One of my goals here on GreenLiteBites is to inspire more people to cook at home. Plain and simple. I’m not going claim to be some hoity toity chef or a know it all cook, because I’m not. I’m also not an organic nut or spice snob. I never buy fresh nutmeg or fresh vanilla beans, even though I would like to try them one day. Nope, my situation is pretty cut and dry. I’m a working mom, doing her best to feed her family. I like to limit processed foods and incorporate as much fresh produce as possible. But sometimes, honestly, I don’t even have fresh onion or garlic in stock. That’s life!
So I decided to take a look at my pantry and go to meals. What do I use over and over again? What helps me in a pinch when I have 30 minutes to whip up dinner and no fresh ingredients in sight?
When I started my spice collection in college (I’ve replaced them all since then. I SWEAR) there were 10 things I needed to have. 10 things Mom always had. These spices are the cornerstone of my pantry.
Granulated Garlic/Garlic Powder
Purist will tell you there is no substitution for real garlic and they are probably right but having garlic powder in your pantry is still invaluable in my opinion. Sometime I even use both in the same dish. From homemade sauce to taco seasoning to a simple rub for london broil, garlic powder adds a tons of flavor and is my most commonly used spice.
Note: I like granulated over “powder”–even though I call it powder–it tends to last longer and the texture works better with other spices, in my opinion that is.
Granulated Onion/Onion Powder/Dehydrated Onion
Much like garlic powder onion powder is a must have for me. It adds a ton of flavor and can be used in many dishes for that extra punch of onion flavor. Again, I prefer the granulated or even dehydrated (bigger chunks) over the the fine powder.
There is no substitute for fresh herbs, lets just get that right out in the open. Once I tried fresh, my taste buds did somersaults! But I grew up on dried and cooked meals in my home for years never purchasing a fresh herb. It can be done. Basil is one of my favorites, dried or fresh. It goes great with tomato based dishes and pairs well with garlic. In dried form I add it to homemade pizza, sauces, chicken, fish, vegetables, you name it! It’s a pretty versatile herb.
Oregano is one of the strongest dried herbs in my opinion. It’s popular in Italian and Mediterranean dishes and goes great with basil, especially in tomato based sauces, roasted veggies and PIZZA! :) When I was experimenting with feta it was my go to herb. Nothing beats the feta/oregano combo!
Parsley is a strange one for me. I’m not the biggest fan of it fresh but dried it’s invaluable. It adds a freshness to dishes and goes great with just about every other spice on this list. I love to cook with it but I also use it for color on top if tomato and vegetable based dishes. It’s adds a beautiful green color no matter how you use it.
Thyme grew on me over, well, time and now I can’t live without it! Like oregano it’s a strong flavor and goes with just about everything. I love it on fish, chicken, beef and roasted veggies. It goes great with lemon and other herbs.
Chili powder is actually a combination of spices like curry, so it can vary from brand to brand. A good chili powder will NOT contain salt and be mostly made of ground chili peppers with a bit of garlic, cumin, oregano and other spices. As for use, I can’t make ‘chili’ with out it. Cliche–I know–but it’s true. I also like to use it on meats, Mexican style pizzas and dishes. Growing up, mom would always sprinkle a bit on our garlic bread as well. It was her “secret” ingredient.
Cumin is another spice I grew into and is now invaluable. It has a deep almost smokey flavor and crosses from tex-mex into indian cuisines. I love it in chilies and as I learn more about Indian cooking, I’m using it to spice things like chickpeas and skillet veggies. One of my favorite quick dry rub spice combos, that the husband LOVES, is equal amounts of cumin, garlic and onion powder. We add it to everything from chicken legs to pork chops.
Nutmeg is a spice that bridges from savory to sweet although I mostly like it for sweet. I love it with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, in muffins but mostly use it for my pancakes. If you ever watched Rachael Ray you know this is her “secret” ingredient.
Do I even need to defend cinnamon? It can be spicy or sweet used in baking, cooking, even simple snacks (sprinkle some on your next bowl of vanilla frozen yogurt, oatmeal or popcorn!) cinnamon is versatile and tasty. I love it paired with apples or blueberries and use almost daily.
You may be able to tell I grew up in an Italian influenced home. Half of the ingredients I started to stock simply to make my red spaghetti sauce. The rest, through experience, I learned how to use in other tasty dishes.
The idea behind the 10 spice pack is for the basic or new home cook. The person who’s hesitant to turn on thier stove. The college student who can’t keep fresh ingredients in their dorm. The busy working mom who didn’t find time to shop this weekend.
I partnered with Spice Inc. to create this Starter Set. Click here to purchase it for yourself or give it as a gift. It’s great for the college student, a bridal shower, housewarming or even a birthday. I have a few friends I’d like to share it with myself! With these 10 things I think you are equipped with the spices to start cooking at home. Add a little kosher salt and a pepper mill and you are well on your way! Not to making gourmet meals, mind you, but surely stuff that is a heck of a lot better then what you can get in a the drive thru.
Here are some dishes that use spices from this set.
Full Disclosure: I and working Spices Inc and are part of their affiliate program. That means I make a commission on any sales I refer. Spices Inc. Also sent me my own starter kit as well. Click here to visit SpicesInc.com and support GreenLiteBites!