Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pantry Essentials-The Spice Rack

Are you ready for another installment of the well-stocked pantry?  This week we're talking about essential herbs, of the dried variety, and spices.  Herbs and spices are the elements that deliver flavor to your recipes.  They are what turn the "ho hum" into the "more please" dishes.  I need herbs and spices.  You need herbs and spices.  We all need herbs and spices.  Herbs are usually the fragrant leaves of a plant while spices come from the harder parts of a plant; from the bark, seeds, roots or fruit.  Sometimes a plant provides both an herb and a spice, like cilantro.

My Spice Cabinet
I keep my dried herbs and spices all together in one cabinet in my kitchen island.  I do most of my food preparation on the kitchen island that is right near the stove.  This makes the location handy for the prep and in process cooking steps of recipes.  Do you keep your herbs and spices in a handy location near your stove?

You'll see from the picture that I have quite a collection.  They are not all "favorites".  Many are just used occasionally.

Let's talk about the "must have" herbs and spices first.  Of course, the main "must haves" are salt and pepper.  I keep both kosher salt and table salt on hand.  For black pepper I always have peppercorns and ground pepper.  Our family is big on Italian flavors, so many dishes will use typical Italian herbs and spices.  My must haves are basil, oregano, parsley and red pepper flakes.

For Southwest flavors and barbecue my must haves are chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder.

For soups I need bay leaves and for baking I need cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla.

Herbs and spices don't last forever.  You'll want to be sure you are keeping them in a relatively cool, dry place.  Monitor their freshness.  You'll want them to be vibrant in color and fragrant when you use them.

Here are five tips to think about when cooking with herbs and spices.

1.  Remember that dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs when you are using the dried form.  About one teaspoon of dried herb is equal to one tablespoon of fresh.

2.  You can enhance the flavor of the dried herb by rubbing the herb between your palms when adding the herb to your recipe.  That helps to release the essential oils.

3.  The flavor of spices can be enhanced by toasting them in a dry skillet for 1-3 minutes before adding them to your dish.

4.  When cooking a dish for several hours think about adding your herbs closer to the end of the cooking time for best flavor. Only add fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time.

5.  Start slow when experimenting with a new herb or spice.  I usually use half of what is recommended to give my family a chance to get used to the flavor.  If they like it I'll add a bit more the next time.

Stocking your pantry with your essential spices will make it easier for you to make flavorful dishes. What are your essential herbs and spices?


  1. Yes I have a cabinet of spices very near to my stove. I can't live without spices.

  2. This is such good information! I have fortunately been able to build up a really good spice rack by accident. What usually happens is that I find a recipe which calls for spices I don't have, and then I have to buy them. Sought of like the Cream of Tartar you told me to purchase a while back for one of your recipes. Turns out I have a really great selection! Thanks Donna!

  3. spice rack is necessary for my kithcen...

  4. Hi, pantry happy you agree. I love my spices!


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