Spice Up Your Holiday

Ask around and a good majority of people will tell you that fall is their favorite season. While the reasons are many, a big one has to be all the great flavors that abound in fall and winter cooking. Much credit should be given to the powerful combination of spices and herbs that lend their fragrance and flavor to most everything we like to make this time of year. The stars of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, star anise, allspice, cloves, vanilla, peppermint, and my secret weapon, green cardamom. The herbs, more subtle in nature but just as important include rosemary, parsley, thyme and sage. With these in items in hand, you’re in store for satisfying suppers and a home that smells heavenly. Spice up your holiday season with these tips.

Spice Up Your Holiday - Spices

  • You can find a lot of different definitions for spices, but the one we like best is that a spice is any dried part of the plant used to flavor food other than the leaves.
  • When shopping for spices, look for stores that sell them in bulk. You can buy just the amount you need and save a few dollars.
  • When possible, buy just the amount you’ll use in 2-3 months. That way the spices—and the health-benefiting compounds in them—won’t lose their potency sitting in your cabinet.
  • Where and how you store spices is important, too. Be sure to keep spices away from light and heat to get the most flavor and health benefits.
  • Recipes vary greatly in how much of a spice to use. It can be anywhere from 1/8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon or more when ground. If you’re unsure about how well you like a spice, start at the low end and taste it. You can always add more.
  • A good use for spices that may have been around a while and are less potent is to use them in a simmer pot. This is a great and affordable way to make the house smell amazing. For safety reasons, we recommend using a slow cooker instead of the stove top. Just place some winter spices or herbs in at least 2 inches of water and set the slow cooker to low with the lid off. You can also add fruit peels like apples, pears or oranges to give it a zing. Be sure to check the water level occasionally so it doesn’t dry out completely.

Spice Up Your Holiday - Herbs

  • In culinary terms, herbs are green and leafy plants used for flavoring food.
  • Growing your own herbs can save you a lot of money and you’ll have the freshest, most flavorful available.
  • Many herbs, like rosemary, sage and mint can be grown all year long in North Texas.
  • Herbs do surprisingly well in shady areas.
  • When buying, herbs should look fresh and vibrant, with rich color, no wilting or yellowing, and should not be too wet, sticky or slimy.
  • Recipes usually call for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. When using dried leaves like thyme or basil, start with 1 teaspoon. When ground, cut down to 1/4-1/2 teaspoon. These are just starting points, so feel free to add more of your favorites or include other kinds of herbs in your recipe.

No matter what’s on the menu, you can spice up your holiday with fresh herbs and spices! You’ll make a powerful flavor statement and provide healthful ingredients to your meals, too.

Are you itchin’ to get savvy in the kitchen? Learn more about cooking affordable, healthy and delicious dishes at our Cooking Matters courses or workshops. Registration begins soon for January courses.

Looking for a good thyme? Come out to one of our great gardening workshops to learn how to grow herbs, vegetables and more. Visit our Eventbrite page to register for upcoming spring classes or volunteer at one of our garden workdays.

By Micheline Hynes
Nutrition Services Manager, Tarrant Area Food Bank

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