Recently we had a major shuffle of furniture in my home. The goal was setting up a home office for my husband so he could work without interruption. In the process I discovered some surprises in desk drawers and boxes – precious memories of relatives long gone, a wrist watch I never used, a pristine stack of No. 2 pencils, in other words the accumulation of years of living.
That got me thinking about my kitchen and my spice drawer. It’s all too easy to forget what you have and how old it is. As a quick test of my memory I pulled out a basket of spices and discovered several bottles that had been shoved to the back and are probably no longer good.
I’m betting the same is true for you. Just how old is that jar of oregano that got lost behind the bottles of cake decorations you bought for a 2015 birthday party? Perhaps it’s time to take everything out of the spice drawer and take a quick inventory of what you have and what you need.
The first thing to do is check to see of the seasoning his still good You can read my post on my spice jar Look-Sniff-Taste test here. Then once you know what you have its time to update your grocery list to create a modest, but well-stocked spice drawer. Here’s my recommendation of the essentials that every cook should have on hand.
Black Peppercorns — Like all seasonings, pepper loses flavor more quickly when ground up. Instead of the pre-ground seasoning, buy whole peppercorns and invest in a small, serviceable pepper grinder. You will soon discover the full flavor “bite” that pepper can provide.
Garlic Powder — Buy garlic powder instead of garlic salt. When you want the flavor of garlic, you don’t necessarily want to increase the saltiness of the dish. You can always add in the salt to the proportions you want. It’s also worth noting that garlic powder has a milder flavor than diced or minced garlic.
Onion Powder — Ditto on the onion powder. Using onion salt means you are really adding in two seasonings at a time.
Basil — Basil is regarded as the queen of the leafy herbs. It adds a pleasant zing to almost any food. Yes, you’ll want to buy some fresh occasionally but having it dry on the shelf will be a good backup.
Oregano — Oregano blends well with many other seasonings. This herb is vital if you want to cook anything of Italian origin. Try it sprinkled on green beans or any tomato-based sauce.
Parsley — Parsley is the quiet, unassuming herb that helps to bring other flavors together. It is also the most tolerated by picky eaters, who don’t want “leaves” in their food but don’t mind a little parsley sprinkled on top. Add to potato or rice dishes for a hint of color.
Rosemary — This pungent herb brings the flavor of sunny Mediterranean isles into the kitchen. It is an excellent flavor with poultry or pork. Goes great on the grill too. Start out with small amounts with this herb as you learn how to use it.
Thyme — Thyme was aptly described as “joy of the mountains” by the ancient Greeks. Its sweet, fresh flavor helps to bring in the great outdoors to many foods. I often add this to seasoning mixes.
Bay Leaves — If you plan to make any soups, stews, or simmered meats, you will want bay leaves in your kitchen. They give a subtle flavor that blends well with other herbs.
Ground Cinnamon — Cinnamon lends a sweet, spicy taste to many desserts. Have on hand ground cinnamon to add to fruit dishes, puddings, and hot spiced drinks. combine cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on hot cereal, toast, or pancakes for a quick breakfast treat.
Nutmeg — Like cinnamon, nutmeg add delight to many desserts and brings in a taste of the tropics. Adds a sweet flavor to desserts.
In addition to these basic flavorings, you may wish to add one or two that suit your personal food preferences. If you like hot, spicy foods, add chili powder, cumin, and cayenne to the list. Cooks who make Asian foods should add in ginger. If you have roots in Eastern European cuisine, include paprika and caraway. Those with a penchant for gourmet cooking should try tarragon or chervil.
A few minutes reviewing the contents of your spice drawer will help you to have on hand flavor boosters to use all throughout the new year. May it be a happy one for you and yours.