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Decadent desserts with vanilla bean paste

We recently added organic vanilla bean paste to the ever growing list of products we carry at the shop.   Being a somewhat unique item, I thought it would be fun to explore what  exactly this dark sticky paste is and how home cooks and chefs can use it to enhance the dishes they make.

What is vanilla paste?  Many people, myself included, get a strange picture in their head when introduced to the concept.  For me, it was a solid paste that might be sold in squeeze bottles, like you see ginger or garlic sold in.  Others may reflect back to their kindergarten days and the craft paste they used and probably sampled when creating fanciful art projects.  The actuality is something that resembles a thick maple syrup or molasses.  The process to make vanilla paste involves grinding whole vanilla beans and allowing them to dry cure.  They are then added to vanilla extract. Sugar and a natural thickener are added to finish the process.  You are left with a very strong, almost piquant syrup that is specked with vanilla seeds and pods.

In the above image you can just see the specks of vanilla that give the paste it’s dark color.

Vanilla paste is a great substitute for vanilla extract or vanilla beans in recipes.  Chefs often turn to vanilla paste as an alternative to using beans as a convenience, but it also imparts its own unique and rich flavor.  A general rule of thumb would be to use paste and extract on 1:1 basis or 1 tablespoon of paste is equivalent to 1 vanilla bean.

Hmmmm what could we cook with it?  Well the options are fairly endless but I think a great way to highlight this powerful paste would be to use it in creme anglaise.  The nice thing with the paste is that you will have the black specks, which wouldn’t be the case if you used extract or steeped a bean in cream.  So here we go….

Creme Anglaise with Vanilla Bean Paste

1 cup heavy cream
3 tsp vanilla paste (preferably organic)
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Combine the egg yolks and the sugar and whisk until smooth.  Heat the cream until just bubbling on the edges.  Now you want to temper the cream and the egg mixture.  This is done by taking a small amount (1/2 or less) of the warm cream and whisking it together with the egg mixture.  You then want to add a portion of the now combined mixture into the cream and then back again ,whisking constantly until both are combined.   Now continue to cook the combined sauce until it coats the back of spoon or you feel it is sufficiently combined.  It’s ok, trust yourself, really, you can do this.  Once complete you will now pour the sauce through a mesh strainer.  This will remove any unsightly solids that may have formed.  Now add your vanilla paste and chill until you are ready to top your favorite dessert or just some fresh raspberries.  

So there you have it, an introduction to the wonderful and deeply delicious vanilla paste.  Pinch Spice Market is proud to offer an all organic vanilla paste in 2 oz. containers for $11.50.  Come on in and check it out.


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Delicious breakfast for those on tight budget

The Sparrow here….I hope this is one of many posts.  Poor Sparrow is on a very tight budget these days.  I love to eat delicious food, but recently have found that difficult given my meager means.  This is where the good fellows at Pinch Spice Market come in.   Recently I tasked them to help with my morning meal.  I was looking for something that I could eat everyday, was easy to prepare, allowed for some variance, and cost me very little.  So here is what Shoebocks and Mike came up with.

Oatmeal in a Rice Cooker

Knowing that the Sparrow isn’t the most talented cook in the world, and that the Sparrow needed things to be kept simple, they developed a recipe that could be made in a rice cooker.  These days most of the things that I cook are done this way, so it seemed perfect to me.  Here is the method that they gave to the sparrow.

Measure 1 cup of steel cut oats into the bowl of a rice cooker, add 3 cups of water add a pinch of salt.  Allow this to soak overnight in the rice cooker. Turn on the rice cooker for a normal cooking cycle when you wake up.  Cooking time varies by rice cooker but it should take about 30 minutes.  When complete add some brown sugar to taste, and a round tea spoon of Garam Masala.

I was a little skeptical about putting an Indian spice in my oatmeal, but the method seemed good.  Plus they convinced me by letting me smell the Garam Masala. So I left the store with a bag of Garam Masala in hand.  I followed the instructions and can you believe it, a wonderful breakfast.  The recipe made enough for 2 bowls, so I will either cut it in half or just save the rest for the following morning.  I am so inspired I might try adding some different ingredients, although the Garam Masala really does hit the spot.  A very subtle spice flavor initially that lends it self to some complexity as you eat the oatmeal.  This method was great and really fit the bill for what I was after; easy, quick, and delicious.  This is probably the best oatmeal I have ever eaten, certainly the best I have ever cooked.  All of this makes for a very happy and slightly less poor Sparrow.

Sparrow out


Posted on is an Online Shop Here to Serve You! (Bucktown Storefront is Closed)

Update: Since this post was written, we closed our physical store in the Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown.

While it was a difficult decision and we will certainly miss seeing everyone’s faces, it was the right decision for our growing business so we can keep prices as low as possible while continuing to source and create the best natural spices and spice blends on the planet.

You can buy everything you could in the store now online. Thank you for all the great memories, friends. We look forward to delivering your favorite spices to your door!


Thank You For an Amazing First Week in Our New Store!

In our first week of business, we’ve had customers that reflect the diversity of our Bucktown neighborhood. What a great week talking with all of you about the inspiring dishes you’re cooking up! We are honored to offer you the highest quality spices and herbs when you need them.

We have had locals passing by enjoying a walk on one of the many unseasonably warm days, all excited to have a local source for natural spices.

We’ve met so many talented home chefs, and we’ve also met an owner of a local restaurant and a barista buying spices to perfect his specialty coffee drink that he will serve in an upcoming barista competition, and a home brewer buying orange peel, lemon peel, and coriander seed for a beer he’s making. It’s been wonderful getting to know everyone!

Thank you for giving us a shot and we look forward to your future visits!

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Why is Pinch so focused on organic?

Most spices that are used in the United States are fumigated with toxic chemicals such as ethylene oxide.  Unfortunately these chemicals are harmful to humans and beyond that they are extremely harmful to the workers that apply them.  Organic spices are fumigated using dry steam, which sanitizes them against bacterial contamination.  Beyond the fumigation process many non-organic spices are cultivated in ways that are harmful to the eco system in which they exist.  Often times farming methods such has clear cutting are used.  Add to that the use of pesticides and you can see that it is a bad situation.  Many people are beginning to understand the importance of organic foods and we feel that it is of equal importance to use organic herbs and spices.  Next time you are cooking a delicious organic tofu stir fry or grilling an organic steak, take minute to think about what you are adding to it.

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Vanilla….that beautiful orchid

Many people enjoy vanilla. It has to be one of the most noticeable and distinct flavors we encounter.  Vanilla is native to Mexico although many assume it is native to Madagascar and the outlying neighboring islands (La Réunion and Mauritius) as these are the largest modern producers.  It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when a young man figured out how to propagate vanilla by hand that other parts of world began to produce vanilla.  Many orchids develop to attract specific insects for pollination and this is the case with Vanilla in Mexico. For vanilla the melipona bee is the only natural pollinator.  Thus all of the vanilla outside of Mexico must be hand pollinated.  At Pinch we are currently offering organically produced Vanilla from Mexico.  We are interested in adding additional varieties of vanilla and would be very interested in hearing what our customers think/desire.  Beyond the beans we also offer organic vanilla paste and organic vanilla sugar.  Soon we will also offer organic vanilla extract, and other extracts for cooking.  All this talk of vanilla makes me want to get a delicious vanilla shake.