A Spicy Perspective

Stocking Up On Spices

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Happy New Year! With your newly invigorated resolution mindset in full gear, I thought we’d start out the first day of 2014 with something extra practical. Stocking your spice drawer (or rack.)

Spice Up the New Year!

People often ask me how I come up with fresh recipes week after week. I tell them it’s natural to me, because I’m always on the lookout for edible inspiration.

Whether I taste something at a restaurant that inspires me to try a new flavor combination, or I’m digging through my fridge to squeeze out one more meal before I have to go back to the grocery store… I’m always looking for ways to create intriguing dishes in a new and inviting way.

One thing that never fails to inspire me is my spice drawer.

If I have a couple chicken breasts, or a butternut squash that needs to be eaten, I simply open my spice drawer and scan through the inventory. Generally two or three spices will jump out at me, as just the right flavors to breath life into my dish.

So today I thought I’d share a list of my favorite go-to herbs and spices, plus a few spice tips. It’s not a bad idea to have an assortment of herbs and spices available, so when inspiration strikes, you don’t have to run out to the store.

My Go-To Spices

  • Ground Cumin
  • Ancho Chile Powder
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Ground Mustard
  • Dried Tarragon
  • Dried Thyme
  • Dried Dill
  • Dried Oregano
  • Nutmeg, Whole or Ground
  • Ground Cinnamon
  • Whole Cardamom
  • Fenugreek
  • Curry Leaves (I keep in the freezer)
  • Ground Coriander
  • Garlic Powder
  • Curry Powder
  • Saffron
  • Bay Leaves
  • Culinary Lavender
  • Herbes de Provence
  • Moroccan Ras El Hanout
  • Garam Masala
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice (for when I’m in a hurry)
  • Crystalized Ginger
  • Various high quality peppercorns and natural sea salts

These are things I always have on hand. I find having a wide range of options allows me to let my creative juices flow freely, without being inhibited.

I also want to mention I don’t buy table salt at all. Ever.

I buy high-quality unprocessed natural sea salts, because they offer lower sodium and greater flavor, without all the added chemicals. If you have a sensitive palate you can most definitely taste the difference in good salt, so I feel it’s worth the extra money.

Stocking Up on Spices

Spice Tips and Tricks

Herbs and spices lose their potency over time. It’s best to use them within a year of being purchased. If you have spices in the back of your pantry that have been there for 15 years, it’s probably best to cut your losses and throw them out.

However, if you have spices that are a little old and seem to have lost their zip, you can refresh them by roasting them in a skillet. Simply pour the spices into a dry skillet and place over medium heat. Toss and watch closely. The moment their aroma intensifies, it’s time to remove them from the heat. You can burn spices, rather easily. Roasting spices works especially well with spices that start with C… cumin, cayenne pepper, chile powder, coriander, and so on.

If your herbs seem a little stale, pour them into a mortar and crush them with the pestal. Crushing the dried herbs brings the last of their remaining oils to the surface for once last hurrah.

That’s my spicy perspective today.

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34 comments on “Stocking Up On Spices”

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  3. Great post. I’m experiencing some of these issues as well..|

  4. Sommer, this is beautiful! Do you know the depth of your drawer? I’m looking to install in a huge drawer (32″ cabinet base), but the inside depth is just over 3″. I’m wondering if this insert could accommodate a standard spice jar in a shallow drawer.

    From the looks of it, your draw may be that same size. I’m hopeful that’s true. :) Thanks!

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  7. We did this too, when we moved. Love it, all alphabetized.

  8. Very cool. My cabinets look about like this. You have a great website.

  9. I would LOVE to have my spices organized like you do! Thanks for the list of your go-to spices. Sometimes I feel like I need to get rid of certain spices because I rarely use them, but then get the “what-ifs?”

  10. I love the spices. Ours are pretty much alike. I have to have certain spices that you can only buy in Texas and around there. I have to have my brisket rub and the Adam’s Reserve spices from H.E.B. I love that grocery store it is better than Whole Foods. I know that is saying a lot but they have several chefs in store at all times. The produce is to die for and it is my place to shop.

  11. Learned a great tip with roasting spices that you’ve had for awhile to give them a second chance at life – I’ll remember that! Now that I know how long their true shelf life is, I’m going to look more at those awesome spice racks I’ve bought at Costco before… better to be fresh than stale!

  12. Great advice! I have never used Fenugreek before. I’ll have to try revitalizing a dried herbs in a warm skillet.

  13. I so want a spice drawer like yours. This is a very helpful post. I’m trying to be more inventive when it comes to cooking and I want to use more spices. Thanks for these great tips.

  14. Just wondering….do you have a special place to get your spices? Where do you get the sea salt?
    Thanks and Happy 2014!

    • Hi Marta, I get most of my spices at local grocery stores, but I do order my sea salt. I find I have better options and get better prices online. Usually saltworks.us

  15. You’re so organized!! I have to re organize my spice shelf every few months because in the heat of cooking I never put them back where they belong!

  16. I love your spice drawer. I just moved into a new house and have no room for my spices in a drawer. I can’t wait until I can remodel the kitchen and have a spice drawer again. In the interim I am looking for a cool rack to hang in my pantry.

  17. I LOVE MY SPICE RACK! It’s the most inspiring place in my kitchen by far. I like to buy mine in bulk so I get what I will need for a few months and they stay as fresh as possible. I also keep mine in baby food jars and it works perfectly.

  18. A spice drawer! What a great way to store them. It’s always difficult for me to find my spices in my pantry cause they are all layered in front of eachother. Unfortunately I do not have any extra drawer space at my current residence. But soon I will be moving!

  19. What type of salt do you use for baking?

  20. Thanks for this! One of my goals for the new year is to try 10 new spices. I want to cook with them and learn about what types of food they go good with, how to use, store, ect. This will be a great start!

  21. Cumin is my favorite. I like that it’s at the top of your list. :) Thanks for the dry roasting tip. I did not know that.

  22. I would also like some info on the spice drawer inserts.

    • Jane, The inserts were an add-on, so I’m sure you could order them and just drop them in. They are from Shenandoah cabinetry, sold at Lowes.

  23. Thank you for the lovely holiday email card. Wishing you and fellow readers a wonderful 2014!

  24. Interesting information on roasting spices! I have a pull out spice rack that my husband built for me that I just love. Spices are inspiring!

  25. Curious about the spice drawer insert….did it come with your cabinets or did you order it afterwards?

    • Hi Elizabeth, My cabinets are Shenandoah Cabinetry sold exclusively at Lowes. The inserts were an add-on, so I’m sure you could order them and just drop them in. They go in and out easily in case you want to move the functionality of the drawers around the kitchen.

  26. I complete believe that spices will take a recipe from ok to perfect. Best wishes for 2014, Sommer!

  27. I want that spice drawer!So much easier than searching through the cabinet…

  28. That spice drawer is quite possible the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen :). I never thought to freeze curry leaves. I wonder if sage leaves would freeze well…
    Happy New Year!