If you’re looking to savor flavor and eat healthier this holiday season, cooking with wine and spices is the way to go.
“As spices and herbs gain popularity for health reasons and the ability to flavor without salt, they become more important in developing flavor over the holidays,” said Cortney Smith, senior buyer for food and spices at CHEFS Catalog.
CHEFS, 5070 Centennial Blvd., recently launched its own line of high-quality basic and custom spices. “We carry everything from organic Saigon ground cinnamon to saffron,” Smith said. “My personal favorites for the holidays are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and even the less-used cardamom,” Smith said. Cardamom spice is made from the seed pods of various ginger plants; its flavor contains hints of lemon, mint and smoke.
For those new to cooking with spices, Smith recommended starting out with commonly used herbs like thyme, oregano, basil or rosemary. “These are great additions to pasta sauces, roasts, soups and chili,” she said.
Incorporating spices can help conjure up the best of the holidays. “The smell of mulled cider warming the house, ham studded with cloves, cinnamon rolls or other family classics can bring you right back to the best memories from the past,” Smith said. If your family has a favorite spice, use it in creating new dish that just might become a family classic.
Wine can also be used to craft sauces for a variety of pasta and meat dishes, from fish to chicken and can add a festive taste to your traditional holiday dishes.
“You can use wine three different ways in cooking: you can marinade, add flavor or increase the liquid content,” said Cindy Reiman, owner of The Wine Gallery, 5903 Delmonico Dr.
When marinating, keep in mind the heartier the meat, the darker the wine. “A lot of dishes with lighter, red meats and lighter sauces call for burgundy, which is a pinot noir from France,” she said.
Reiman recommended using pinot grigios for fattier fish dishes. “They’re high in acidity and can cut through the fat,” she said. “A sauvignon blanc is better for veggies because it’s lighter and fruitier.” Ports and sherry wines work best in sweeter sauces and desserts.
Cooking with wine is a great way to reduce oil usage and cut calories. “It’s great for baking, too. If I have a recipe that calls for a cup of oil, I’ll use just a half cup of oil and a half cup of wine,” Reiman said.
Preparing cream sauces and chicken dishes in an unoaked chardonnay will ensure the dish is not overpowered by the wine. “Don’t use something high in tannins like certain cabernets, because they will stay and overpower dish. You want to use a wine that will complement your dish.”
When cooking, be sure to add the wine right away, rather than waiting until the end. This allows time for the sulfites and alcohol to burn off and, leaving diners with just a subtle taste of the wine.
“Just like when you use spices, you don’t want the wine to overpower the taste, so be careful not to use too much or too little,” Reiman said. “Only cook with wines you would actually drink. You want to enjoy the flavor.” If you need help getting started, The Wine Gallery’s knowledgeable staff can make wine recommendations for any recipe. Visit thewinegalleryco.com for hours and store info.
If you’d prefer to simply drink the wine, there’s a place for that during the holidays, too.
Tim Christensen, owner of home winemaking center Fermentations, said people gravitate to red wines during the winter months. Mulled wines have also grown in popularity, featuring orange, cinnamon and cloves and served hot or at room temperature. Christensen also recommended the seasonal wine Merlot Ho Ho from Island Mist, reminiscent of Christmas fruits and spices.
For a more personal touch, try crafting your own bubbly for New Year’s Eve. Fermentations, 5765 N. Academy Blvd., offers kits and classes; learn more at fermentations.biz or call 719-598-1164 to schedule a class. Keep in mind it takes a minimum of one month for sparkling carbonation to appropriately build up.