Photo: Tina Rupp
My goal in the kitchen is to create something that's both familiar and a bit surprising, and spice mixes make it easy to pile on deliciousness without filling your cabinets with a hundred jars. I add pumpkin pie spice (a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice) to pork tenderloin, which I stuff with spinach, apricots, and walnuts. The spices add a lovely hint of warmth. And while Chinese five-spice powder—mine is a mix of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, and Szechuan pepper—is traditionally used in meat dishes, its undertones of licorice and clove make a crisp slaw of cabbage, carrots, and raisins really pop. Spice blends can shake up dessert, too. Take my apple tart with garam masala, which has notes of cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves: There's nothing more retro than apple pie, and then in rolls that fragrant mix of Indian spices, balancing the sweetened fruit.
The sweetest thing of all, of course, is how simple it is to use these flavor enhancers. Toss them into a dish or two, and you'll see just how versatile they can be. Spice blends are definitely timesaving, but they're also wow inducing, lip smacking, and, if you like shortcuts as much as I do, maybe even life changing.