My kids love cinnamon sticks. Whenever I make rice pudding (shown here), spiced cider, or oatmeal, I add a cinnamon stick much to their delight.
I think it started during the time they went to a Waldorf preschool. The teacher would make oatmeal for them and put a cinnamon stick in the pot. The cinnamon stick would disappear into the simmering oatmeal, to be discovered by the lucky child who had it scooped into their bowl. Except they didn’t call it a cinnamon stick – they called it a “wishing stick.” My children call them wishing sticks to this day. (Might be a good way to get your kids interested in oatmeal if they aren’t…who wouldn’t want a wishing stick!?)
Warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, and cayenne aid digestion and warm our bodies by increasing circulation. It’s no wonder they’re even more popular in winter. A warm cup of spiced chai combines a few of these spices in a hot, steamy mug (Sidenote: I love the Ruby Red Chai at TJ’s. I brew it and then add some almond milk and a touch of honey. Delicious!)
Trader Joe’s carries many of these warm spices including cinnamon (ground and sticks), nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice (seasonal). Fine ground black pepper, curry, and red pepper (cayenne) are new additions to the TJ’s spice shelf. There are actually quite a few new spices at TJ’s recently – have you noticed? – and the whole line has undergone a packaging makeover.
If you don’t use these warm spices very often in your cooking, this is the time of year when they are extra-appealing. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Cinnamon works in everything from breakfast to dessert to main meals. My kids love it in oatmeal, rice pudding or a little in hot cocoa. It even works in unexpected combinations such as Cinnamon Pear Baked Brie, which is a fantastic holiday appetizer for you to try in the next week or two. For dessert, you can’t beat sticky gooey Monkey Bread (I always giggle at Wona’s attempt to make this indulgent creation healthier). For breakfast, sprinkle some in your oatmeal (along with a splash of vanilla) or morning coffee, make a Baked French Toast Casserole or even Homemade Granola.
In main meals, cinnamon adds great flavor to sauteéd vegetables or a vegetable casserole such as our Vegetable Mushroom Moussaka. Cinnamon even adds great flavor (especially in combination with cumin) to chili, spiced rice dishes (there’s a tasty Green Bean Rice dish in our first cookbook “Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s,” and our Turkish Minted Kebabs.
Nutmeg is also versatile, going from entrees to desserts much the same way as cinnamon. Be careful with nutmeg because it’s amazing in the right amounts but there is such a thing as too much. Start with smaller amounts and increase to taste. One of my favorite dishes is Gnutmeg Gnocchi, using Trader Joe’s convenient packaged dry gnocchi. The combination of gnocchi, spinach, caramelized onions, nutmeg, and cheese is amazing.
Nutmeg also goes well on plain pasta. Boil a pot of your favorite pasta, toss with extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and Parmesan – it’s shockingly good. In general, a sprinkle of nutmeg pairs well with cheese and cream sauces such as the yogurt topping of our Vegetarian Mushroom Moussaka. For other dishes that use nutmeg, try our Butternut Squash Soup (from scratch but easy! It’s so good that my son grabs a butternut squash every time he sees one at TJ’s), Leek & Parmesan Quiche, or Spinach Timbales (cute retro side dish).
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Stir this seasonal spice blend into oatmeal or yogurt, make your own pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie , or spike your morning coffee with a little holiday flavor. Pumpkin oatmeal is one of our favorite cold-winter-morning breakfasts (I can already hear my non-Southern-California friends muttering that I’ve forgotten what cold weather is).
Next time you feel the chill in the air, grab a sweater and make something using these warming spices.