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The 7 Super Spices

The Super Spice 7 in all their glory!

We’ve been accused of being overly fond of spices. The world may label us “spice cadets” or “herbmaphrodites” but we’re tired of hiding our true selves. We love spices, herbs, and all of the things they do for us.

We love for all of our beloved herbs and spices. But we can’t deny that among the noble ranks of the spice world there are those which are destined for greatness.

There are 7 Spices which are so healthful and so beneficial to people in so many ways that they’ve been dubbed the 7 Super Spices. This Justice League of spices includes: cinnamon, oregano, ginger, dried red pepper, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric.

Like the Avengers, these spices defend humanity against its greatest foes. Unlike the Avengers, these spices can’t be defeated by Dr. Doom and his nefarious plots.

These spices and herbs also are rich in phytonutrients, such as carotenoids, flavonoids and other phenolics, all of which boast health-promoting attributes. Spices and herbs are classified as fruits and vegetables, but since they don’t have the water content of most produce they’re richer in these better-than-awesome-for-you compounds.

These spices can reduce inflammation, help relieve allergy and asthma symptoms, add antioxidants, promote circulation and lower blood pressure. They can help your immune system, all while making your every meal more delicious, fresher-tasting, and more robust in flavor.

We at Pinch are kicking off a 7-part weekly blogtacular on every super spice and the many ways they help us (spoiler alert: oregano cannot pick up your dry-cleaning). We will soon be offering the Super Spice 7 Pack featuring fresh and organic versions of these incredible ingredients.

Come to Pinch and see and smell these Super 7 for yourself. We can’t promise your life will be the same afterwards, but we can promise it will be more delicious with the addition of these unique titans of the flavorverse.

If you think you’re an old pro with these incredible spices, come on down and share recipes and preparations with us, we bet we might know of a few spice secrets you might not have heard before!

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License to Grill – Get the Grilling Spices Out!

This year, the hunger to grill outside struck earlier than ever in Chicago. When the nice weather first hit in March, the desire to grill awoke all over this fair city. We are readying our charcoal Webbers, our infareds, our propane grills, and (of course) our smokers.

Barbecue remains the most American expression of flavor. Grilling didn’t start here, but we’ve done our best to show this world a thing or two vis-a-vis  spectacular meat and veggie creations.

Special BBQ Gift Box for You or Your Favorite Griller

At Pinch, we are so excited to ring in this season that we’re putting together a few special treats for our amazing customers. We’re offering a special BBQ gift box of our most transcendent customized organic spice blends for grilling and BBQ.

We recommend lump charcoal, grass-fed red meat, and of course, freshly-ground, organic spices. The difference is indelibly edible.

We will also be putting our hearts and souls into a barbecue demonstration on Sunday the 27th of May from 3:00 til 6:00pm, right here at Pinch Spice Market at 1913 North Milwaukee in Bucktown. We will be tasting brisket and homemade sausage while we teach you how to whip up your own BBQ sauce. It is BYOB, so grab some beer or some bourbon and come on out!

Grilling = Happy!

Civilization sprang up around our need to stand around open fire and cook and share food and words. Today it doesn’t get much better, once you add music and the right beverages to the mix.

BBQ is for Meat Lovers and Vegetarians/Vegans Alike!

Come down and upgrade your cooking game today. Our Jamaican Jerk Blend is begging to be caramelized over a fresh Amish chicken. Our Memphis Rib Rub deserves to be caressed over the meatiest baby back ribs you can find.

Don’t forget the veggies. Veggies are just as necessary and delicious over fire as their meaty brethren.

Any vegetable you can think of tasty with a bit of olive oil, some French Grey Salt, and some ground White Peppercorns. Or top them off with our wildly popular Veggie Sprinkle Spice Blend.

Our options are unlimited, our cuisines are countless. Come into Pinch today and start crafting your own spice cabinet, and get the blends you need to add flavor to your summer.

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Making Ras-El Hanout (Step 1): Setting the Stage for a Masterpiece

This post is part of a series…not to spoil the surprise, but after years of research, testing and sourcing the finest ingredients from local farmers around the world, we ended up nailing our special Ras El Hanout blend. I’m proud to say get compliments from people around the world on it!

 

Here at Pinch Spice Market, we;re continually developing new spice blends. So far we have created 8 in house blends including:

Each of these have unique flavor profiles and uses. Developing a spice blend is tricky business, as you want each individual spice to play a role without over-powering the other spices.

An artistic weaving of often contrasting flavors that symbiotically form a masterpiece, at least when we’ve done right. We use our personal experiences; the knowledge of friends and customers; and tireless research to create our blends in the store. We have a tremendous amount pride in all of our herbs and spices, but specifically with the blends we showcase our love and devotion to the craft.

Creating a Special and Authentic Ras El Hanout Blend

This brings us to our new spice blend quest. Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend with a rich history, but no clear-cut recipe. Every family and region tends to have its own varieties.

This will be the first installment of several posts as I go through the process of creating the blend. For today we will take a look at what Ras El Hanout is, and also explore some of the process of creating a rub.

First, What is Ras El Hanout?…

Ras El Hanout roughly translates to head of the shop. Each spice merchant in Morocco creates their own unique Ras El Hanout to showcase their best products. Generally, the blends will have at least 20 ingredients many of which are rarely seen on this side of the world. The rub itself is used to season meats, and is also used in traditional tagine cooking. So let’s explore the basics of making a spice blend.

Why We’re Making One of the Most Complex Spice Blends on the Planet

I’d like to share a little about me that may help explain this quest. I’m Thomas “Shoebocks” McGee. My cooking style is rather loose and generally based on the actual touch, feel, flavor, aroma, and general gut instinct for the foods I am cooking. I bring this style with me when I create spice blends, but at Pinch I find myself fine tuning and striving for consistency.

I have been cooking since I could reach the kitchen stove. Learning to make scrambled eggs from my mom when I was probably 5 or 6 years old. As a starving college student, I was very skilled at the “stone soup” method of cooking. Everyone would bring something and I will create an amazing meal out of it. It’s a very handy skill that allowed me to eat very well on a very tight budget.

Through my twenties and now into my thirties I have continued on a path of passion and experimentation towards food. Creating sourdough starters from grapes and other fruits, brewing beer, curing meats, building pizza ovens and custom grills, and just plain having fun with it. This is why I had to co-found Pinch and why I am excited to start this blend journey.

So that gets us started on the journey to making Ras El Hanout, which is not a straightforward path, just like the spice itself. Continue reading the next installment where we create a new blend, Ethiopian Berbere, as we prepare to get closer to our Ras El Hanout masterpiece. Berbere is an essential rub for Ethiopian cooking and is a great starting point to develop the more complex Ras El Hanout.

Read on to Step 2 of Making the perfect Ras El-Hanout

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The Health Benefits of Eating High Quality Spices and Herbs

We all know cooking spices are as diverse as they are delicious, but do you know just how healthy spices are for you, and how beneficial adding them to your diet can be to your overall well-being?

At Pinch, we believe in spices and their ability to promote a happier, more content body.

Antioxidants to the Rescue!

Antioxidants are powerful compounds that stop (and sometimes prevent) the oxidation of molecules in our bodies.

This is important because humans naturally create “free radicals” (unstable atoms) inside our bodies, and if free radicals are left unchecked, damage to tissue and illness and chronic disease can occur.

Spices as Antioxidants – The Unsung Heroes

Antioxidants are in so many foods we consume, such as blueberries, beets, beans, apples, kale, cabbage, red spinach, artichokes, pecans, green tea and dark chocolate.

These foods are all similar in that they contain considerable amounts of antioxidants, phytonutrients, and flavonoids. They’re also foods you often hear labelled as “antioxidant rich foods”.

But people forget to mention that spices can be an amazing source of antioxidants! Spices are truly the forgotten antioxidant super heroes. Spices also don’t go bad as quickly as fruits and veggies, so they can be on-call sitting in your spice cabinet whenever you need a boost.

By volume, spices such as cloves, oregano, rosemary and sumac all have exponentially more antioxidant power than black raspberries, cucumbers, watermelon, and even squash with its skin.  Of course, it’s much easier to eat 100 grams of cucumber than 100 grams of cloves, but when used liberally with your cooking, you will dramatically increase your antioxidant intake.

Freshness Matters – The Other Guys Often put Years-Old Spices on the Rack for You to Buy – Not Us!

Many spices contain huge amounts of health-friendly compounds. The fresher the spices, the more of antioxidant-rich they will be.

Some spice companies take literally years to get the spices from the farm, to the processing factory and to the grocery store shelf (spices can often sit for very long times on factory floors waiting to be shipped or stocked to supermarkets).

And, as companies add in pesticides and other non-organic practices/matter, the health benefits continue to decrease.

The good news is that organic, freshly packed and ground spices is all that we do at Pinch Spice Market. Our fresh spices retain their freshness and power much longer than pesticide-laden harvested spices.

Ask your experts at Pinch how you can get more of a certain spice into your diet, and start giving your body those added benefits, along with the gift of deliciousness.

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Introducing Pinch’s Jamaican Jerk Seasoning!

buy organic jamaican jerk seasoning

It has been a very productive week at the spice shop!  We’ve been hard at work developing and implementing blends and rubs that take advantage of our delicious organic herbs and spices.

We’re proud to announce that we have added a most delectable Jamaican Jerk seasoning to our inventory! This little blend packs a big punch, and is balanced with wonderfully fresh island flavors.

The Origins of Jamaican Jerk Seasoning

What is Jamaican Jerk seasoning all about? As with any regional specialty, Jerk seasoning has a history that goes far back into the culture of Jamaica.

Most sources suggest that term “jerk” in this case comes from the Spanish, “Charqui”, which loosely translates to jerky.  (Side note I’m personally curious how this also relates to the term Charcuterie, which is near and dear to my heart.)

It seems the jerk technique goes back to a time when the Arawak employed a techniques of slow cooking over wood to help preserve meats.  A healthy dose of spices native to the Caribbean were used to help as a preservative.  This has evolved into a cooking method that implements both native and foreign spices and often uses grills converted from steal drums.

Much like American style BBQ,  Jerk chicken is a term synonymous with street food that many consider to be the heart soul of cooking around the world.

Herbs and Spices that Go into the Jamaican Jerk Rub

What’s in the seasoning blend?  One of the key ingredients is allspice, which is known in Jamaica as “pimento”.  Fresh allspice berries look remarkably like grapes or currants (see whole dried allspice to give an idea).  In our Jamaican Jerk spice, we used our organic herbs and spices to create this classic, and includes:

As a cook who has made this blend at home many times, I can attest to the fact that this is made 1,000 times better through the use of high quality organic ingredients. When you use old (sitting in factories for months, sometimes years), dried-out and pesticide-ridden spices, you just don’t get the brightness or flavor like you do when you use fresh, organic spice.

A Tasty “Sit Overnight” Jerk Chicken Recipe to Get You Started

How about a quick recipe? With spices already blended this is a pretty simple technique to master.

Jerk chicken, or another protein, can be cooked either on the grill or in an oven.  All you need is:

  • chicken (or a veggie protein if you’re vegarian)
  • Pinch’s jerk seasoning
  • a little bit of vinegar
  • a little olive oil
  • a few splashes of lime juice
  • a few splashes of orange juice
  • touch of soy sauce.

Take your chicken and sprinkle a generous amount of the spice mixture over it.  Rub the spice and chicken to insure that the chicken is evenly coated.

Now add the liquid ingredients to coat.  You want this to be a paste consistency rather then a marinade.

Let the rubbed chicken sit overnight.

Now the fun part, low and slow cooking.  On the grill you will want to use an indirect cooking method to get the chicken to proper temperature and then a quick sear over direct heat.  In the oven you will want to cook at 275-300 degrees and then finish off under a broiler to char the chicken.

You can serve with this with rice and beans or a nice salad.  Some people enjoy topping this with a spicy jerk sauce, while others just enjoy it as is.  You may find it goes well with a smokey sweet BBQ sauce.

There you have it– delicious, fiery, Jamaican Jerk chicken!

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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

 

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PinchSpiceMarket.com 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.