- 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil for garnish
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tbslp of red pepper flakes
- 1 onion roughly chopped (1 inch chunks)
- 2 carrots peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes
- 1 celery stalk chopped into ½ inch cubes
- 1 large fennel bulb cut into ½ inch slices (save some fennel fronds for garnish)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup chopped raisins (golden or red)
- ¼ tsp quatre epices*
- 1 bottle of a spicy red wine
- 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- Orange or lemon zest (or both), for garnish
- Shaved pecorino cheese, for garnish
*Quatre epices is a traditionally French spice blend of black pepper, nutmeg, white pepper cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Great for terrines, pates, sausages, rillettes, ragout, and slow cooked meats.
Pat the ribs dry and salt and pepper them liberally on both sides. Lightly brush the beef short ribs with some melted coconut oil (or other oil) and brown them in the bottom of a dutch oven (ideally ceramic lined cast iron) on medium high heat 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove the ribs once browned on all sides and place on a plate to cool.
Add the remaining coconut oil to the pot and add the red pepper flakes and anchovies and cook until the filets dissolve into a paste and pepper flakes are fragrant. Then add the bay leaves, carrots, celery, onions, and fennel. Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir for a few minutes until the veggies are starting to caramelize (take on some color from the browned bits on the bottom of the pot) and then add the garlic, raisins and quatre epices, and stir for another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir for another 3-5 mins allowing the tartness of the paste to soften a little before pouring the entire bottle of wine into the pot.
Pour the entire bottle of wine in and with a wooden spoon stir the veggies and scrape up some of the fond on the bottom of the pot (fond refers to the browned bits). Allow the mixture to simmer for another 10 mins before adding the meat back to the pot.
Submerge the beef short ribs in the liquid with the veggies, cover the pot, and place the entire dutch oven in the regular oven for 2.5 hours or until soft and falling off the bones. After an hour in the oven, check on the mixture and if it’s too dry, add some water.
When the meat is tender and to your liking (a good sign is that it’s pulling or falling off the bones), remove it from the mixture and set aside. Bring the contents of the pot back to a boil on the stove for about 10 mins to reduce it to a sauce, and mix the meat in before serving.
Divide among plates and garnish with a little zest.
Have you braised beef short ribs before? If so, please send us some photos or any interesting ingredients you like to braise with.