In a perfect world, I would walk out of my house anytime into a bountiful garden that was brimming with fresh fruits and veggies just begging to be picked. Along the sides of this garden would be beautiful pots filled with every type of herb and spice I could possibly think to cook with, waiting to be gently snipped and added to a soup or sprinkled over a dish as the perfect finish to the meal. But then reality me steps in and realizes that if I want this perfect garden I would have to not only plant, weed and maintain it, I would also have to find a magical land where it can exist year round.
I get as close to this perfection as I can in the warmer months by growing some veggies and herbs in my raised beds and preserving what I can to be used in the months when the ground is resting and fresh of the vine is just a fantasy. But I’m still learning the ropes of herb preservation and so far, I have been pretty off the mark and have very little home dried spices from my summer bounty. Lucky for me, I can turn to my cupboard for all the spices I need to give my food amazing flavor when fresh is not an option.
Thinking about spices I realized that while I use a wide variety of different spices and blends in my cooking, I had a few that just stood out and were used in almost everything I cook. Today I’m sharing with you the 3 dried spice all stars that always have a home in my pantry and in my meals. As a note, salt and pepper are not included simply because almost every house has salt and pepper and it feels like cheating to name them 2 of my top 3 spices.
- Dried Onion flakes
What, you say? Onion flakes? Yes! There are some days when a recipe calls for a freshly diced onion and when I reach for one I am either out or what I do have has sprouted or rotted. This happens a bit more in the deep winter months since even though onions are readily available year round, they still have to travel a bit further to get to me so they are not quite as fresh as when they are plucked form a local farm in early fall. Onion adds so much flavor to so many dishes and helps many of my ground beef based meals (from meatloaf to my Busy Day Meatballs) bind together and remain juicy. Dried onion works just as well at this in many dishes. A nice bonus is that since dried onion flakes are uniformly cut, you don’t have any surprises when you bite into a meatball and find a huge onion chunk like you could when the onion is cut by hand.
- Garlic Powder
I put this in just about EVERYTHING! I am not kidding, I can only think of very few dishes where a dash or two of garlic powder is not tossed in. Garlic powder adds a little bit of kick to so many dishes and compliments so many cooking styles which keeps it right at the front of my cabinets. I also like to add it and a few other spices to some good quality extra virgin olive oil to make a wonderful dip for bread like my Basic French Bread. I do like the flavor and quality of fresh garlic in dishes, but the beauty of garlic powder is it can be sprinkled on at any time and does not need to sizzle in the heat to release it’s flavors. There are also some days where I just cannot deal with peeling the skin and mashing up fresh garlic but I know some garlic powder will save the day.
Moving away from the savory a bit, cinnamon stars on this list because I am hard pressed to think of many baking/dessert recipes I don’t use cinnamon in. It adds a warm and lovely spiciness to cakes, muffins, cookies, crisps and one whiff of it instantly makes me think of Christmas. What other spice in your cabinet can you say that about? We also love cinnamon sprinkled over peanut butter toast in my Tasty Passengers recipe and I’ve been know to add a shake to my hot coffee or hot cider to make it extra cozy and flavorful.
So there you have it. Spices work to enhance, bring out and make the flavor in your food pop and do it with little cost, added calories, heaviness or fat. If you want some tips on how to maximize your individual spices by making your own spice blends, check out my post on my favorite spice blends that I use in everything from tacos, to sauces and even ribs. Even better, shoot me a line telling me YOUR favorite ways to mix and add spiciness to your meals and what you think is a can’t-live-without spices.