“By this time of year, everyone is sick to death of turkey and sage,” says Sandy Davis, Executive Chef at New York City-based catering company Roxo Events. “This is definitely the season to throw open the doors of your spice cabinet and start getting creative.”
Davis, a Texas native, grew up with the southern tradition of serving a Christmas ham generously seasoned with mace. “It’s such an unusual spice,” he says. “Mace come from the same fruit pod as a nutmeg, but it’s the lacy, red coating that goes around the kernel. It’s similar in taste to nutmeg, but I think it’s more subtle and delicate. I mix the mace with honey and apple cider vinegar, then paint it on the ham several times during baking.”
Wintertime = fika time
If you’d like to start using more unusual spices on your menu, saffron and cardamom are great options. December 13 is Saint Lucia Day, which might call for a menu special of the day’s signature buns, whose golden color comes from a pinch of saffron. (Yes, it’s the world’s most expensive spice, but don’t worry – you just need a pinch.)
Or take a (recipe) page from the Swedes, who are known for their love of spice-redolent baked treats served during fika. In her book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, author Anna Brones says: “Fika isn’t just a coffee break; it’s a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life.” Many fika treats include generous amounts of cardamom, a popular ingredient in Scandinavian dishes including cakes, pancakes and granola.
Grind it yourself
If you haven’t opened some of your kitchen’s spices since last winter, Davis says to taste before you cook. “As they get older, they’ll get darker and lose their flavor,” he explains. “Some too-old spices can even take on a rancid taste.” To keep recipes as fresh as possible, he suggests grinding your own spices. “I have a coffee grinder with a big ‘Spice Only’ label on it,” he says. “I like to grind up cinnamon sticks in there, and I can really tell the difference in smell and taste. I grind my own black and white peppercorns a pint at a time, then put them in a good sealed container. They’ll stay fresh for quite a while.”
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