Stocking Your Pantry - Spices

If you love to cook... and I do... then having the right spices on hand is essential to great food.

The list could be longer depending on your enthusiasm, but here are the "basics":

Cinnamon-Mostly used in desserts, baking and drinks. But you can sprinkle it on buttered toast or in plain yogurt for some flavor... TIP... it has health benefits by helping to control blood sugar... so do sprinkle it on that toast or in your morning yogurt. Also a sprinkle is great on fruit..apples... bananas... vegetables... sweet potatoes... squash. Cinnamon is a staple in Mediterranean recipes.

Cayenne-Not for every taste bud if you don't care for some "heat"... but a 'must have' if you're cooking Mexican dishes... another health tip... helps stimulate digestion. Also I'm told (because I am one)..as you approach your "senior" years..you'll prefer spicer tasting foods.

Chili Powder-Doesn't have the heat of cayenne but does add that extra zip... made from hot peppers. Use it in barbecue sauces, chili and any other Mexican dish you enjoy.

Garlic (Powder or minced in a jar) - a true essential for Italian dishes. Sprinkle powder or spread minced on buttered bread, then toast in oven to go with your pasta dishes. It's also great in dips, cheese spreads, stews and the always popular Bloody Mary! Another health tip... helps lower blood pressure.

Gloves-What's a good pumpkin pie or baked ham without gloves. Obviously for your pies... powered glove. Be careful as cloves can be overwhelming so use sparingly.

Oregano-A spice with many uses... always used in pizza or pasta sauces..mix into meatloaf recipes. Add to vegetable soup or a fish stuffing.

Paprika-Use in soups, all types of chowders and on fresh vegetables. Frequently used as topping on deviled eggs or a garnish on any kind of salad.

Parsley-While a frequent ingredient in recipes, it is best known as a garnish. Use it in soups, fish and casseroles. Sprinkle on top of a good cheese omelet.

Rosemary-Has a very woody fragrance. Great in marinades for grilling meats. Fresh sprigs... the best way to get rosemary... can be use a garnish... very decorative.

Bay Leaves-Most common in soups, stews and sauces. Flavor goes along way so use sparingly... usually one or two in a recipe. Useful household tip..they make great bug repellent in your pantry!

Basil-Its best known for its aromatic appeal. Main ingredient in making fresh pesto. Also used to add fresh flavor in a variety of dishes from sauces to fish.

That's a good primer on the "basic" spices to have on hand.

A couple tips...

Often you can use either the fresh or dried version of the spice.

When cooking with fresh and dry herbs, there is a general rule when it comes to the ratio of fresh to dry. Because dried herbs are generally more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you'll need less -- typically three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, you need only 1 teaspoon of dried, since 3 teaspoons equal 1 tablespoon.

Storage... Fresh-cut herbs can be wrapped in a paper towel, stored in re-sealable plastic bags, and then put into the refrigerator. Dried herbs should be stored out of the light and in a cool, dry place. Keep an eye on how long your herbs have been open -- if they've been open for too long, they'll smell and taste less potent.

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