Behind the scenes at Stillwater’s Pinch ‘n Rub Spice & Tea Hub.
Nancy Figueroa has always enjoyed cooking and baking. Throughout her life, friends would encourage her to become a private chef or open a restaurant. But it was a trip to Washington D.C. that inspired Figueroa to open a spice and tea shop in downtown Stillwater in 2012. “I was invited to parents’ weekend with our host daughter [an international student from Guatemala] who was accepted into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. While there, I visited the cutest little spice and tea shop and decided Stillwater needed one of these,” says Figueroa. She returned to the Midwest and began doing her due diligence. Nine months later, her “baby” was born, Pinch ‘n Rub Spice and Tea Hub on Main St.
As the initial space as being created, Figueroa’s designer, who knew her passion for cooking, suggested they put a little kitchen right inside the shop where Figueroa could test ingredients and create recipes. She laughs about “violating” some of her grandmother’s recipes—Instead of rolling her sugar cookie dough in white sugar, she’d experiment with rolling them in habanero sugar, much to the joy of adventurous eaters.
Although Figueroa loves to cook and bake, she didn’t consider herself an expert at first. Before opening her shop, she bought lots of books about spices and teas, ordered tons of samples and did a lot of reading and taste testing before creating every individual label in her shop.
It’s important to note that not only is Figueroa passionate about food, she is also passionate about nutrition and is very particular about what she puts in her own body. “We try to source products that are organic and fair trade whenever we can,” she says, and every item is gluten free and contains no MSG. She’s met all but one of her suppliers in person and has established good relationships with importers who specialize in spices and teas.
“Spices can be a fun way to be creative when cooking,” says Figueroa who points out that Pinch ‘n Rub is divided into sections with spices being first, including things like allspice, Vietnamese cinnamon and wasabi powder. Then there’s a section for blends, sugar blends, salt blends, pepper blends and other seasoning combos. Figueroa especially enjoys cooking with cayenne pepper and curry and she tells customers not to fear having fun in the kitchen. “If you don’t love it, just tweak it a bit next time.”
But for those who might feel overwhelmed when encountering 300 jars of spices in one space, Figueroa praises her staff’s ability to help guide customers toward what would likely work best for them. “We train our team to ask about what people like to cook, chicken, beef or vegan. If a customer makes chicken regularly, we can help them make chicken 60 or more ways that will be different every time. Do you like spicy or savory or tart flavor profiles? Whatever people prefer, we can help guide customers with recommendations.
Figueroa talks turkey…
“We always buy a giant turkey for Thanksgiving because we love creating with the leftovers. I really don’t follow recipes; it’s more just throwing things that sound good together. I believe cooking should be fun and creating what sounds good in the moment. One of the first things I do after our Thanksgiving meal is de-bone the turkey and start a slow cooker with all the bones and any drippings from the cooked turkey–add some sea salt, garlic, celery, onion, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage and let it simmer overnight. This makes a delicious turkey bone broth. My secret ingredient is our alderwood smoked sea salt. It gives a delicious depth of flavor to the broth. We use the broth with our leftovers, especially for hot shredded turkey open face sandwiches. Yum!
The next few days it’s turkey salad, turkey pot pie and turkey sandwiches (we eat pretty low carb at our house so we make keto pastries, biscuits & bread, but an occasional bread indulgence is fun!)
- 1 can of pumpkin (15 oz.)
- 1 8 oz. package cream cheese
- 2 Tbsp. Pinch ‘n Rub Maple Sugar
- 1 to 2 cups powdered sugar (depends on how sweet you want it – I use 1 cup)
- 1 Tbsp. Pinch ‘n Rub Pumpkin Pie Spice
- 1 tsp. Pinch ‘n Rub Vietnamese Cinnamon
- ½ tsp. Pinch ‘n Rub Himalayan Pink salt
- For a fun variation: Try adding in some Pinch ‘n Rub Crystallized Candied Ginger chopped into small bits.
Mix softened cream cheese and sugars until well blended. Stir in pumpkin one large spoonful at a time blending completely with each addition to prevent lumps. Stir in spices. Blend well and store in fridge until ready to use. Keeps well.
Serve with Molasses Snap cookies or any crispy ginger cookie and even apple slices.
Grandma K’s Molasses Snap Cookies
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. Pinch ‘n Rub Himalayan Pink salt
- 1 tsp. ground Pinch ‘n Rub Vietnamese cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- ½ tsp. ground cloves
- ¾ cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¼ cup Pinch ‘n Rub Ginger Fusion sugar in a shallow bowl, for rolling (you can use white sugar or a combination.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl; stir well to mix. In a separate bowl, beat together on medium speed the butter and the one cup of sugar for about five minutes until very light, fluffy and whitened.
Add the egg and continue beating until smooth. Lower speed and beat in half the dry ingredients, then the molasses. Stop the mixer and scrape down bowl and beater. Beat in the remaining dry ingredients by hand using a large rubber spatula.
Use a small ice cream scoop to scoop out one-inch diameter pieces of dough. Roll into balls between the palms of your the hands, then roll in the sugar. Place the balls of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper leaving about three inches all around each, to allow for spreading.
Bake the cookies for about 13-15 minutes or until they have spread, surface has crackled and they are firm to the touch. Slide the papers from the pans to racks.
Store cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or waxed paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.
Pinch ‘n Rub Spice and Tea Hub was originally known as Spice and Tea Company. “I loved the name Pinch ‘n Rub but some friends thought it might be a little too sassy,” says shop owner Nancy Figueroa. After about six years, she was ready to freshen up the brand and the universe decided to help her along by dumping enough heavy rain in 2017, that a clogged drainpipe led to a completely flooded shop, ruining everything inside. The Spice and Tea Company was closed for over four months to clean up and reset. Meanwhile, Figueroa worked with a marketing group on rebranding. “When I decided to refresh, [a flood] wasn’t what I had in mind,” says Figueroa. But, this time around, she leaned into the sass, and her “baby” was reborn as Pinch ‘n Rub Spice and Tea Hub.