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Have Yourself A Spicy Autumn!

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Flavour is fulfilment and autumn is an ideal time to spice things up in your kitchen! Some of my favourite indulgences for this season are nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. These aren't just good flavour-makers, they're healthy too. We crave comfort food at this time of year because as temperatures drop, our bodies need more calories to warm up. Warming, autumn spices can easily give a boost to both savoury and sweet dishes and are perfect to fight that autumn chill. I love that each spice has its own mood-lifting health benefits too.

One of my favourite spices is ginger. Not only does it add a fiery kick to meals, but it is versatile and works wonderfully fresh, dried and ground to a powder. I love making a classic gingerbread; the ginger will contrast the sweetness of the bread, whilst enhancing its nutty flavours giving it a little more body. Ginger suits itself perfectly to savoury favourites too; I cook up a hearty soup or grilled fish infused with ginger. It is packed with the stuff your body loves and needs to get you through the day. Not only is this old spice a very powerful antioxidant to get you immunised for the cold months to come, it is also packed with anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger works wonders when you're feeling nauseous. My tip is to chew on a little when you're feeling travel sick!

Just like ginger, cinnamon is a punchy spice with some serious health benefits. It contains a huge amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium, stabilising blood sugar and helping to lower cholesterol. This makes it a great choice for diabetics. I've also found it is a great way to give your seemingly ordinary meals a hit of flavour. I sprinkle a little on my morning porridge or over a sliced apple as a snack. It's one of those spices that just taste fantastic - I use it in my kitchen all year round!

Nutmeg, however, is a spice that I savour at this time of year. It's beautiful, warm aroma fills my house right through autumn and into winter. For hundreds of years, it has been used as a remedy for various ailments. If you suffer from digestion-related problems like diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or flatulence, nutmeg can offer you relief by removing the excess gas from your intestines. I like to mix it into tea or cocoa. Better yet, use it to add a touch of spice to homemade smoothies.

Autumn isn't just about eating your spices; simply smelling a spice can increase alertness and brain function. Try mixing spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom with apple juice and orange zest. You simply boil the liquid and leave it to simmer. The smell transports me to those wonderful memories of cosy, autumnal evenings sitting by the fire and the mulled juice makes a delicious, caffeine-free alternative to tea or coffee. You could also put ginger's anti-inflammatory properties to the test by floating some ginger essential oil in your bath to help relieve aching joints and muscles. This is my perfect, relaxing end to a long walk in the park collecting conkers with my girls!

5 ways to add more spices to your diet
- Morning rituals! Wake up in the morning with a brew that's packed with hot water, ginger, lemon and honey. This kick-start will help your digestion process for the rest of the day.
- Although it is typically thought of as a sweet spice, try adding a stick of cinnamon to a stew to bring out the richness and flavour of the meat.
- The next time you're baking something sweet, use ¼ - ½ a teaspoon of nutmeg to bring ordinary cakes and biscuits alive.
- Sprinkle some cumin onto root vegetables like butternut squash and carrots before roasting them to give a boost to your metabolism and immune system.
- Drinking a cup of milk with some nutmeg powder will help you to relax - ideal if you have difficulty sleeping at night.

This recipe for Cinnamon Spiced Plums is from my book The Diet for Food Lovers. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Pure-Package-Jennifer-Irvine/dp/0297866540

It is a great way to get everyone in the family trying different autumn spices. You can experiment with different spices and fruit!

Ingredients
• 8 plums, halved and stoned
• 4 tbsp red wine
• ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
• 4 cardamom pods
• ½ tsp five spice powder
• 3 tbsp water

2013-09-25-Plums.jpg

Method
Pack the plums cut-side up into an ovenproof dish so they fit snugly together. Put the wine into a jug, add the cinnamon, cardamom pods, five spice powder and water and stir together. Pour over the plums and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes until soft. Divide the plums between four and scatter with sunflower and pumpkin seeds to serve.