Of course, keeping bunches of herbs and bags of spices can be tricky, especially this time of year when our cupboards and fridges are already bursting at the hinges. And as Master Chef and Bake Off and Saturday Kitchen are getting us excited about new recipes and ingredients we all seem to be on a mission to buy that new Hungarian herb or rare Philippino fruit. I love that we're all trying new things new flavours, but once we've cooked up our fennel infused lamb or our spiced butter emulsion, what do you do with the remaining spices? Sadly, most of them seem to end up in the spice graveyard at the back of the cupboard where they stay for decades.
I love the way Michael Macintyre brings this to life - believe me, you'll be crying with laughter!
It is prudent to remember that whole spices keep fragrant much longer than ground spices. The general rule is that if you store them correctly (in an airtight container and in the dark) ground spices are good for up to nine months and whole spices for up to a year. But this is only a guide as some whole spices will be fine for longer, so use your noses, folks, and if the spices are still making your food sing then they're fine.
My personal recommendation is to buy your spices whole and grind them as you need them in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder (this is my favourite one).
Using them up
I always encourage people to try using spices more when they cook, but it's really important to understand the flavours different spices bring to your dish. So how do you do this? Well, you need to taste each spice on its own. Do that and I promise your taste buds and your cooking will open up to a new world of possibilities.
Spices are really versatile and they'll help you try new things. I love a sprinkle of garam masala on my roast potatoes or a few mustard seeds fried with my runner beans, I even put coffee in my chillie sometimes. Being a little adventurous usually pays off and you might even surprise yourself and create something truly wonderful.
Anyway, this time of year is great for clearing out your spice rack, so pull out all those tins and jars you haven't seen for a while and start getting creative in the kitchen.
There are a tons of fun things you can do from making up some supplies for the festive season to creating some lovely homemade gifts and - most importantly - you can spice up a few tasty tipples to see you through those 'fun' family gatherings!
Did you know that chutney originated in India? The name comes from the word Chatni, which translates to 'strongly spiced'. The typical chutney is usually made of chopped fruits, vegetables, vinegar, spices and sugar, all cooked together to produce a chunky spread. Chutneys and pickles form part of the typical Indian meal and are served with spiced dishes to enhance the overall flavour combinations with their sweet and sour tastes.
And another bit of trivia for you – do you know the difference between a relish and chutney? A relish is not cooked as much, so has more of a crunch whereas a chutney is thick, chunky and spreadable.
Because chutneys are cooked they will keep for weeks, just make sure you choose some funky jars (I recycle old jars but you can also get some here http://www.jamjarshop.com/index.asp) to decant them into. Always sterilise the jars before you use them (like jam) and then you can jazz them up with personalised labels and painted lids and give them as gifts, as well stocking up the pantry.
Here are a few of my favourites. They are all amazing with cheese boards and cold cuts, as well as in sandwiches. So grab your fennel seeds, mustard seeds cumin seeds and some chilli powder and get chutney-ing!
Homemade pickles and sauces
I love making my own chilli sauces and experimenting with different types of chillies, this is a tried and tested roasted chilli recipe Red Chilli Sauce. It has a delicate roasted sweetness that makes this hot sauce really special. As much as I love a red chilli sauce I do like my green chillies and this Green Chilli Sauce is spot on when you want a kick of chilli. It's a vibrant green colour too perfect for Christmas.
A true Indian classic that is fresh and zingy and my home made Lime Pickle is pretty awesome!
'Tis the season to be jolly, which is another word for it, I suppose! It's a great time to spice up your winter wine for a little glowing warmth with cloves, cinnamon or cassia bark, nutmeg, star anise, all spice and bay leaves.
You can indulge in a wonderfully warming mulled wine or, like me, serve up a little glass of warm spiced cider to guests which makes a lovely start to an evening.
A delicious sweet Spiced Chai isn't half bad either.
As well as seasonal mince pies, Christmas fruitcakes are deserving of traditional spices - as well as a good few glugs of something stronger! You can even make a spicy, rich Rice Pudding (Kheer) or Parshard with cinnamon, cardamom or the dessicated coconut you bought to top the cupcakes for the school summer fayre.
One of my favourite things about Christmas is the leftovers. I love the cold meats and chutneys combo, but you can also make something amazing with all that spare festive food. Try cooking up spiced bubble and squeak for a quick hangover brunch - recipe to come soon and don't forget a good spiced Bloody Mary is a thing of beauty.
I would love to hear what food and drink you like to spice up at Christmas so share your ideas here!