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Chef Schulson’s Secrets

Chef Michael Schulson's advice to home cooks is to always be prepared, don’t be afraid to try something new and have fun – especially during the busy holiday season.  Whether you’re an experienced cook or a first-time entertainer, you can turn a great holiday into an exceptional one, with a few simple tips – and it all starts in the pantry.

• Raid your pantry.

The holidays are NOT a time to take a risk on less-than-fresh ingredients, especially items that you'll reach for again and again. Even spices lose flavor over time, so be sure to check the color, flavor, aroma and the "Best By" date or use the McCormick Fresh Tester to determine exactly when your spice, herb or blend was manufactured. 

• Stock up on essentials.

Plan ahead and think about the basics you'll need to get from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day.  A recent McCormick Kitchens check of holiday favorite recipes revealed the "eight essential" spices for the season:

    • Allspice
    • Cinnamon
    • Clove
    • Ginger
    • Nutmeg
    • Poultry seasoning
    • Sage
    • Vanilla

These eight ingredients are used in more than 180 holiday favorites -- from sweet potatoes to pumpkin pie.

• Flavor in a pinch.

If you don’t have all the right ingredients for your recipe, it’s easy to get back on track by substituting flavors.

    • Recipe calls for herbs? Use 1 teaspoon dried herbs for every 2 teaspoons of fresh.

    • Run out of Amaretto? Replace with half the amount of almond extract.

    • Forgot to buy pumpkin pie spice? Use 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger plus 1/8 teaspoon EACH ground cloves and ground nutmeg.


• Don't be shy about shortcuts.

Use gravy mixes as a "starter," adding ingredients like homemade stock, sage, turkey drippings or giblets.  Making gravy is one task even the most experienced home cooks find daunting.  Packaged mixes make it easy and worry-free.

• Cook in advance…way in advance.

Baked goods are a hallmark of the holidays and they can easily be made in advance; then frozen until the day of your holiday celebration. Bake cakes up to four weeks before your meal.  Making holiday cookies?  Freeze the dough in portions that will let you use as much as you need for a gift for your boss or cookie day at your kid's school. 

• Mix, match and have fun!

Remember that some of your guests are "savories" and some are "sweets."  Mix and match flavors and don't be afraid to experiment!  Coat pecans with a little brown sugar and cinnamon and add them to your cheese plate.  Offer a variety of sauces to complement your roasted turkey or ham – like honey mustard, creamy herb and horseradish.

About McCormick
With an extensive network of researchers, trend experts, chefs, home economists, food technologists, and sensory analysts, McCormick & Company, Inc. keeps its finger on the pulse of flavor. McCormick was founded in 1889 in Baltimore, Md. Today it is the largest spice company in the world.  McCormick sources only the finest ingredients from around the globe to bring the highest quality flavors to consumers.  For more information, visit McCormick online at, or call 1-800-MEAL-TIP (1-800-632-5847).


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