Spice Up Your Winter Menu

Now that the little ones are back in school and we’ve all (mostly) come down from our holiday sugar-induced highs, it’s time to get back in our routine. After eating festive meals for the company party, serving special appetizers to family and friends, nibbling on platters of cookies and candy, and eating pie for breakfast (yes, you did), January’s meal planning can feel a bit anti-climatic. Enter spices! Besides having various health benefits (not being a doctor or dietician, I can’t speak professionally on this one, but I’ve heard they do!), spices just make things better. Especially in the winter when we long for the bright flavors of tomatoes and fresh-cut herbs from the back porch garden, we need a little spice to help us cope until the sun shines again.

The problem with most store-bought spice blends is that they often include a lot of things you don’t want or need in order to package and preserve the flavor. Partially hydrogenated oil, sugar, and the catch-all “natural flavor” found on most spice mix ingredient lists are not things I would normally add to my taco meat or garlic bread. Mix a batch of these popular pantry staples and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the flavor and convenience you’ll enjoy!


For Indoor Grilling:

“Copycat” McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning (from Food.com). When it’s too cold to grill but you still want big flavor on your meat (or on sweet potato fries!)

4 T. coarse salt
1 T. black pepper
1 T. dehydrated onion
1/2 T. granulated garlic
1/2 T. crushed red pepper
1/2 T. thyme
1/2 T. rosemary
1/2 T. coriander
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar.

Transform Taco Night:

Make Alton Brown’s “Taco Potion #19” (isn’t he just so clever!) and you’ll wonder why you ever bought pre-packaged seasoning for your taco night! One of the benefits of using this mix is that you can make your tacos as spicy or tame as you like, depending on your family’s palate. Long day ahead? Rub Alton’s potion all over some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, throw em in the crockpot with a jar of salsa and a can of black beans, and come home to chicken taco night.

2 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
2 t. corn starch
2 t. kosher salt
1 1/2 t. smoked paprika
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
Mix and store in an air-tight container for up to a month.

Garlic Seasoning 101:

Our Best Bites is one of my go-to food blogs and their Garlic Bread Seasoning does not disappoint! I keep a container of this in my refrigerator and use finely grated, fresh parmesan. Sprinkle it on top of spaghetti, as a topping for garlic bread (obvi!) or bread sticks, and in pizza sauce.

1/2 c. powdered Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. basil
2 tsp. marjoram
2 tsp. parsley

Sugar and Spice, Only Better:

Up your weekend breakfast game with this Baking Spice Blend (from Food.com). I like this blend because nutmeg–an oft-overlooked spice–gets best supporting actor to cinnamon’s starring role. Use this for cinnamon toast, as a filling for cinnamon rolls and in French toast. Oh! One more…mix into a steaming bowl of Irish Oatmeal an your fiber fix will never be the same.

1/4 c. plus 2 T. cinnamon
1 T. allspice
1 T. dried orange peel (this is worth finding or ordering online!)
2 T. nutmeg
1 t. cloves
1/2 t. ginger

How do you add spice to your winter menu? Tell us in the comments!



Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


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