What I Have Learned About Cooking With Spices


I have been cooking for forty years. I use a lot of spices and half the time when I do, I think about all the wars that have ensued because of them. As much as I hate war, I have to admit that when I open up my spice jars, I get it.

In my earliest days of cooking, I used way too much spice. I had to learn how to use each one and that has only come from years of experience. What I’ve learned is that you don’t need much. I’ve never used too much marjoram, but I’ve ruined dishes with too much rosemary, thyme and even basil.

Even after all these years, I still like to take a sniff when I open the jar, right before I spice. It tunes me into the art of spicing.

Another important aspect I’ve learned is that you don’t have to simmer spices to develop full flavor. I’ve cooked the flavor of spices out of my food, enough times to know… use a little and don’t cook it too long or it will dissipate.

And I always get the freshest spices I can and that means heading to my local natural foods store. I have my own little jars with tight fitting lids and I write the name of them with a black marker on the lid and on the jar.

And though I love fresh spices, another thing I’ve learned is that if I keep a spice in a small plastic bag, twist tied and then put into an air tight jar, it will keep for years. My first preference is for fresh spices, but I must confess that I have used spices as old as twenty years and they worked. They weren’t as potent so I used more.

Don’t be afraid to spice it up but the best tip I can give is start with a pinch until you get to know the spice and then you can use two, three or four pinches.

Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973

People Who Eat High Fiber Diets Live Longer and Have Less Disease

Last night I heard a radio newscast that said that people who eat high fiber diets live longer and have less heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This is good news because food fiber is readily available, inexpensive, satisfying and can help with weight loss because it’s filling. How can we get more fiber? Fill your refrigerator with fresh carrots, apples, potatoes, sprouted wheatberry bread, broccoli, cabbage, grapes and other fruits and vegetables. Go to the natural foods store and purchase wheat bran and wheat germ. Add the wheat bran to your cornbread recipe and add the wheat germ to your favorite yogurt. Cook a lot of brown rice and stock up your cupboard with other grains like quinoa and polenta. Keep a wide variety of beans in your cupboard so you can make tasty vegetable soups. When you choose breakfast cereals, choose oats and if you go for packaged cereals, read the labels and only buy those with 100 percent whole grains and no added sugars or chemicals. These high fiber foods will leave you feeling full, give your body energy, and according to the radio newscaster… give you many more years of life.

Suellen Ocean is the author of the vegetarian cookbook, Poor Jonny’s Cookbook. Available here:


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Using Polenta for Baking Corn Muffins and Throwing in Some Unusual Spices

One of my favorite wintertime pastimes is making biscuits and muffins. Today I made some cornbread muffins and used polenta (coarse ground corn). I wasn’t sure how it would turn out because I usually use cornmeal but the polenta was delicious. They were crunchy and the unusual spices I added gave them a tasty kick. The basic recipe was whole wheat flour adding one-third polenta. Of course I added baking soda, baking powder and salt, and I used water to moisten it. To the dry flour I added powdered orange peel and turmeric. Between the turmeric and the bright yellow polenta, the muffins had a great color. Because there were no eggs or milk added, these muffins would be considered vegan. It’s probably my mother’s love of making cornbread (she grew up on the Kansas prairie) that makes this a comfort food for me. But because of my desire to keep calories to a minimum, I have changed the recipe quite a bit. I would be lying if I said my corn muffins are better than my mother’s but I need to keep the calories down and still enjoy a good muffin. Let’s just say they are so tasty… I could eat a dozen.

Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973