February 10, 2013

For years spice lovers have known that they can create incredibly tasty meals without having to resort to tons of fatty foods. Who can't make a meal seem more flavorful by adding a cream sauce or loads of butter? (In the dessert department the fatty favorite is chocolate, but that's another story.) Now is the time to get out there and introduce yourself to spices.

The most common flavor enhancers that cooks use include onions, garlic, salt (a chemical) and pepper. Bell peppers are also popular because the green ones are relatively inexpensive. By using these the cook is adding vegetables, but often times as people age they cut back on these popular flavor-filled foods, because their constitutions react to them negatively. Whether this results in high blood pressure (salt) or indigestion (green bell peppers) or bad breath (onions and garlic), there seems to be a time and a place for these ingredients that may not align with what you are really looking for, which is more flavor in your food.

Today there is no excuse not to try some fresh herbs and spices. They are not only more available, but the varieties and choices seem to be endless. For those of you, who like to shop online, consider ordering some spices. Most companies will sell in small quantities and if you are able to get them in bags and not in jars, you'll reduce the weight and save quite a bit on the shipping costs. For those who like to shop locally, you just might be surprised to find a specialty shop that sells just herbs and spices in your neighborhood. Many coffee roasters and tea retailers have expanded into the spice business. They might be a place to begin.

Stepping into a spice shop can be fragrant to say the least. Not only can the smell be overwhelming, but so can the choices. Online buyers can peruse at your leisure. But if you want to try something right away, consider jotting down a few of your favorite seasonings and see if your local spice shop owner or gourmet grocer can take you to the next level. For example, you like the flavor of anise, but think it is only for cookies. Anise has a slight licorice flavor. You will find that same flavor in fennel seeds, which can be ground up and taste great with pork. You can also use the seeds whole, if you like, to make your own breads with a sweeter taste.

You're a one-dish wonder and an expert with the old crock pot. And you don't mind a little heat with your meat. Pepper from peppercorns is universal, but there are so many more varieties for heat seekers on the market today. Dare you go beyond cayenne and chili sauces and give Szechuan peppers or grains of paradise a try? No, Szechuan peppers are not just for Asian dishes anymore. They are a great addition to crock pot cooking, but be forewarned. They are intoxicatingly good, and you may never use black pepper again! Use them sparingly as you would red pepper flakes, and you won't be sorry.

One of the ways to know if you like a spice is to take a small quantity of it and crush it in your palm with your thumb or a spoon. Take a whiff. Do you like the smell? If so, chances are you will like the taste, too. The advantage of going to your local spice shop is that you can taste a few new spices while you are there. Before you know it you'll be trying to figure out a way to incorporate these newfound flavors into all your meals. Now you're cooking.

Copyright 2013 by Linda K Murdock. Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook's Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes are included. Now is the time to decrease the fat and increase the flavor via spices. Learn more at http://bellwetherbooks.com/

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