Appetites: When it comes to spices, spend more and save a lot

Crossover spice blend
Lynne Rossetto Kasper's crossover spice blend includes ground cumin, coriander and black pepper. She recommends fresh-grinding whole spice for more flavor.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Lynne Rossetto Kasper has stepped away from her hosting duties at The Splendid Table for a few minutes to join us with some food tips.

Tom Crann: Today, we want to talk about how you can save a little cash. Sometimes it's worth spending a little extra money, and sometimes that's a silly idea. Let's go through some of the [foods] people often spend their money on and some things that maybe aren't worth it.

Nothing adds flavor to a meal like spices. But what are the rules of thumb, because they can really vary in price, and when is it worth spending extra?

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: It's worth spending extra money on really good quality spices because they make such a huge difference in our food.

This is where I would encourage you to buy where there is quick turnover [of products]. Another tip about spices: never buy them ground. Ground spices lose their flavor in three to four months and you never finish a bottle in three to four months.

If you buy whole spices and grind them as you need them, they are fabulous. You can get a coffee grinder at a garage sale. Just keep it on the counter and grind whole spices as you need them. The other great thing is you can make your own spice blends.

Spend a little more and save a lot by not buying ground spices.

Lynne's brands worth buying:

Penzeys Spices
Frontier Natural Products Co-Op for bulk spices found in many co-ops and other grocers.
Splendid Table's Crossover Spice Blend/West Indies Spice Blend

Crossover spice blend
Freshly-ground coriander is one ingredient in Lynne Rossetto Kasper's crossover spice blend. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup ground cumin, 1/2 cup ground coriander and 2 tablespoons black pepper. Blend the spices together and store away from heat and light.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Tom Crann:What about olive oil? You can find a bottle for $2.99 or you see these bottles that are $38 a liter. Do we need to buy the really expensive stuff to get good olive oil?

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: No. With what is happening with technology and a lot of other aspects of the production of olive oil, you can get some very good supermarket-priced olive oils.

You really do want to get extra virgin, because the nutrition of the oil is the highest, meaning it's not been processed with any heat or chemicals and it has a relatively low acid content (one of the ways to define extra virgin), which means the oil will have some keeping quality -- it will taste better for a longer time.

Never buy an olive oil that does not have a harvest date marked on it, because the oil fades after a year and you want to have the freshest oil you can get your hands on.

Lynne's brands worth buying:

Costco store brand Kirkland Signature Select Toscano extra virgin olive oil
California Olive Ranch

Tom Crann: Words on the label can actually raise the price. I'm thinking "natural" and "free range." When we see these terms, is it worth the extra money?

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: The thing with both of these terms is that there is no heavy regulation.

For instance, if you want to invest extra money in something that you know is regulated, "organic" is regulated and you will know exactly what you are getting.

With "natural" all that means is that there are no artificial ingredients, no added color, and it is minimally processed. But nobody is checking that and it is not the full image of what most of us think that word means.

With "free range" all that means is that there is an opening of a certain size available to the poultry that gives them access to the outside. That is not the image of these birds out there sporting in the grass in the fields eating all of these wonderful, natural things. They may be, but we don't know.

If you're going to spend the extra money, the one regulation that has teeth is the word, "organic."

U.S.D.A. labeling information

• Natural: A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural, such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed."

• Free Range or Free Roaming: Producers must demonstrate to the agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

• Organic: For information about the ( National Organic Program and use of the term "organic" on labels, refer to these factsheets from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Organic Food Standards and Labels .

Tom Crann: What about at the meat counter? There are a couple of cuts that have a price tag and have this prestige about them; I'm thinking of filet mignon or the center cut pork loin. Are they worth the extra money?

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: You know, both of these look wonderful on the plate, but they don't necessarily deliver what we expect.

Filet mignon is tender, but it does not have a lot of flavor and it is one of the most expensive cuts on the steer. Now, if you want a really dynamite piece of steak and you are willing to pay the money, ribeye is fabulous. Or, top loin or short loin. Short loin is really right next to the ribeye and it may be called New York strip or Delmonico steak.

Now, with the pork loin, unfortunately pork is being bred so lean these days that the center cut loin is really dry. What I like to do is save about 30 percent to 40 percent of the cost and buy the shoulder or butt. They are essentially the same part of the pig. Slow roast that and it is filled with marbling and juice and it is one of the great roasts of all time. It doesn't look as pretty, but it is good eating.

Lynne's choice cut recipes

Grilled black pepper-honey steak
Slow roasted pork with glazed orange slices

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