At the IACP conference in New York this spring, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at the Bon Appetit test kitchen. This was held at their newly designed kitchen, which I believe served as more of a showpiece kitchen for hosting functions, than an actual test kitchen. The panel contained designer Adam Farmerie, David Rockwell, author of the book Spectacle, Matt Lightner of the newly opened Altera and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. Perhaps restaurant design is not a subject I had given much thought to before, so their thoughts about design were quite enlightening to me. Continue reading
Many wonderful things have happened to us over the years we have been in business, but very few have touched us as much as this event. On March 9th, we were particularly moved when a very special wedding took place. Elizabeth Theis married Landon Hall. What made this so heart warming to us, was that they met while working at The Spice House. Elizabeth had worked for us for a few years, we love her, she is a delight to her coworkers and our customers, and no one will take better care of you in the shop. Continue reading
With the Green Bay Packers headed to the Super Bowl (sorry, Chicago, we love you but we’re Wisconsin born and bred), we thought we’d take a moment to celebrate two of Wisconsin’s favorite industries: football and cheese. (Spices are a tad further down the line.) The Green Bay Packers were formed in 1919, and by 1923 were a franchise of the NFL. Today they remain the only team still associated with the small town of its founding. With strong ties to the local community and a rabidly devoted fan base (every home game has been sold out since 1960), the Packers are a publicly owned team. Many Wisconsinites have a share framed and hanging on their walls. (Check our Evanston location for one of these.)
The name “Packers” come from their original sponsors the Indian Packing Company. Despite this initial association with a meat packing company, Packers fans are commonly known as Cheeseheads after the most prominent local industry. European immigrants, largely from Germany and its neighbors, brought dairy farming traditions with them to Wisconsin in the 19th century, and Wisconsin’s first commercial cheese factory started operations in 1841. Today Wisconsin ranks behind only much larger California in milk production, and leads the nation in cheese production (and, I would guess, consumption). With 600 varieties being commercially produced, Wisconsin cheese accounts for about 25% of all domestic cheese. This includes conventional, mass-produced cheeses, but also covers a wide array of artisan cheeses. Wisconsin has the highest number of licensed cheesemakers and is the only state to offer a European-style Master Cheesemaker program. And unlike most US dairy states, Wisconsin has a high proportion of small, grazing-based dairies (as opposed to the more common industrialized types), so the quality of milk and cream for cheese making is high. In short, this is a state that takes its cheese seriously. So it’s an indication of how much we love our football team that we wear cheese on our heads to show our support.
Patty and Tom will be heading to Dallas to cheer on their local team, but for those of us staying here, cheese based snacks are on the menu. Sure, there’s always classic nacho dip cheese and crackers, but how about cheese-filled puff pastry shaped into the Pack’s oval “G”? Or cheese fondue? Or classic Wisconsin cheese soup? There’s only a week of planning before the big game, so get creative, get cheesy, and GO PACKERS!
A most wonderful byproduct of answering the company email is learning how many customers of ours are doing really fun and interesting things. Recently a total stranger and I became acquainted via this email.
“Hello, I wanted to let you know that a recipe i created using your King Creole Spice has been selected as one of 5 finalists at the Nueske’s Amateur Cook-off at Baconfest Chicago on April 10th. Here is the link to my Recipe.
Here is the link to the Baconfest announcement http://baconfestchicago.com/2010/03/22/announcing-the-5-finalists-for-the-nueskes-amateur-cook-off-competition/
I really enjoy the quality and freshness of your spices and have featured them in other recipes on my food blog as well.
I’m hopeful that the King Creole Seasoning will help my recipe shine above the competition! Have a great day.
Okay, we are from Wisconsin, where it goes without saying that Nueske’s bacon is THE BEST. Also, no one loves chicken wings more than I do. I had never dreamed of putting the two together. Add King Creole seasoning, and I have to believe in this recipe. Go Brad.
As the owners of The Spice House, my husband Tom and I often wrestle with time management issues, there simply is not enough time in the day for all of the hats we must wear. We have learned that, while painful, you can delegate chores. They might not be done to the standard to which we aspire, but they can come close enough. I personally answer the company email for hours every day, and we have discussed whether this is something that could be given to one of our staff members. Many of these emails are very simple, but others are quite complex. Often times, simply out of politeness, unless my box has over 200 emails to get through, I will seek out an answer for someone who is looking to find a product we do not carry, or a recipe. I sometimes wonder if it is possible that so many people out there have no idea how to google the information they need. Or perhaps I have unwittingly turned myself into a Ready Reference resource. Growing up, before the days of computers, we used libraries and reference books. The families that could afford encyclopedias invested serious money in these books which their children could use as a valuable resource for schoolwork. Tom even sold encyclopedias on the road awhile in his youth, if you want a good laugh ask him about those ?good old days?! If you were not lucky enough to have some serious reference books at home, the library had a Ready Reference number you called for help. The person who answered was not hooked into any computer, she would leave the desk, go get a book, and look up the answer for you. So, on the most generic level, I may now be this person. HOWEVER, on the most valuable level, I can?t tell you how many emails I read that are written by remarkable people.
Everyone is familiar with the excitement of opening beautifully wrapped presents during the holidays. What lovely treasure might be discovered in the box? Maybe a beautiful jewel of a gift, sometimes a dud. We are fortunate to experience that anticipation year round, here at The Spice House, when we open our bulk packages of spices, that come to us from exotic ports all over the Earth. Some hand picked cloves come to us in beautiful wooden crates, stamped with a colored ink design of a ship sailing the ocean. The wooden box is necessary to keep the hand select cloves in perfect condition. Cinnamon from Ceylon comes in five foot tall bundles, the long quills are carefully wrapped and then burlap is sewn around them. Saffron comes from Spain in decorated tins, depicting the harvesting of saffron. Cardamom comes from India, in a box stamped with an elephant, and even through the box, the heady aroma emerges. My favorite box to open is those filled with vanilla bean. We just received a shipment this last week.
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One of our favorite vacation spots is in Mexico, on the Caribbean ocean known as the Mexican Riviera, near Playa Del Carmen. While we feel a bit guilty that this is not a spice mission vacation, many factors seem to lead us back to this same spot. We have enjoyed many Caribbean Islands and worked spices in as a factor, Jamaica for allspice and ginger, St. Lucia had an artisinal cocoa plantation. Grenada in particular was a wonderful education on the growing of mace and nutmeg and we thoroughly enjoyed our day visiting the nutmeg cooperatives. In St. Vincent we took a three hour drive, each way, to visit a tiny arrowroot plantation. Yet it is pretty much an all day affair to reach these islands. Cancun is a very brief 3-1/2 hour trip, another 45 minutes south we reach our destination, the water is beautiful, the golf is world class and we have an all inclusive hotel chain which we enjoy called Iberostar. So, while we really enjoy the spice seeking vacations, sometimes we just really take a vacation that is not work related, sorry to disillusion anyone!
Two summers ago I fell in love with the city of Madison, Wisconsin, while attending a governor’s conference for Slow Food. While Chicago hosts no shortage of fine farmer’s markets, I was blown away by the Madison farmer’s market, held in a square anchored by the glorious capitol building. One of my twin nieces is attending college there and she has a strong interest in environmental sciences. While we had lunch, I tried my best to coerce her into joining the University of Wisconsin chapter of Slow Food. We had all agreed at the conference meetings that it is extremely important to the future of the Slow Food movement that its vision is embraced by these young students, whose vibrancy and energy will lead to the dedication to continue the cause. At the time I tried to view my suggestions through her eyes, the intellectual college student listing to her aunt, most likely humoring her. I figured that my suggestion probably got lumped into one of those categories of helpful advice like ?If your room was neat and organized, you would not believe how much easier it would be to concentrate on your homework!? So I was delighted to receive an email the following year (a seed takes awhile to sprout) saying she was going to a Slow Food potluck that night.
We are so excited that the big night is almost here. This event sold out about a month in advance, a sure testimonial to what a great evening it is. I look back over the years and remember when we were lucky to have a few hundred people show up. One year I was the Chair of the event when it was sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier, and we were lucky to have around 35 chefs. We were shocked when we heard a rumor that market founder, Abby Mandel, was calling the chefs in advance and telling them what they were serving was not acceptable. We just could not believe that if a chef wanted to serve something as expensive as soft shell crabs, which we thought quite generous, this choice would be criticized. Who would look a gift horse in the mouth? Abby, if they were serving the wrong menu! There were a few irate chefs, let me tell you. In retrospect, we all now see how far ahead of her time Abby was. Abby ALWAYS got it. All we wanted to do was throw a nice party, have some happy participants and chefs, and raise some money. It needed to go so much further than that. Now, we have evolved to what this food community is really all about. If we want a good farmer’s market, with sustainable or organic product, we all have to support it. The farmers are doing their best for us, but they need everyone to be on board, not just home cooks but restaurant chefs, caterers, even politicians are needed to smooth the path. This group of very talented chefs understands how important their role in helping to educate the public has become, this is their chance to show off their skills and they are happy to share their expertise with you. One of the coolest things about this event, is the opportunity to meet the actual chef in person. All the restaurants send their A team.
Here, one of my very favorite photos from an early bbq, NOT on Abby’s list! Below, some more real local dishes being served tomorrow and some snippets of menu items being served. We will really miss Abby at the BBQ, she was with us just last year. Her work is certainly being carried on.