The Joys of Blending

One of the benefits of working at The Spice House is the opportunity to have new and unique sensory experiences on a regular basis. Just how our senses are stimulated depends on the nature of the task we are handling at any given moment, but the truth is there is very little work to be done at our store that won’t open the eyes, clear the sinuses, or intrigue the taste buds. Indeed, there is a lot to take in at our little shop, from exotic sights and scents to vibrant flavors and even sounds (our founder, the late Bill Penzey Sr., often proclaimed there was music in the spices themselves, although it might go undetected by the untrained or inattentive ear). Of all the work at The Spice House, however, there may not be a job that so deeply buries the hand in sensory stimuli as blending spices.

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Not Cooking for Summer

Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and great relaxers. At the end of a long day nothing feels better to me than getting in the kitchen and throwing together some food. However, after Chicago’s long stretch of hundred degree plus weather, I discovered a new favorite for summer: not cooking. Instead I turned to fresh and tasty summer staples that almost never required me to turn on the stove. These dishes are some of my summer favorites, that really pop with a couple of small additions.  Continue reading

Boxes of Beautiful Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans 004 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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Organic Spices and Herbs Line

Gcmarketbby09 078 We have followed the take off in organic and sustainable food products with great interest over the last ten years. We have been unsure of what our role should be here. We are big proponents of shopping locally whenever possible and it is one of our great weekly pleasures to shop at our local farmer’s market.
Yet if you were only to cook with locally grown products, your food would be sadly lacking, as you would be spiceless. The climate in this country simply allows for the growth of herbs, but never spices. The third world countries that spices grow in, are not necessarily on the organic band wagon yet, and in some scenarios, we feel it is not our place to force our American demands upon these poor farmers. We have also made it our lifelong mission to bring you the highest level of quality in our spices, would we find organic spices with our desired level of quality?

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ASTA Conference (American Spice Trade Association)

Asta We are currently on our way to

Tucson

, for the ASTA (American Spice Trade Association) annual meeting and trade show. We are very excited to attend this conference, as it gives us the opportunity to meet some of the world?s top suppliers of spices. There are many educational seminars and current crop reports. Hopefully there is some good and spicy food! While the world of spices has a history as long as the history of the world, innovations in crop growing and harvesting are always taking place, and we need to be knowledgeable about this.


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Cooking our way through Thailand

A while back my daughter and I had the opportunity of a lifetime. We went to Thailand on a cooking tour. We visited 3 major cities and took cooking classes in each region. The first city was Bangkok, the second was Chang Mai in the north and the third was Phuket in the south. Each had a slightly different cuisine using ingredients available in that area. This was truly a great culinary experience and we encourage everyone to explore different cultures and their individual ethnic foods, whether abroad or in your own homes. The cuisine of Thailand is surprisingly simple. The preparation is the key, the actual cooking takes minute in most cases.

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Alton Brown spends a day filming at The Spice House

Each year I look forward with great anticipation to the annual episode on Alton Brown’s popular food network show, Good Eats, titled “It’s a Wonderful Cake.”  Will it air again this year, or has AB discovered a new and improved method of making fruit cake? I go to the Food Network website holding my breath.  No wait, there it is in his Good Eats Fruitcake air times!.  Three December showings. Why do I get so excited? I appear on this show and like Jimmy Stewart, I air every year – for about three minutes – yet I feel this is my 2 seconds of fame! So would  you believe Alton spent about 12 hours filming in our Evanston shop to get this three minutes? If you watch Good Eats, I think you already have an idea of what a thorough guy Alton is.

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Grades of Paprika

Paprika Family

The old grading system for paprikas has evolved into a much simpler one. Just 15 years ago, Hungary used 8 different names to classify the heat, color, and flavor of it's famed chiles.

  • Special Quality (Különleges): The mildest and brightest red of all Hungarian paprikas, with excellent aroma.
  • Delicate (Csípősmentes csemege): Ranging from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor.
  • Exquisite Delicate (Csemegepaprika): Similar to Delicate, but more pungent.
  • Pungent Exquisite Delicate (Csípős csemege, Pikant): A yet more pungent Delicate.
  • Rose (Rózsa): Pale Red in color with strong aroma and mild pungency..
  • Noble Sweet (Édesnemes): The most commonly exported paprika; bright red and slightly pungent.
  • Half-Sweet (Félédes): A blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency.
  • Hot (Erős): Light brown in color, this is the hottest of all the paprikas

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