I’ll come right out and admit it. Until fairly recently, I wasn’t a big fan of experimenting with spices. Part of the reason was because I was stuck in a rut after years of cooking for kids who would turn their noses up at anything that wasn’t completely traditional. Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and even spaghetti sauce-if I added even a touch of spice, they wouldn’t eat it and I’d end up making them something else.
My husband is a huge fan of all types of spices, but he always took my bland cooking with a grain of salt (and not much else) because he knew the kids wouldn’t eat it. Now that the kids are older, I feel more comfortable branching out and a bit, so I made a list and went out and stocked the kitchen cupboards with spices.
What should you get when you’re just starting to experiment with spices? Here’s a quick reference list you can take to the grocery store.
You can grow these yourself in a sunny window or pick them up already dried at the store. Bay leaves are great for adding a bit of kick to soups and stews. They have a nice aroma and add what some have described as a woodsy taste.
Have you ever been in a restaurant and they offered you fresh ground pepper on your pasta? You can do achieve the same spicy flavour at home with your own peppercorns.
The best spice to add to chili, cayenne pepper is made from the red pepper. Try a bit on the tip of your tongue and you’ll feel the burn.
Most chili powders are made up of a mix of dried chilies, oregano, cumin, and coriander. Add it to a southwestern salad or ground beef or chicken when you make tacos.
When I was a kid my dentist swore that cloves were great when you have a toothache, but now I use them in gingersnaps and other baking where spice is required.
I’ve only just started using cumin on a regular basis, and I’m in awe of what this small seed can do. Add it to your favourite Currie dish or just to jazz up a rice and chicken bowl.
Kosher salt is salt made without iodine. It’s easy to pick up a pinch and sprinkle it on your favourite dish, and it’s a much more flavourful option than the same old table salt most of us have used. are easier to pinch
I had no idea that fresh mustard powder was so versatile. Use it in pasta and rice dishes for a warm, spicy flavour. When I don’t have any mustard powder, I sub in fresh mustard.
I’ve started to grow my own oregano recently, and I dry the leaves in the sunshine on warm days then bottle it in my pantry. Oregano is great in pasta sauce.
Paprika chicken was one of the first dishes I made after I was married, and it’s been a favourite since then. You can buy paprika in sweet and hot types, and you can use it to season any type of meat, vegetables, or seafood.
Rosemary is one of those spices you can use in many different dishes, and it’s one of the common spices I add to a roast chicken in the crockpot or oven.
Thyme is amazing on meat, vegetables, and poultry, but don’t rule out using it in your favourite pasta.
Now that you’ve got a cupboard of spices, the sky is the limit for what you can cook! When I first started experimenting with spices, I took the most basic dishes I’ve always cooked and jazzed them up until they were virtually unrecognizable. Here are three of my favourite recipes that you can use to get started.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Warm Spices
You’ll never look at mashed potatoes the same way again. With the simple addition of cumin seeds, tumeric, and mustard powder, you’ll be able to take a classic the entire family loves and serve it to anyone with style. These mashed potatoes turn out very fluffy, and even my fussy kids loved them. Photo and recipe from finedining.com.
2-1/2 to 3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 large), peeled and quartered
1 Tbs. corn oil
1-1/2 tsp. yellow split peas
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large white onion, cut 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. Coleman’s mustard powder
3/4 cup whole milk; more if needed
2 Tbs. heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, add cold water cover by at least an inch, 1 tsp. salt, and bring water to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium to maintain a steady (not raging) boil, and cook until the potatoes are tender all the way through but don’t fall apart when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the corn oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the split peas and cook just until they start to turn golden brown (watch carefully: split peas can quickly go from golden brown to dark brown to burned), about 3 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the butter, onion, and turmeric and cook until the onion is transparent, 4 to 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the honey and mustard powder until smooth. Stir in the milk and cream and then add this mixture to the onions and spices. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let it sit on the burner.
When the potatoes are tender, drain them and return them to their saucepan over medium heat. Dry the potatoes, shaking the pan and stirring with a rubber spatula, until they look floury and leave a light film on the bottom of the pan. Put the dry potatoes through a ricer or food mill, or mash them with a hand masher until they are lump-free.
Pour the hot creamy onion mixture into the pan with the warm mashed potatoes. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. If the potatoes seem dry, moisten with a little more milk. Transfer the spiced mashed potatoes to a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once.
Spicy Macaroni and Cheese
My family insists I make this anytime someone is craving mac and cheese, and you can make it as spicy or as mild as you like just by subing out the pepper jack cheese for something with less of a kick. Whatever spice level you decide on, I highly recommend keeping the mustard powder. It adds an amazing comfort food flavour. Photo and recipe from the foodnetwork.com.
2 cups elbow pasta, cooked until almost al dente
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, toss together the pasta with the cheese cubes and pour into the baking dish.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, dry mustard, nutmeg. Add the sour cream, egg, heavy cream, half-and-half and onions. Pour over the pasta and cover with the shredded Cheddar. Bake uncovered until the top is just beginning to brown, about 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the bread into crouton-size squares. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter, add the bread cubes and toast until golden. Sprinkle the bread cubes on top of the macaroni and cheese and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes more.
Spicy Chipotle Lasagna
I love lasagna. My kids love lasagna-actually I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like lasagna. But the same old pasta sauce mixed with noodles can get a little boring, and that’s why lasagna is the perfect dish to spice up. Try making the recipe with fresh basil and oregano, then try it again with dried. You’ll be surprised at the difference in taste. Photo and recipe from allrecipes.com.
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 pint sliced fresh mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 (15 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at
1 pound frozen chopped spinach,
9 lasagna noodles
2 (8 ounce) balls of fresh mozzarella,sliced
2 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook and stir the ground beef and Italian sausage in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Drain any excess grease, then stir in the onion, mushrooms, and garlic. Cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes more. Stir in the chipotle chile, tomato paste, and stewed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the basil and oregano; simmer 5 minutes more then remove from the heat.
While the sauce is simmering, stir together the cream cheese and chopped spinach until blended. Leave the spinach soggy, the water will help thin out the cream cheese to a sour cream-like consistency.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Line the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil, and lightly grease. Place 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan, and spread with 1/3 of the spinach mixture. Spread 1/3 of the chipotle meat sauce over this, then layer with 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the zucchini. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the Asiago cheese and 1/3 of the Parmesan cheeses. Repeat layers two more times, ending with cheeses on top.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Uncover, and continue baking until the top is bubbly and golden brown, 15 to 20
Last week we tried out hand at experimenting with root vegetables,this week we’ve branched out with spices. What other food trends are you looking forward to trying this year? Whatever you decide to cook up in your kitchen, make sure you stock up on your small appliances.
Steam some spices into your rice with a rice cooker
Check out how you can experiment with root vegetables
Cooking in the kitchen is more fun with a great set of cookware