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Best of Christina's Spices

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STL BOS Jan 28, 2010 07:07 AM

I am putting together a wedding gift and want to add some local flavor. I am getting the couple some cooking equipment and also want to pick up some things from Christina's. Any suggestions for Christina's products that are either New England/Boston oriented or just plain awesome? The couple is not very culinarily adventurous, so I'd rather stick with more recognizable stuff rather than delicious but hard to find (and intimidating). Thanks in advance.

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    Pegmeister RE: STL BOS Jan 28, 2010 07:55 AM

    Well, if they're just starting out I would just go with the basics; black pepper; white pepper; oregano; basil; all spice; nutmeg and some nice chili powders, maybe some ground ginger. Christina's also has some very nice loose teas.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Pegmeister
      BarmyFotheringayPhipps RE: Pegmeister Jan 28, 2010 11:08 AM

      I actually don't like Christina's black pepper so much: it's pungent enough that it's very very easy to use too much. I've actually ruined dishes with it, and I *like* black pepper!

      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
        jgg13 RE: BarmyFotheringayPhipps Feb 9, 2010 06:58 AM

        I wonder if it is something like this?
        http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/e...

        I ordered those ecuadoran peppercorns once. I personally really enjoyed them, but they made everything I used them in quite pepper-y and spicy. That's fine for me, but not for other folks eating my stuff :)

    2. TomH RE: STL BOS Jan 28, 2010 09:13 AM

      They have some really nice sea salts and pink peppercorns are always appreciated!

      1 Reply
      1. re: TomH
        nsenada RE: TomH Jan 28, 2010 11:05 AM

        Yes, I got some pink salt, and smoked black salt there that I like.

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        allgimbel RE: STL BOS Jan 28, 2010 10:16 AM

        Picked up some vietnamese cinnamon at Christina's that is wonderfully pungent. I'd highly recommend it along with Pegmeister's suggestions above.

        2 Replies
        1. re: allgimbel
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          quirkydeb RE: allgimbel Jan 28, 2010 11:08 AM

          I've never had Christina's Vietnamese cinnamon, but the Vietnamese cinnamon I have had (from Penzey's) is life-altering. Once I got it, I went on a cinnamon baking binge (snickerdoodles, coffee cake, rugelach, repeat...). Anyone who hasn't tried Vietnamese cinnamon should (if they like cinnamon)--once you have it, the regular stuff smells like dust.

          1. re: quirkydeb
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            allgimbel RE: quirkydeb Jan 28, 2010 12:17 PM

            Agreed!

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          grant.cook RE: STL BOS Jan 28, 2010 11:25 AM

          Are they young and starting out or older and sort of locked into how they cook? I'd stick with the basics, as pegmeister said.. things like smoked salts are GREAT, but they are more of a culinary luxury.... I'd rather get someone a good grinder and some solid black peppercorns than some high-end curry powder that will sit idle. Penzeys in Arlington sells boxed starter sets that are nice..

          1. Small Plates RE: STL BOS Jan 28, 2010 11:26 AM

            I love their ancho chile powder - so fragrant and great in Chili, seasoning meats and potatoes, other veg, stews. Really good. I also get a small vial of saffron when I go in, pretty good quality. Recently picked up white pepper, ginger, mustard, ancho chile powder, saffron, nutmeg, onion powder, ground cumin, cumin seed - all very good. You can't go wrong with too much in Cristina's.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Small Plates
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              bear RE: Small Plates Jan 29, 2010 06:31 AM

              SP, do you remember about how much the saffron goes for? I just used up my stash but don't want to remortgage the house to buy some.

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              blink617 RE: STL BOS Jan 29, 2010 04:19 AM

              Unless you're totally set on Christina's, I would swing by Penzey's on Mass Ave in Arlington. They do great wedding gift boxes, including an assemble-your-own option. They use whole spices (nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, etc.) for packing material in the box, it's great and not at all intimidating.

              8 Replies
              1. re: blink617
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                cpingenot RE: blink617 Jan 29, 2010 05:17 AM

                Second what Blink 617 says- their boxes are lovely. Assemble your own is good if you know their specific needs, but the themed boxes are also a good way to give someone the spices to tackle a specific type of cooking or baking. You're not really going to find spices that were produced locally, and the penzeys' packaging makes a much more attractive gift than the little cellophane bags things come in at Christinas.

                1. re: cpingenot
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                  grant.cook RE: cpingenot Jan 29, 2010 05:25 AM

                  The other thing Penzeys quietly gets you in the habit of it buying small jars - which means I don't have 6 oz of cardamon sitting around for 3 years.. and the jars are easier to store than small plastic bags..

                2. re: blink617
                  LindaWhit RE: blink617 Jan 29, 2010 06:51 AM

                  Agree - Penzey's does very nice gift boxes - and the assemble-your-own allows you to go mostly with basic spices and herbs, but add in an interesting "not so ordinary" one to allow them to expand their cooking chops.

                  Their Vietnamese cinnamon, as stated above, is phenomenal. I also like the dried lavender (they don't always have it), their Chinese ground mustard, and their mixed blends are also very good - Za'atar, Parisian Herbs and a few others. Plus, you get to smell all of the herbs and can buy them in smaller jars so they can experiment without feeling if they don't like it, they haven't wasted money.

                  1. re: LindaWhit
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                    allgimbel RE: LindaWhit Jan 29, 2010 01:05 PM

                    Penzey's is fun, but I do like the OP's original wish to add some *local* flavor to the gift. And shopping at Christina's, or another locally owned shop, does that (allowing, of course, for the fact that all of these spices are imported from somewhere else).

                    Having said that, I am a fan of Penzey's hot cocoa mix and recommend that as a simple house gift. Always received well...

                    1. re: allgimbel
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                      STL BOS RE: allgimbel Jan 29, 2010 09:01 PM

                      I know Penzeys is quality but there is a Penzey's in St. Louis, where the couple lives and that's why I wanted to go with Christina's. But hot cocoa sounds great on days like this!

                      1. re: STL BOS
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                        bear RE: STL BOS Jan 30, 2010 05:12 AM

                        You could get some Burdick's hot chocolate for a local touch. Can't beat it!

                        1. re: STL BOS
                          LindaWhit RE: STL BOS Jan 30, 2010 01:35 PM

                          That makes sense to a point...but getting them something they know they can get locally to them would also be an encouragement to go there and explore Penzey's themselves! JMO....But the hot chocolate idea, if it's anywhere near as cold down there as it is here, would also be a good idea!

                      2. re: LindaWhit
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                        suzysue2 RE: LindaWhit Feb 6, 2010 09:58 PM

                        I am going to have to agree with LindaWhit. Penzey's is great and Christina's "packaging", well let me just say, dime bags are packaged with way more thought and care. I was pressed for time and went to Christina's to buy tea for a gift before a trip and I was appalled by the "plastic bag" it came in. Luckily, Mark from MEM Teas happened to stop by my place of work and gave me a bag of his to put it in. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge is another place to consider.

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                      heypielady RE: STL BOS Jan 29, 2010 06:33 AM

                      But a word of warning about Penzey's (or Christina's for that matter): Do stick to basics rather than spice blends. My dad went nuts in Penzey's and got us all kinds of pepper blends and cajun rubs and jerk spice for roasts and steaks and they just went unused. I felt guilty throwing out full, pretty much unused, bottles of spices last week but I needed to make room for the spices I actually do use. Plus they were like 4 years old so they probably lost all their oomph anyway.

                      And to think all he needed to get me was oregano. oh and vanilla extract... the good stuff is expensive.

                      1. greygarious RE: STL BOS Feb 7, 2010 09:23 AM

                        On an episode of ATK that I saw yesterday, Chris Kimball paid a visit to Christina's to buy paprika. The owner gave him a lesson in how to judge a good paprika. Hot paprika is made by leaving the seeds in when grinding; sweet without (although he mentioned that the individual peppers make a difference too). Good smoked paprika is smoked with wood, the cheap stuff has chemicals that mimic smoke. The sweet paprika they sold was noticeably brighter red in color than the McCormick's, which looked brown by comparison.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: greygarious
                          nsenada RE: greygarious Feb 8, 2010 05:10 AM

                          I turned it on in the middle, and thought it was Christina's but wasn't sure.

                          1. re: greygarious
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                            smtucker RE: greygarious Feb 8, 2010 09:28 AM

                            Also in that episode, they later talked about how they had done a taste test and chosen paprika from The Spice House, not the version they discussed at Christina's.

                            1. re: smtucker
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                              Parsnipity RE: smtucker Feb 8, 2010 01:28 PM

                              Yeah, I saw that too. I was holding off on weighing in because my only 2 experiences buying spices at Christina's (a cumin and a paprika) both resulted in spices that were so odorless and tasteless that they could have been iocane powder.

                              One more vote for Penzey's- if they like the spices you give them and want to expand their collection, there's something nice about a matching set of jars.

                              1. re: smtucker
                                jgg13 RE: smtucker Feb 9, 2010 06:59 AM

                                I really dig The Spice House. The Penzey connection amuses me as well.

                                1. re: jgg13
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                                  bear RE: jgg13 Feb 9, 2010 09:44 AM

                                  If you're ever in West Concord, Debra's Natural Gourmet has very fresh Frontier spices at very reasonable prices. Much fresher than the bulk Frontier at Whole Foods, and the selection is pretty broad.

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                              gardgen RE: STL BOS Feb 8, 2010 06:41 AM

                              My favorite wedding present to give as of late is a copy of Ana Sortun's cookbook, SPICE along with the spices used in one or two of the chapters from the book...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: gardgen
                                BostonZest RE: gardgen Feb 8, 2010 07:22 AM

                                Great idea! I took a class at BU where Ana taught and learned a lot from her. She also used to give tours of the Watertown Middle Eastern shops through BU. I haven't seen that lately but I'll watch for a return.

                                Penny
                                http://www.bostonzest.com/

                                1. re: gardgen
                                  LindaWhit RE: gardgen Feb 8, 2010 09:22 AM

                                  Excellent idea, gardgen! That way, they can begin to experiment with unfamiliar spices to them.

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                                  maryv RE: STL BOS Feb 11, 2010 09:34 AM

                                  One way you could add some "local flavor" would be to order some maple/spice mixes, marinades, etc from Warren Farm (http://thewarrenfarm.com). Of course the spices aren't grown locally but the maple and many of the herbs are right from the farm. The Wentworths, who run the farm, do a number of farmers' markets in the summer - they are really nice people.

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