Herbs and Spices Add Flavor to 4 Holiday Recipes

Rosemary Garlic Flank Steak

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

When Jack Frost arrives, he really does a number on our fresh food options. The local co-ops and farms yield to him and Mother Nature because they have no choice. However, we can still eat a varied and delicious diet, we just have to adjust to the season. The old adage, “if it grows together it goes together,” is a good rule of thumb in winter cooking. Hearty foods, herbs and spices like to hang out together. I like to think of it this way – just as we wear heavier clothing, more practical shoes and layers, the winter offerings have thicker skins and are just less fragile. They are quiet, understated and, like a good winter coat, they are there when we need them.

In winter especially, we rely on the less wispy herbs, leaning toward parsley and rosemary. Traditional holiday spices help bring vibrancy to our food. We are challenged as cooks to hone our skills in bringing these flavors together. Let’s face it, anyone can put a dash of salt and pepper on a July tomato and have a culinary hit.

Winter cooking requires a bit more thought. We have many long nights to slow down and hover over a stew or roast. Getting the right balance of fresh herbs is a bit looser than with spices. The per-teaspoon “pow factor” is generally more subtle. It’s hard to overdo it with the more mild herbs. Rosemary, however, stands in its own league. Reliable rosemary can hold on in cold weather. Many of us have seen it flourish from a small potted plant into a giant shrub. I cannot resist running my hands over a rosemary plant. Sometimes I carry a sprig in my coat pocket, just to squeeze it and release that lingering fragrance again and again.

Of course, it’s also delicious! It’s an herb powerhouse that can stand with garlic and steak without being intimidated. Try the Rosemary Garlic Flank Steak and see for yourself! After testing a few ideas, I decided to make this a cast-iron skillet recipe. If you want to go outside to your grill, be my guest. Or, you can stay cozy indoors with the rest of us.

Carrots and parsnips give us an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful flavors of winter tubers. A bit of cardamom balances their savory and sweet qualities. Cardamom is most familiar to us in Indian cooking. I’ve ground the seeds from the pod several times, and I am told that this is the best method for experiencing the full flavor. Still, it is sold alongside our many ground spices and always adds a lovely and unique flavor note to hot drinks, baked goods and veggies. I like the way its scent seems to bloom like a flower.

Steamed Carrots and Parsnips

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

I also added parsley to make these Steamed Cardamom-Parsley Carrots and Parsnips because it’s affordable, flavorful and another sturdy standby.

It seems like I’ve been roasting veggies nonstop for the past few years. It’s nice to steam them for a change. The colors are so vibrant. The texture retains its bounce. They seem lighter and more receptive to the cardamom and parsley than when I roast the daylights out of them (not that I am knocking caramelized veggies!).

Sorghum Gingerbread Cookies

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

Holiday baking can really bring out thought and care in the kitchen. My friend Emma has perfected a spice balance in her Sorghum Gingerbread Cookies, which substitute local sorghum for the usual molasses. Emma has developed her recipe and method over the years into her signature holiday offering.

Baked Chocolate spice Donuts

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

Doughnuts are so popular these days. Mexican spice blends and chocolate keep popping up together, especially in baking. I decided to borrow my daughter’s baked doughnut pan to play around with some Baked Chocolate Spiced Doughnuts. It sounded so easy. Six batches later I found the right balance of flavor, texture and timing. Egads! Do you know how many doughnuts I had to eat before I figured this out? I made a doughnut sacrifice so you could be spared!

Hearty winter herbs and traditional spices can awaken our taste buds and enhance our seasonal foods. The warmth and care of well-made winter foods can make the memory of tomatoes fade until next summer.

– Mary Carter

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