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Introduction to Herbs and Spice Series: Starring McCormick's new FlavorPrint

I was brought up in the south and that meant lots of country cooking; gravy, biscuits, cornbread, beans and fried chicken were staples in our kitchen. That's exactly how I learned to cook, with everything creamy, fried and loaded with carbohydrates. That's also how I ended up being way overweight.

Perfect Valentine's Cookies

In the late 90s I finally relearned how to cook and lost tons of weight. After the weight was off, I went right back to my old eating habits and - you got it: Gained it all back plus some.

About four years ago, I decided it was time to really change my cooking and eating habits, lost tons of weight again and this time, it stuck. Now I know how to cook and how to eat. (My main advice? You can eat anything... but you can't eat everything.) And that's how I live my new healthy, active, thin life.

I changed many old habits and made substitutions, like giving up vegetable oil for olive oil, full fat milk for skim and cut way back on salt. Screeech... stop. wait. back up. Did I say cut back on salt? You bet I did, and you are right, it was one of the hardest things to cut back on, even harder than fried foods and sweets.

So, how did I do it? In a word, or three words actually, McCormick herbs & spices.

I began by trying a salt substitute and hated it, then moved on to Mrs. Dash, but somehow, all those products tasted alike to me. I began to experiment with (usually generic) herbs and spices and pretty much ruined about everything I cooked from using too many, too much and all at the same time.

But over time, and one divorce later (makes you wonder if food IS the way to a man's heart, doesn't it?), I've learned how to use herbs and spices in my cooking properly and can actually make soups and even broths salt-free, recipes that even when homemade are usually overloaded with salt. By using herbs, and tricks like adding a splash of lemon or vinegar to my recipes to mimic the taste of salt, I can give massively delicious flavor to anything and keep the sodium to a minimum.

With that little bit of history behind us, I would love to share my knowledge of spices with you in a series of articles, to help you learn to take away the salt and extra fat that may now flavor your foods, allowing you to make the switch to good, old natural McCormick herbs and spices and healthier eating.

Subscribe to this column, so you'll get an email notice each time I publish another installment.

Let's start with the quality of flavorings you want in your food. In my spicy journey, I've tried many brands of herbs and spices, including some of the very expensive online brands, but find myself always going back to McCormick's. Though the generic brands - and the often lower prices - are tempting, and take my word for it, I've tried them all, they don't come close in intensity of flavor, freshness or quality to the McCormick brand.

Also, with McCormick, you don't have to use as much product as the generic versions, which means the price evens out after all.

If you are new to cooking with herbs and spices, it's very overwhelming, so start out slowly, buying ten or less and build your herbal repertoire one herb, one spice, one dish, at a time. I would recommend that you begin with the more typically used McCormick spices like garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, oregano, sage, thyme, basil and black pepper and for sweets, cinnamon and ginger.

Don't know what herbs you like? McCormick will help you find out what flavors you love with a new online program called FlavorPrint. FlavorPrint makes the McCormick website singularly awesome, aside from the fact that the site offers recipes, products and how-tos galore.

What is it, you ask? In a nut shell, it's a wizard that takes you through questions about the foods you love, cooking methods you prefer, styles you like, equipment you have and what's in your pantry (and you don't have to complete it all at once).

This tells McCormick what flavors you prefer, allowing them to recommend recipes and products for your particular taste buds, then can suggest 30-minute meals, healthy meals and other recipes, giving you an education in where your kitchen should lead you, as you learn to cook with spices.

For Valentine's Day: Check out McCormick's Heart Shaped Painted Sugar Cookie recipe and instructions and make your sweetheart Heart you even more!

I can hear some of you thinking,"Okay, Linda, this all sounds great in theory, but what herbs can I use tonight to make Mexican or Italian?" I hear you loud and clear; sometimes you simply want to skip the learning procedure and go right to the results - a good dinner that is made by a beginner but doesn't taste like it.

McCormick has you covered there too. You can choose several different products right in your own grocery, with blends like Perfect Pinch, Recipe Inspirations or Recipe Mixes.

For basic beginners, I'd suggest you start with the Recipe Mixes, like Cheesy Taco Seasoning Mix, Chili Seasoning Mix or even Brown Gravy or Hollandaise Sauce. These mixes have all the spices, flavorings and thickeners you need for your recipe right in the package.

Feeling a bit more daring? Great! Go for Recipe Inspirations, a recipe driven product that gives you the precise herbs and seasonings you need for your recipe, all separated out in a blister package, allowing you to add them one at a time. These come packaged for specific recipes like Chicken Marsala, recipe and directions included.

Got that mastered? Then go on to the next step with Perfect Pinch, (very evolved Mrs. Dash type herb combinations) made for certain styles of food like Mexican, Caribbean, Italian and even specific flavors or methods like Rotisserie Chicken (I love using this one with my Cuisinart Chicken Rotisserie) or how about Salt Free Southwest Sweet 'n Smoky Seasoning, a new favorite I just tried yesterday in my version of McCormick's Southwest Chicken and Black Bean Salad recipe; my recipe version to come in my next McCormick article!

When you are ready to move on to single herbs, here are the ten herbs and spices McCormick suggests you start with: (Amazingly similar to those I listed - great minds/great cooks think alike)

  • Black Pepper
  • Rosemary
  • Ground Cinnamon
  • Red Pepper
  • Basil
  • Ground Ginger
  • Chili Powder
  • Cumin
  • Garlic Powder
  • Oregano

For homework, I'd love for you to choose at least one McCormick product, create your recipe and post it and a photo to my Culinary Divas Facebook page .

Ready for the first Herb and Spices Lesson? Click here for lesson one.

Find out all you want to know about McCormick here:

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Linda's other columns: Gay Travel, Healthy Foods, Nashville Arts & Entertainment, Nashville Events, Nashville Health & Beauty, Nightlife, Food & Recipes

Also read Linda's work in Local Table Magazine and in Out and About Nashville,

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