Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Pantry Suggestions

Most of my spices reside in this beloved Shabby Chic chippy  "pantry"

A reader asked me what kind of herbs and spices I keep stocked in the pantry so I thought this a good time to answer that question.  I didn't grow up using many herbs or spices.  My mother (like my husband) thought cinnamon a little wild and crazy.

I do remember her having pumpkin pie spice and sage on hand but only for the Holidays.  My oldest sister once sent me some recipes she remembered Mom making.  One of the recipes had garlic in it, which was confusing.  I didn't know Mom knew garlic existed other than as garlic powder.  My sister later admitted that was her addition to the recipe. :)

This is an old view but it gives you an idea of what the inside cabinet looks like.


I long ago stopped using regular table salt, instead purchasing both the fine and the course sea salt and I have used kosher salt instead of course sea salt once in awhile.  I also keep Lawry's Seasoned Salt on hand. 

I purchase peppercorns in a large container for the pepper grinder.  Salt and pepper are two of the most important items to keep stocked (and remember to keep uniodized salt for canning should you plan to use it).

I purchase my most used items in bulk when possible or at least in a large package and transfer them to used jelly jars.  For instance garlic powder and onion powder, which are used a lot in my kitchen, are bought in bulk.  I used to buy cinnamon in bulk when I did a lot more baking, now I purchase the regular size jar at Target.

We stopped at an Amish grocery store on the way home from New England a couple years ago and while I have now used most of my bulk purchases from there, I still have a jar of celery salt.  It is in a jelly jar and tastes the same today as it did then.  I can't imagine potato salad or cole slaw without celery salt and I've experimented with it in veggie dishes with good results.

Right now, the only other spice I purchase in a bag (from the gourmet kitchen store) is garam masala.  The blend sold there has cardamom, black pepper, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg... and cumin is low on its' ingredient list (hubby does not like an overpowering cumin taste).

Speaking of cumin, I do keep a small jar of cumin seeds as I've found if you use just a little (about 1/4th teaspoon), it adds a lot of flavor but is not overpowering as the usual one teaspoon or more called for in recipes.  Instead of my old taco seasoning, I now use a little cumin and about a teaspoon of chili powder and I get that familiar flavor... really cheap.

Two spices I was introduced to as an adult and came to love are coriander and cardamom.  I have whole coriander seeds and I've used cardamom pods before.  However, I admit to using the ground version of both most of the time these days.  I have found adding adding just a pinch of cardamom and about half a teaspoon of coriander in baked goods as they do in other countries adds a lovely taste (although it is easy to overpower with cardamom so it is better in a baked good you want a little spicy).

My other favorite baking spice is nutmeg and I always use the whole nutmeg and grind it on the Microplane zester (how did I live without that little kitchen item?).  I keep little containers of ground ginger and poppy seeds as I don't use them often.

Some of my other spices are paprika, smoked paprika (a rather new experiment), crushed red pepper flakes (just a tiny pinch adds enough of a punch without hubby complaining too much), ground mustard, fennel seeds, and I have pumpkin pie spice for when I'm lazy and want a blend.

Home grown dried herbs


I love growing my own herbs!  I grow apple mint, lemon balm, thyme, chives, oregano, parsley, lemon verbena, and basil.  This year I'm going to try nasturtiums, not technically an herb but they will be used as such and I want to plant rosemary again... and who knows what I may find at the nursery?

Last year on my porch in containers I grew a variety of scented geraniums and they were wonderful!  Most of them came from my friend Carolee, who took a chance that a box of baby plants would survive the Postal Service and they did just find.  Carolee's Herb Farm website is... here.

In my pantry, I have grocery store purchased jars of dried thyme, basil, dill weed, and whole bay leaf.

Spice & Herb Blends

There are two blends I use so much that they reside in the vintage drawer on my kitchen counter (along with my salt shaker, pepper grinder, Lawry's Seasoned Salt, canola oil, and olive oil).

They are... Mrs. Dash Salt-Free Original Blend and Mrs. Dash Salt-Free Lemon Pepper blend.  I learned about the original Mrs. Dash long ago while "reading" a cookbook (as I do so many herbs and spices).  The lady who wrote the book said it was her "secret ingredient" and I have used it ever since.  I use the Lemon Pepper blend a lot, too.

I also usually have Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning in the cabinet.  It can add just enough flavor and "heat" to dishes with just one teaspoon (more if you like spicy).

Cooking with Herbs and Spices

I may have had a late start using herbs and spices but I came to realize just how important they are, especially when you are cooking on a budget.  Regular old brown rice is a cheap and healthy side dish but when you add Mrs. Dash to it... the brown rice is "Uptown".  :)

I've found my whole spices can last for years and even my ground spices last a long time.  If I notice they're not adding as much flavor, I use a little more and when that doesn't work, I replace them.

As I wrote above, I buy often used spices in bulk and those I don't use often (such as those only used for Holidays) are purchased in small jars.  Our local Super Target sells their organic herbs and spices in very small bottles which are "just right" for so many spices.

Herbs, on the other hand, can quickly lose their taste even when they've been dried.  They need to be tasted and replaced more often.  Unlike spices (where I find that one year rule doesn't usually apply), herbs should be replaced more often.

Herbs and spices can be expensive if you have to purchase more than one jar at once but I've learned to check them off and on through the year and add one at a time to my shopping list when it needs to be replaced.  If you keep a pantry chart for rotating items, you can add your herbs and spices to that chart.

How have I learned to cook with herbs and spices?  Well, mostly by trying them one at a time when I come across a cooking show or recipe book where they are described in a recipe.   For instance, as mentioned above, I've lately been learning more about using garam masala.  I love Indian food and want to make it at home.  I'll make certain I have something else for hubby to eat.  :)

As in so many things, the more you learn and the more you do... the better you become!


Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

I consider nasturtiums to be herbs! You can pickle the seeds which are like capers, you can cook with the spicy leaves and/or flowers.

Vee said...

Nasturtiums you say...I am adding that to my list. I adore lemon verbena in the garden, but what does one do with it? Iced tea?

Heather said...


I am enjoying your Saturday posts! Thank you for sharing your wisdom! I love my herb garden! We (my daughter and I) are hoping to expand it this year. Since we live in s.AZ we are able to keep some of our herbs year round. My rosemary bush is about 4ft tall! ;o)Our chives and oregano have perked back up. My daughter just planted lavender yesterday and we are hoping to plant lots in the next few weeks.

Rebecca said...

Thank you for this post! I'm a little more "advanced" than your mother - but not much. I appreciate hearing/learning about some new spices & your method of storing & using them...

(I really liked the photos, also. They warm the cockles of my heart!)

Mrs.Rabe said...

Nasturtiums are edible and also used to keep bug pests off tomato plants...

I have many of the same spices that you do...oh, and if you want you can send me a wish list of bulk things you would like from the Amish store...
I'd be happy to get them and mail them to you!


Angela said...

I don't have a microplane zester! Maybe you should also do a post on little kitchen utensils that are useful to have. I always enjoy your tips :)

Anonymous said...

Love the new "header" on your blog--so colorful and "spring-y".
I grew up with salt and pepper, cinnamon and allspice but have been branching out the past few years and trying new spices and seasonings. I still don't have all that you have but appreciate the lesson "Herbs and Spices 101"
Blessings, Sharon D.