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Happy Holidays!

Pinch has some news of change to share with our customers and friends. We will be closing our Bucktown retail location after Christmas and continuing our spice business through orders and deliveries, farmers markets, pop ups, local small groceries, restaurant delivery, and web stores. We are continuing to maintain our inventory throughout the transition and will shift to delivery for our wholesale customers in 2014. We are thankful for the last two years of learning this business and meeting all of you to share the great taste of our highest quality spice blends and organic herbs and spices.

Owners Mike and Shoebocks are both Bucktown residents and we will be doing much of our local deliveries by bike so we are excited about being out in the city selling our gourmet herbs and spices. We will take orders for bulk bag sales for pickup and deliveries as well as offering 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup sized tins.

Please stop by our shop before the end of the year and let’s chat about how we can make sure to continue to serve your spice needs in 2014 and beyond. We will be keeping everyone posted here on Facebook and through our mailing list with our progress as we transition at the end of this month.

Let’s keep in touch!

Facebook: http:/
Sign up for our e-mail list:

Shop online:
We are making continuous improvements to our web store including adding gift box options.

We have a very nice 4 tin gift box in the shop for mix and match sets. Choose 4 tins and get the box and a $3 discount for the set.

We will miss our beautiful shop but look forward to continuing to serve your spice needs along with the freedom of being outside and bike mobile and more sustainable in 2014!

Thank you and blessings for 2014,

Mike and Shoebocks

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Ras-El Hanout Part 2: Berbere similar and a little less intimidating

Organic Ethiopian BerberAs I continue working through the rather intimidating Ras-El Hanout, it has become apparent that I might want to get my feet wet before I jump in the ocean.  When we opened Pinch our friend and designer of the fixtures at Pinch, Travis, came in and requested some Ethiopian Berbere. Although we didn’t have it, I promised to figure out a recipe for him.  The berbere is actually very similar to the ras-el hanout in that it combines a rather large list of spices.  So here we are, a perfect spice mix to get my feet wet: Ethiopian Berbere.

A little background on the Berebere:  Berbere is the base of most Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking. If you have ever eaten Ethiopian food, this is a very spicy blend, with a majority of its weight in the form of hot chilies.  Much like the Ras-El Hanout, the Berbere does not have a set recipe.  This is something that individual families, restaurants, spice markets, towns, etc. spin in their own way.  In my research, the key is to develop a balance between the heat of the chili with the aromatic sweetness of the other ingredients.

The process of creating this recipe has really instilled in me a new appreciation for how spices combine.  Whereas our standard Steak , is a simple combination of a few key ingredients, the Berbere’s flavor profile goes all over the place and uses tiny amounts of powerful spices to form a symbiotic relationship and give depth and balance to the mix.  I did a ton of research on the web to hone in on that perfect, authentic recipe.  Rather than focus on the ingredients, I became very conscious of what each ingredient did for an individual recipe.  Then, like any good spice shop purveyor, I took a look at what some of my best items are (yes all of our items are awesome, but you know some are just amazing).  The key to the final recipe was getting the most flavor using small amounts of very strong ingredients, then kicking into spice heaven with a blast of heat.  Here is a picture or two of the blend in process.
Organic Ethiopian BerbereOrganic Ethiopian Berbere

So what did I end up putting in the blend?  Here is a list in order of amount used: cayenne, sea salt, birds chili, chipotle, paprika, fenugreek, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, coriander, cumin, allspice, mace, tumeric, ceylon cinnamon, and clove.  The chilies make up about 2/3 of the overall weight of the rub, so there is some real heat.  Yet the aromatic, and flavorful combination of spices that accompany them standout on their own and have staying power that lasts (with a nice burn).

So now we are proud to offer an authentic and deliciously addictive Ethiopian Berbere.  This is not for the faint of heart, but if you like a touch of heat in your cooking, I am confident you will find some creative ways to use this rub.  So far I have made roasted chicken, spicy scrambled eggs, Ethiopien Berbere BLT’s with avocado, and a spicy Ethiopian Berbere smoke knackwurst.

Next up…I might actually tackle the Ras-El Hanout.

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License to Grill

This year, the hunger struck earlier than ever. 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, 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.

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 box set of our most transcendent customized organic spice blends, which we’re calling our License to Grill  Set.

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 a case or some bourbon and come learn a thing or two!

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.

Come down and upgrade your cooking game today. Our Jamaican Jerk Blend is begging to be caramelized over a fresh Amish chicken. Our Mole 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 is a bit of olive oil, some French Grey Salt, and some Ground White Peppercorns away from being a transcendent vegetable eating experience.

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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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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Our customers

In our first week of business we have had customers that reflect the diversity of our Bucktown neighborhood and the many uses for high quality spices and herbs. 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 spices that doesn’t need the use a their car or fighting traffic to get to. Home chefs of course but also the owner of a local restaurant; a barista buying spices to work on 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 is making. We look forward to your visit and hearing about how you will be using our spices!

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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.