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That's the rub 

Some extraordinarily savory tips can help you transform your holiday meal from prosaic to mosaic

For those less than gifted in the kitchen — and, just as important, their holiday dinner guests — relief is on the way.

The Indy recently enlisted two of the Springs' newest and most fragrant friends, Dick Frieg of Savory Spice Shop (110 N. Tejon St., savoryspiceshop.com) and Kerri Olivier of Extraordinary Ingredients (612 N. Tejon St., extraordinaryingredients.com), to offer new takes on old dining classics, using ingredients stocked by their stores.

Eggnog

For all its thickness, eggnog is all breadth and no depth: If you've had it, then you've had it everywhere. Unless, of course, you try one of these ideas.

Savory Spice Shop: Use ground mace, the orange-tinted, ground-up outer covering of the nutmeg tree fruit. "It has a little more flavor, kind of subtle, adds a lot more color," Frieg says. "That would spice up the look as well as the taste."

Extraordinary Ingredients: Make it a chai-nog. Add green cardamom, granulated orange peel and vanilla bean paste, and garnish the rim with vanilla sugar and pure powdered pumpkin. "Just make it a little bit spicier and more interesting," Olivier says. "It's beautiful and sweet and rich in flavor."

Ginger bread

I don't care if you bake ginger bread, cake, cookies, houses, snaps or men. Or even if you live in a house full of bread, cake and cookies for snapping men. It's all the same to me, as long as I'm about to eat whatever it is.

SSS: "The key to ginger bread is fresh ingredients. Our ginger is ground weekly, in small batches. Also, what people usually think of as cinnamon is really cassia bark. So use [Sri Lankan] Ceylon cinnamon, which is true cinnamon — the bark from a cinnamon tree."

EI: Use coconut palm sugar mixed with pine nuts to add a crust to the top of the ginger bread, then add crystallized ginger to the batter. "[Pine nuts] aren't a traditional nut to use at the holidays, but they have a lot of richness and goodness."

Stuffing

Once the red-headed stepchild to poultry's blond hair and blue eyes, stuffing (or dressing) has taken on a bigger — ahem — roll at the dinner table. Now if only it tasted a little less like chopped bread ...

SSS: Try SSS' Sage & Savory Stuffing Seasoning, a huge blend of 14 different spices such as rosemary, black pepper, Mediterranean thyme and ground coriander. "We sell a lot of this for Thanksgiving, and of course people are still making stuffing for Christmas."

EI: Scrap the bread theme and use the only grain that qualifies as a complete protein: quinoa. It cooks in about 15 minutes, is "nutty and neutral," and pairs perfectly with aromatics like leeks or dried porcini mushrooms, and wild rice. "I dry-toast it in a pan first ... but it's very fluffy and has a texture similar to a brown rice."

Fruitcake

It's the easiest of all holiday targets — and yet, Frieg and Olivier believe little changes can make fruitcake less reviled, if not revered.

SSS: "If you're making it from scratch, we've got an almond extract or even a rum extract," Dick says. "We even have double-strength here, so you only have to put half as much in ... so it doesn't change the color of a [lighter pastry]."

EI: "Instead of maraschino cherries or dyed-green-somethings, [use] things that have natural color and flavor. Like the dried kiwi, black mission figs or tart, dried, sour cherries ... and soaking these in whatever liquor you use, combined with pomegranate reduction."

Potatoes

Potatoes are a mainstay at the holiday table. They're the wingmen of other side dishes, lending them confidence with their calming and consistent presence. Here's how to pretty 'em up a bit, so they can shine for one special day.

SSS: Try these three S's: smoked, sweet Spanish paprika. "We have several different kinds, but I think smoked Spanish sweet would be perfect for a potato blend."

EI: "Everybody knows about roasted garlic mashed potatoes, but how about taking it Southwestern? [Put] in some dehydrated Anaheim chili peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, red chili threads, and use cheese that's more of a goat cheese combined with black truffle salt."

Greens

Something like a salad or steamed vegetable assortment is practically a must if you're to survive the mounds of meat with dessert to follow.

SSS: Try SSS' Foothills Salad Seasoning, a nicely varied blend of Parmesan and Romano cheese, blue poppy seeds and roasted garlic, among other things. "This is good stuff ... it really makes it pop."

EI: "Fennel is a very universal flavor. A fennel bulb is kind of the texture of celery, and a lot of holiday recipes will have a salad with fennel in it. It's just a brighter, more intense flavor."

Meat

Sure, you need your side dishes and your greens and your dessert, but all those are secondary to the shining beacon of hope, freedom and light that is meat. Especially when you give it a rubdown before it cooks.

SSS: For chicken, try SSS' Mt. Olympus Greek Style seasoning, a blend featuring garlic, lemon peel and spearmint. "Or our Park Hill Maple [rub] ... that has a little bit of sweetness to it, with the maple, and some spice as well."

EI: For lamb, use a rub of black truffle powder, black pepper, sea salt and a touch of turbinado sugar, then a pomegranate reduction with a drizzle of Turkish extra-virgin olive oil as a substitute for mint jelly. Or, a turkey could benefit from a pairing with saffron butter and Herbs de Provence, then a garnish of micro thyme or marjoram.

bryce@csindy.com

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