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7 Cooking tips to use your holiday spices all year

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

holiday spices

How often have you bought an herb or spice specifically for a holiday dish and then let it sit in your cupboard gathering dust after the holiday season was over? Instead of letting them go to waste, you can deliciously put your holiday herbs and spices to use all year with these creative cooking tips.

Spice Rack

Cooking tip #1: Add warmth with whole or ground cloves

Whole cloves are essential for the Easter Ham or the Christmas pomander (a fresh unpeeled orange studded with whole cloves) but can be used all year to lend their distinctive flavor.

"Cloves are an amazing way to flavor hot drinks like cider and mulled wine during the holiday season. Cloves also make great poaching liquids for fruits, flavored rices, and glazes," says Daniela Massey, product development manager (and self-proclaimed extreme foodie) for The Spice Hunter.

And if using whole cloves for other dishes is intimidating, simply grind them. Massey suggests using ground cloves to add a warm flavor to cookies – especially oatmeal, baked loafs like banana breads, and spicy meat marinades like Jamaican jerk chicken. Even a dash in oatmeal can make your morning meal taste special.

Cooking tip #2: Use cinnamon for a spicy depth

One of the most enjoyed tastes – and aromas – of the holidays is cinnamon, whether ground or in stick form. Ground cinnamon is often used year-round and poses no dilemma to most cooks. However, cinnamon sticks tend to be reserved for ciders

Massey, a 15-year food industry veteran, says, "Of course, cinnamon sticks add amazing flavor to hot cocoas, ciders and mulled wines, but also add a great kick to stiffer drinks – stir flavored martinis like espresso martinis and chocolotinis with one."

And cinnamon is ultra versatile beyond drinks. Massey (whose favorite spice is admittedly cinnamon) suggests using cinnamon sticks to add depth to recipes including cranberry-brandy glaze to top poultry, a homemade Dulce de Leche ice cream, and to flavor rice.

Cooking tip #3: Get creative with pumpkin pie spice

That pumpkin pie recipe just wouldn't be the same if you didn't use the classic pumpkin pie spice. But instead of letting all but the called for one or two teaspoons go to waste, add pumpkin pie spice to cream cheese for your morning bagel, sprinkle on apples and pears for a flavorful snack, add to curries and sauces, and give roasted vegetables a dash.

Cooking tip #4: Flavor poultry and even pork with turkey brine

If brining your turkey for the holidays is a tradition (note: The Spice Hunter has 11-ounce and 22-ounce jars of Turkey Brine available in natural food stores and supermarkets), buy extra and use it to keep other meats moist and flavorful.

Massey recommends trying turkey brine on chicken, duck, goose or even pork. The advantage of using brine on smaller birds or pork is you can get fabulous results in fewer hours than it takes ro brine and roast the traditional large turkey. "[Turkey] has to soak overnight to reach its full flavor…chicken takes only six hours, pork roast needs only four to eight hours, and chops only two to four.

Cooking tip #5: Get savory and sweet with Chinese Five Spice

Chinese Five Spice isn't limited to holiday dishes for Chinese New Year. "Many people only think to use this spice blend in traditional Chinese dishes, but the richly enveloping flavor is also a fantastic way to add savory and sweet flavor to turkey chili and it makes an incredible seasoning for pork chops, says Massey.

She also suggests using Chinese Five Spice as a flavorful garnish for macaroni and cheese, to spice up coating for fried chicken, and, for dessert, use it in place of cinnamon for a spicy apple pie

Cooking tip #6: Use fajita seasoning for your everyday meals

Fajitas are a popular dish for Cinco de Mayo and other Mexican celebrations. Fajita seasoning gives a spicy kick to the dish's chicken or steak, onions and peppers, but it can also add flavorful flair to other dishes.

"Fajita seasoning is great for breakfast, either in an omelette with diced peppers and cheddar cheese or fried with potatoes, peppers and onions. For lunch or dinner, fajita seasoning is also delicious in turkey feta burgers," says Massey.

Cooking tip #7: Keep herbs and spices fresh

Regardless of the herbs and spices in your cupboard collection, take care of them so they deliver no-fail flavor. Here are Massey's suggestions to maximize the life of your herbs and spices.

1. Store spices in airtight containers away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight – that means away from the stove and dishwasher.

2. Test your spices periodically. For ground spices, shake the jar, let it settle and give a sniff. If there's essentially no scent, they should be tossed out.

3. If you choose to store herbs and spices in the freezer or refrigerator, return them promptly after use to avoid condensation.

4. Never shake herbs or spices out of the bottle directly into something you're cooking — the steam will cause spices to clump within the bottle.

5. Catalog spices with the date you bought them, and tape the list to the inside door of the cabinet. This provides quick reference when making a grocery list and also helps to know when to cull aging spices.

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