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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
South Shore News

Spices can make ho-hum meals sing


Published:   |   Updated: January 29, 2014 at 10:17 AM

My spice rack overfloweth. Between cooking more international foods and some of the gifts I’ve received, our pantry has more spices than a Moroccan market.

Fenugreek, ground guajillo chili, cardamom, lemongrass powder, turmeric – these are just some of dried plant substances that cooks use to flavor, color or preserve food. Every one of them is wonderful – even magical. They have the power to make an otherwise ho-hum meal sing with flavor. But they can be expensive.

The last few years I’ve realized it isn’t feasible or cost-effective to continue buying spices from the local grocer as I did in the past. I began shopping around and was truly surprised at the values I found with just a little effort.

When I was first on the hunt for ground guajillo chili, I headed down the ethnic foods aisle rather than the traditional spice aisle. It had its own spice section. Since then I’ve found that most grocery stores have these special sections where you can buy spices in clear envelopes for less than $1. These tend to be more Southwestern in flavor – more peppers and paprikas – but I’ve been able to find packages of spices like cinnamon sticks and star anise, as well.

Ethnic grocery stores are a great place to pick up inexpensive, culturally specific spices. I personally frequent several Asian, Hispanic and Indian markets in Riverview and Brandon.

Their spices come either in bags or jars, and I’ve gotten things like green cardamom, garam masala, or ground ancho chili for a fraction of the cost of the grocery store.

Health food stores also tend to have bulk spice sections. These are great places to get two teaspoons of cardamom or whatever spice you need but don’t want to pay for a whole container.

Both Big Lots and Dollar Tree sell large containers of herbs and spices for $1 each. The herbs and spices at these stores tend to be of pretty good quality at low prices. I recommend trying one of these stores if you’re just starting to build your spice arsenal.

When all else fails, buy online. I order a half-pound of Madagascar vanilla beans from amazon.com for about $35, which amounts to about 65 cents per bean. Trust me. That’s a killer price.

Or you could avoid the store all together by growing your own herbs and spices. I have an outdoor garden right outside the front door.

Speaking of saving money at the grocery store, Good Samaritan Mission in Wimauma will host a free couponing class with the local True Couponing team at 7 to 9:15 p.m. on Feb. 6. For those who can’t attend the class, information is available at www.truecouponing.com. For additional information or to make reservations to attend the class, call the mission at (813) 634-7136.

This week’s recipe is a variation on a regular beef stew using Chinese five-spice powder, which is typically made from fennel, cloves, peppercorns, star anise and cinnamon to give the dish an Asian twist.

Enjoy.

Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.

Sandra Lee’s Five-Spice Beef Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound baby carrots

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes with onion and garlic

3/4 cup reduced-sodium beef broth

1 tablespoon five-spice powder

In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker, stir together beef stew meat, carrots, undrained tomatoes, beef broth and five-spice powder until thoroughly combined.

Cover and cook on low heat for 8 to 10 hours. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with mashed potatoes, optional. Makes 6 servings.

Source: “Celebrity Chefs: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes” by Hearst Books

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