Warm Spices = Cozy Holidays

spicesSome people create festive centerpieces for the dinner table while others like to decorate their front yards with lights and reindeer, but everybody has one favorite holiday tradition in common: warm, sweet spices that make winter seem a whole lot cozier. Feeling chilly? Put on a pot of chai tea or make a mug of spiced cocoa. Hosting a holiday dinner? Don’t forget the pumpkin pie and mulled cider!

While you can use these spices any time of the year, nothing says “home for the holidays” like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add other classic baking spices like allspice and cardamom, and you can put a little bit of holiday into every day from now until New Year’s. Here are some ideas for enjoying a different holiday spice every night of the week:

  • CINNAMON: Probably the most familiar of all the winter spices, cinnamon can naturally sweeten everything from coffee to applesauce. To make cinnamon coffee, just add ground cinnamon to your ground coffee beans and brew as usual; to make cinnamon applesauce, simmer cubed apples until tender, then mash with a dash cinnamon and vanilla extract. You can also add cinnamon sticks to stews and chilis to lend a sweet-spicy undertone, or steep a stick in hot water for 10 minutes to make cinnamon tea.
  • CLOVES: Pomanders used to be a popular holiday decoration, and they’re so easy to make that they deserve a comeback. To make them, poke whole cloves stem-first into an orange, studding it all over with the fragrant dried flower buds and/or using them to create fun patterns. These natural air fresheners make beautiful centerpieces! Cloves also pair well with cinnamon, so you might want to add them to baked goods that feature cinnamon. (Only use about one-quarter as much ground cloves, though—they’re much stronger than cinnamon.)
  • GINGER: Fresh ginger root, ground dried ginger, and crystallized ginger all make appearances during the holidays. Gingersnaps, gingerbread, coffeecakes, fruitcakes…the list goes on and on. One easy way to enjoy ginger’s zippiness is to stir a pinch of ground ginger into your next mug of hot chocolate. Ginger pairs exceedingly well with pumpkin, too—it’s one of the key ingredients in pumpkin spice mix—and winter squash in general. Try simmering cubed butternut squash for 5 minutes or until firm-tender and then sautéing the drained squash with some butter, garlic, and ground ginger.
  • NUTMEG: Freshly grated nutmeg has a distinctly floral aspect that has long made it a popular garnish on savory dishes (fettuccini alfredo, lasagna, Swedish meatballs) as well as sweet ones (eggnog, custard, French toast). Whether it’s freshly grated or already ground, just a little bit goes a long way. Nutmeg pairs particularly well with egg-based dishes, so the next time you make omelets or quiche, try sprinkling on a whisper of nutmeg. And be sure to include it in your apple and pumpkin pies, too!
  • ALLSPICE: Many people think allspice is a blend of these sweet, warm spices, but allspice berries are their own thing. (They do, however, taste like a mild blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.) They’re typically used more in Jamaican cookery than anywhere else, but you can include allspice in anything from pancake batter to chicken-based recipes to lend your dishes a holiday flair. In fact, if you’d rather just have one or two spices in your holiday spice rack, allspice is an excellent all-purpose choice.
  • CARDAMOM: If you’re a fan of chai tea, then you’re a cardamom fan, because that’s the signature flavor of chai. (It’s black tea brewed with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and black pepper.) Cardamom tends to stand out thanks to its strong, unique flavor, but a smidge of it adds an intriguing depth to many international dishes, like Persian pilafs, Indonesian curries, and Vietnamese noodle soup. You might want to try adding one of those global favorites to your holiday-dish repertoire!

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