Nice rack. (Of spices, duh.)

Penzeys Spices
12835 Preston Rd.
: Vanilla Sugar

Don't try: leaving without buying anything

You ever get started making dinner only to realize the recipe calls for some weird ass spice that you know is neither a) in your spice rack currently nor b) at your neighborhood Kroger? Well, if you're still really jonesing to make Fruit Cobbler With Weird Ass Spice In It, head over to Penzeys (no, there's no apostrophe in their name) Spices.

Penzeys has every spice you could ever need plus a bunch of spices you didn't even know you couldn't live without. They have Vietnamese extra fancy cinnamon, they have a whole section of peppers including a California-style salt-free pepper for all you hippies, they have something they call apple pie spice (a mixture of everything you'd throw into an apple pie, spice-wise: cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and cloves), they have powdered lemon peel, they have dips and salad dressings. They even have a whole section of already-ready gift baskets for that baker or barbecuer in your family. A Penzeys spice basket is that thoughtful gift that says, "Remember how you love making me dinner? Do that."

Most of Penzeys' spices come in a variety of sizes (from about a quarter cup to a pound), making it easy and inexpensive to try something new. If it sucks, you're out about three dollars. If it's awesome, come back and buy in bulk.

I quickly spotted Penzeys' BBQ 3000, lauded as "The future of barbecue." I picked up a small container because it smelled pretty awesome and also, I want to be ready for the future of everything (including, but not limited to barbecue). Also picked up a recipe for ribs that was conveniently located right next to the spices. Throughout the store, they've got tons of ideas for what their spices can be used for and they even have recipes you can try with specific amounts listed of the spice you should add. So, if you're like me and you're into experimenting with your food, but you also want a surefire way to eat something that's not going to taste like a bucket of shit, this is very helpful.

Horseradish dip also made its way into my basket. They recommend using it as a chip or veggie dip (When I made it, I preferred it on veggies. The dill that's also involved in the mix is really tasty on carrots. Not so tasty on Ruffles). You just throw a tablespoon in with some sour cream and mayo and you're good to go. Easy awesome. If you add white vinegar, you can thin it out and use it as a sandwich spread. Or as delicious body paint.

Over by the wall of foodie-centric magazines that include recipes you can make with their bamillions of spices is a sign that reads, "Great recipes from actual people." Ya know, as opposed to great recipes from those damn rich and famous celebrity chefs. These recipes aren't from fake, Giada-fembots who talk all normal until an Italian word hits their lips and then they have to say, "gnocchi" like it doesn't start with a damn "g." No, it seems that Penzeys gets their recipes from readers (AKA "actual people") like Your Grandma and Ridiculously Competitive Barbecue Barbecuer Man-- both of whom are equipped with really good recipes and really real boobs.

In the baking spices section, vanilla sugar caught my eye. It's a mix of real vanilla beans aged in pure sugar and it's what the olden people used before vanilla extract was an option. I thought, "Mmm. That would substitute for sugar in a pie really nicely. Pie. Shit, now I have to make a pie." And Penzeys was like, "Hey stupid, it's not just for pies. Sprinkle this on fresh fruit, use it to make ice cream, put it in your coffee--" And I didn't hear the other ideas because I instantly had to make out with The Penz for being so innovative.

In the morning (pre-walk-of-shame), I tried the vanilla sugar in my coffee. It was so good I slapped it for being a sinner. Nothing that tastes this good comes from a pure place. Sure, it says it's just "real vanilla" and "pure sugar," but there's some witchcraft in there somewhere if it can make the Eight O'Clock Coffee I bought from Walmart into a thing of beauty.

Go to Penzeys (I still don't understand why there's no apostrophe. I guess I need to ask Mr. Penzeys) and tell me what you find. The spicy possibilities in this place are endless.

The Basket: BBQ 3000, Horseradish Dip, Pacific Sea Salt Course Grind, Whole Tellicherry Indian Black Pepper, Vanilla Sugar, Pure Vanilla Extract (Single-Strength)

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Alice Laussade writes about food, kids, music, and anything else she finds to be completely ridiculous. She created and hosts the Dallas event, Meat Fight, which is a barbecue competition and fundraiser that benefits the National MS Society. Last year, the event raised $100,000 for people living with MS, and 750 people could be seen shoving sausage links into their faces. And one time, she won a James Beard Award for Humor in Writing. That was pretty cool.
Contact: Alice Laussade