The Spices of My Life

11 Jan

That up there is one of two spice drawers in my kitchen. Inside the godforsaken freezer is a stack of more, in plastic containers with tight lids. And over there in the glass-fronted shelving unit are a line of pretty glass jars that hold even more.

Know what’s annoying? Buying a spice for a recipe and never using it again. Sadly, many of the jars that line my spice storage areas fall into that category. I suspect many of you have the same issue, which is why I thought we’d talk about staple spices today–the jars and containers of sweet-smelling bits that you really should have to make most recipes.

First, let’s talk about buying spices. The grocery store is not your friend here. Lord only knows how long those little jars have languished on the shelves or in a warehouse before that. I have a few grocery store jars in my drawers, but not a whole lot–they’re normally my last resort when I go to make a recipe and realize I’m missing a spice. Mail-order or a fresh foods market is a better bet, if you want your spices as fresh and potent as possible. I really like The Spice Hunter, both because their spices are delicious and because they have an amazing array of salt-free spice blends that are indistinguishable from their salt-laden grocery store cousins. Other people swear by Penzey’s, which has wonderful spices but not as many salt-free options unless you buy in huge bulk (lots of jars at a time), which I don’t.

My other favorite is an Amish bulk market that’s near our favorite vacation destination. They mark their spices with the date they were processed, so I know exactly what’s good. These come in bulk; I transfer small amounts to airtight glass jars for immediate use, and keep their original plastic containers in the freezer for later.

You see a lot of spices in the drawer up there. Sadly, few are everyday, must-have-in-your-pantry options. Those I classify as that are:

  1. Salt. I know. I don’t use much salt. I do use a lot of No-Salt, which tastes just like real salt but with no sodium. Salt wakes up almost all flavors, from chocolate to tomato to honeydew melon (try it!), so you really need it. You’ll want a good table salt and a Kosher salt in the house.
  2. Pepper. Ditto for above–good on just about everything. Buy whole peppercorns and grind them yourself for the best flavor.
  3. Garlic powder. I love fresh garlic, but sometimes garlic powder is best (think garlic bread, for one thing). I always have this around.
  4. Lemon pepper. Good on chicken. Good on fish. Good on broccoli. Great on asparagus. A great wake-up-the-flavor spice.
  5. Chili powder. Self-explanatory.
  6. Ground cumin. Lends a wonderful smokey flavor to a ton of dishes, from chili to pasta to seafood.
  7. Dried bay leaves. Same as cumin, only more subtle and deep.
  8. Italian Seasoning. All those recipes that call for basil and oregano and thyme and such? A pinch of Italian Seasoning. Take the help where you can get it.
  9. Dried oregano. Next time you make pizza, sprinkle some on the sauce, under the cheese. Thank me later. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  10. Dried onion flakes. Toss these into meatballs, burgers, pasta sauce…anything on the wet side that calls for onion. Delicious and crunchy.
  11. Fajita seasoning. I love my fajitas dry, and this stuff is awesome. Sprinkle it on your beef or chicken or shrimp and grill away. Delicious. Also good in tacos or on grilled meat you’d like to have a little Mexican flair.
  12. Dill. I prefer fresh, but dried is really good too. Excellent on scrambled eggs, in tuna salad, on top of grilled fish, in salads, or anywhere you’d like a little fresh snap.
  13. Dried chili flakes. Drop a few into your pasta sauce next time. It won’t be hot. It’ll just wake it up a bit. Also delicious in a simple olive oil and garlic pasta, in tomato-based soups and stews, and sometimes in dark chocolate dishes.
  14. Cream of Tartar. If you like Snickerdoodles, you must have this. Ditto for whipped cream. It helps food stand up ย and fluff up. Good stuff.
  15. Cinnamon. Self-explanatory–good almost everywhere.
  16. Nutmeg. Whole ones. Grate them with a Microplane. Great in baked goods but also sprinkled over cooked greens.
  17. Ground ginger. I have no patience for peeling and grating ginger. This stuff saves me. You can’t tell the difference.

I have other must-haves (cardamom, Garam Masala, Mrs. Dash original blend), but they’re unique to my family and foods we enjoy. I’d love to hear about yours!

2 Responses to “The Spices of My Life”

  1. Amy January 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Ooh, I love cardamom. One of my go-to spices you haven’t mentioned – curry powder (specifically Penzey’s Maharajah blend). Good by itself… awesomely good 1:1 with chili powder on veggies.

  2. Deborah January 12, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    Cardamom always reminds me of our Grandma. sigh.
    Thanks for the No-Salt idea. I am trying to get rid of salt here too.

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