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9 Things Every Home Cook Should Know About Spices

9 Things Every Home Cook Should Know About Spices

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Learn how to choose, store, and cook with spices

9 Things Every Home Cook Should Know About Spices

Spices are an essential part of good cooking. Learn how to choose, store, and use them.

Don’t Forget to Use Spices

Don't bury your spices in your kitchen cabinet. Keep spices at-hand, organized, and ready to use. Be careful not to fall victim to "out of sight, out of mind".

Don’t Over-Buy

Don't buy your spices in astronomical amounts. Most spices maintain their flavor and aroma for about two years — think twice before you buy that 32-ounce container of cinnamon.

Don’t Store Spices in Direct Sunlight

Keep your spices out of direct sunlight. High-intensity light can have the same effects on spice as heat. You can usually tell when a spice has been compromised by light: look for discoloration.

Don’t Store Spices Near the Oven


Don't store your spices above your oven or stove top. Essential oils give spices their flavor and aroma, and when they're heated up, those oils disappear.

Fresh Versus Dried


There are some spices that you just don't buy dried. Avoid dried parsley, mint, or cilantro — unless you admire the taste of dried grass. Fresh is best when it comes to these herbs.

Grind Your Own Spices

Buy whole and grind fresh; nothing compares to freshly ground nutmeg, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and allspice. Pick up a cheap coffee grinder and designate it for spices only. Nothing fancy, just something in that $15—$20 range.

Refresh Your Supply of Spices

Old spice is for armpits! For maximum flavor, make sure you replace any ancient spices that you may have lying around.

Toast Your Spices

Toast or roast your spices for an added flavor dimension. It's simple: lightly toast a whole spice like cumin seed in a sauté pan, cool it completely, and then grind it up before using.

Try New Spices

Experiment with flavor, and get creative in the kitchen. Step outside of your comfort zone and try cooking with more exotic spices like galangal, sumac, cardamom, or saffron. You’ll be glad you did!

15 Secrets from Top Chefs That Every Home Cook Should Know

There's an expression used to define what goes on behind-the-scenes in a restaurant kitchen: "choreographed chaos." An efficient kitchen staff operates quickly, quietly, and keeps up with the dance. To do this, chefs have many go-to tricks. Below is a list of some of their secrets that will benefit any home cook.

1. Master mise en place.
This might be the most important tip of all. "Mise en place" is French for "everything in place." What it means to a chef? Before you cook, have everything measured, peeled, chopped, pans greased, etc. and within reach. This will keep you from running around looking for the dried basil while your sauce is on the brink of burning.

2. A sharp knife is essential.
Sharpen it on a regular basis and hone in between sharpening. Dull knives are dangerous and make cutting much more difficult.

3. Taste as you go.
You should know what the dish tastes like before serving it. Sometimes a little more salt or a dash of spice brings perfection. Which brings us to the next tip&hellip

4. Salt as you go.
Don't be afraid of salt! Since you're cooking a fresh meal instead of eating a packaged one, you're starting out with much less sodium to begin with.

5. But lose the salt shaker.
Use a small bowl of kosher salt and add pinches as you cook and taste. It's easier to control the amount and ensures even coverage.

6. Tongs are an extension of your hand.
Walk into any restaurant kitchen and you'll see a set of tongs in almost every cook's hand &mdash usually gripped low down on the handle for maximum control. Use it to flip meat, pull a pan out of the oven, stabilize a steak while slicing, the list goes on and on.

7. Put a wet paper towel under a cutting board.
Not only are cutting boards that slide on the counter annoying, they're extremely dangerous when you're holding a knife and trying to chop something. Wet a paper towel and lay it under the board and it won't budge!

8. Sear chicken breast and finish in oven.
Chefs sear a piece of meat, poultry, or fish in a pan and then place it in the oven. Not only does this free up burners, it results in a much moister result.

9. Don't overcrowd your pan.
When roasting or browning anything, the tendency is to cram as much in the pan as possible &mdash resist! Do it in smaller batches instead. Crowding the pan leads to steaming and lowers the temperature of the pan so you won't get the caramelization you're looking for &mdash and that's where the flavor is.

10. Cook with a 1:1 ratio of butter and oil.
Oil stops the butter from burning and the butter adds richness to the dish.

11. Cut the ends off onions, tomatoes, cantaloupe, etc.
Pretty much do this for any other food that does not stay stable on the cutting board to make a flat surface. This allows you to have complete control of the item as you chop.

12. When baking, only mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
Over-mixing causes toughness by developing gluten in the flour. For light and fluffy cupcakes, only mix until the batter's come together.

13. Your broiler is basically an upside down grill.
Use it for more than storage!

14. Don't forget the power of your nose.
If something in the oven smells done but the timer's still ticking, check on it.

15. Clean as you go.
This simple tip makes a world of difference. Wipe down your cutting board in between items. Not only is it hard to chop something that is swimming in tomato juices, it's unsafe to chop on a wet surface.

TELL US: What's your top tip for cooking like a pro? Share in the comments below!

"Paprika is another spice that works well with most foods," Maxine Yeung, R.D., trained pastry chef and owner of the Wellness Whisk, tells SELF. She likes to use it on roasted meats and vegetables, but you can use it in so many other dishes, too. I often add paprika to shakshuka (an egg and pepper dish popular in the Middle East and North Africa), or chili, and it's great in an assortment of Eastern European dishes like chicken paprikash and goulash. Also, if you ever make tacos or fajitas, paprika is key for throwing together some homemade taco seasoning.

"Every home cook should have black pepper on hand," Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, tells SELF. She says it can spice up literally anything, whether that's something expected like a pasta or a salad, or a more surprising dish like a savory yogurt parfait.

This sweet, nutty spice has hints of peppery heat that make it a wonderfully complex ingredient to cook with. A great addition to both sweet and savory dishes, nutmeg is best put to use in rich, warm dishes like soups, fall pies, and roasted winter vegetable recipes.

This fairly spicy household ingredient made from finely ground chili pepper is hotter than red pepper flakes, but won’t burn your tongue off when used in moderation. Cayenne is obviously useful in any dish that calls for a hit of spice, but is also well paired with sugary ingredients like honey and maple syrup that can perfectly counter balance the heat of this ingredient.

9 Things Every Home Cook Should Know About Spices - Recipes

It can be daunting to find a recipe you want to try out only to discover you have to make your way to the grocery store and buy a bunch of spices for it that you have never heard of before. Even more disconcerting than experimenting with new spices is discovering that most of the grocery store spices have a thick layer of dust on their caps. This is unappealing and may leave you feeling uneasy about the recipe you want to try out. This would have been easier if you had some more spices in your cabinet already, wouldn't it? Fret not, we are here to help.

If you were limited to just a handful of spices, would you have trouble narrowing it down or would you have to rack your brain to fill up a few spots? You want to give yourself access to a plethora of flavors that will compliment what you are already good at cooking, but will also help you branch out into other food territories.

We will tell you that our staff is partial to whole spices which they can grind themselves, so our list does include some whole spices. Whole spices maintain their flavor better for longer, and when ground their flavor is released rapidly throughout a dish. When working with whole spices, one must remember that they are much more flavorful than the pre-ground spices simply because their oils, which are subject to evaporation just like any other oil, are trapped within the cells of the spice. When a spice is ground the cell walls are pulverized, and the oils are released.

Since this list is subjective and not exclusive, feel free to disagree with our choices and include your own.

Similar to toasting, blooming spices is the process of cooking them in hot oil to help release their flavor. This technique both toasts the spices and helps infuse their flavor into the cooking oil, which will then flavor the entire dish. For dishes that start by cooking aromatics (like onions or garlic) in oil anyways, you can easily add your spices during that step to bloom them and infuse their flavors into the dish.

Basic Pantry 101

  • Canned beans: black, cannellini, chickpeas, kidney
  • Capers
  • Olives
  • Peanut butter
  • Preserves or jelly
  • Low-sodium stock or broth
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomatoes, canned and paste
  • Salsa
  • Tuna fish

  • Breadcrumbs: regular, panko
  • Couscous
  • Dried lentils
  • Pasta: regular, whole wheat
  • Rice
  • Rolled oats
  • One other dried grain: try barley, millet, quinoa or wheatberries

  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Brown sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Honey

  • Butter
  • Cheese: sharp cheddar, feta, Parmesan, mozzarella
  • Large eggs
  • Milk
  • Plain yogurt
  • Corn tortillas

  • Frozen fruit: blackberries, blueberries, peaches, strawberries
  • Frozen vegetables: broccoli, bell pepper and onion mix, corn, edamame, peas, spinach

11 Golden Rules of Cooking That Everyone Should Know

If you’re just starting out or are used to following a recipe, cooking sans instructions can seem like a daunting task. But honestly, once you get a few basic cooking rules down, you’ll be able to toss most of your recipe books in the recycling bin and start creating Michelin-worthy meals of your very own. Seriously &mdash unlike baking, cooking does not require exact measurements, times or temperatures for food to taste good. Follow the easy rules below and try whipping up your next meal using nothing but your imagination and taste buds.

Season and taste your food as you cook

When it comes to making food as flavorful as possible, salt is your friend. By adding a little bit of salt to both sweet and savory recipes as you cook, you’ll bring out the flavors already in the food, making for a tastier end product. In sweet recipes, add a pinch of salt to batters, doughs, and frostings to add richness to the sweet flavors. In savory recipes, add a pinch of salt every time you add new ingredients&mdashfor example, add salt to vegetables as they’re sautéing, then a few pinches more salt when you add meat, then another pinch when you add sauce&mdashso that your recipe comes out well-rounded and balanced. This method will also prevent oversalting food at the end of the cooking process.

Don’t crowd the pan

If you’re sautéing, pan-frying, or roasting, it’s important not to crowd the pan. You want to end up with a texture that’s cooked on the inside and slightly browned on the outside, and a too-crowded pan will make browning impossible because it creates too much steam (think about the difference between perfectly browned mushrooms, and soggy grey ones). Whether you’re using a sheet pan or a skillet, make sure everything is spread out into a single layer, instead of being piled up. If you don’t have enough room, cook in batches or use several pans.

Keep your knives sharp

It might seem counterintuitive, but you’re actually less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than with a dull one. The logic? Sharp blades cut more easily so you don’t need to apply as much pressure, and food is less likely to slip around in your fingers. You can sharpen your own knives with a whetstone at home, but if you don’t want to deal with the headache, kitchen stores like Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma have knife-sharpening services. It also speeds up the cooking process and who doesn’t like getting dinner on the table quicker?

Always add garlic at the end

Garlic can burn within 20 seconds (or less depending on how hot your pan is). If garlic burns, it’ll taste bitter and the aromatic flavor you wanted will be gone. If you want to add garlic to a dish, make sure to add it toward the end to avoid burning it.

Add dried herbs at the beginning, add fresh herbs at the end

It takes a while for the full flavor of dried herbs to develop so you always want to add those at the beginning of your cooking process so they have time to infuse their flavors into your dish. On the other hand, adding fresh herbs to a dish while it’s still cooking can cause them to taste bitter or can cook the taste right out of them so it’s best to add fresh herbs after the cooking process is complete.

Prep all of your ingredients before you cook

Once you’ve got a general idea of what you’re going to cook (or you’ve read a recipe), the next step is to prep, measure, and chop all of your ingredients. Keep things in separate bowls, cups, or piles on your cutting board, then add them as called for to the recipe as you cook. Having everything ready to go means you can cook seamlessly, without having to stop (and risk burning things) and chop or measure midway through.

Use enough fat

Although the low-fat craze is officially over, many people are still afraid to add enough fat to their home cooking. The thing is, fat serves a couple of culinary purposes. First of all, a good layer of fat in a sauté pan will keep food from sticking and burning, as will coating food with fat before you roast it. Second, fat will help bring out flavor. For high-heat cooking like sautéing, grilling, and roasting, choose fats with high smoke points, like vegetable and soy oils&mdashif you’re cooking at lower temperatures, or looking to finish a salad or a sauce with a bit of fat, try butter or fancy olive oil.

Learn a few easy sauces, and then tweak them

You’ve probably heard of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine &mdash béchamel, velouté, Espagnole, sauce tomat and hollandaise. Don’t worry, there’s no need to spend hours slaving over the perfect hollandaise but it would be worthwhile to get the hang of a classic béchamel (a roux mixed with dairy), sauce tomat (a traditional tomato sauce) and Espagnole. Each of these can be customized to accompany hundreds of dishes. Check out this handy guide to making all five of the mother sauces.

Keep your counters as clear as possible

It may seem normal and smart to keep all of your kitchen appliances&mdashblender, food processor, slow-cooker, stand mixer&mdashright on the counter, but it actually makes it much harder for you to cook effectively. These things take away from potential prep space, and when you’re working in cramped quarters, your food quality might suffer. If you use an appliance every day (think: toaster or coffee pot), it might be worth keeping it on the counter. If not, find cabinet or shelf space for it elsewhere, and only take it out when you’re using it.

Don’t go crazy with heat

OK, I know we said the cooking temperature wasn’t as important as baking temperature, but you do want to pay attention to it. When it comes to perfectly cooked food, heat control is definitely important but doesn’t need to be exact. Sure, blasting the heat under your skillet or in the oven might make food cook faster, but it will also likely lead to burnt outsides and raw insides. If you’re searing meat, start with a scorching hot pan and then reduce the heat to medium to finish cooking. If you’re sautéing more fragile ingredients like vegetables, start with a medium heat and gently increase the heat if necessary. Make sure to keep the heat at a temperature where ingredients are cooking and not burning, and never turn the heat so high that you see smoke (except for searing meat of course).

What are common culinary terms?

Common culinary terms range from ways to prepare food and sauces to kitchen items to dishes themselves. These cooking definitions often come from other languages like French and Italian and can be challenging to understand. Learning the basics of cooking vocabulary will help you to interpret recipes, better understand the food you serve, and help customers with questions they have about unfamiliar terms.

Recipe Cards Template

Train your back of house staff with this recipe cards template, a customizable Excel sheet that outlines recipe requirements for chefs.

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Spices are best stored in air-tight containers away from direct sunlight. I have a dedicated spice drawer in my kitchen that I use to store my spice box and individual glass jars filled with extra spices. You can also store spices in cabinets or pantry as long as it’s cool and dry.

Although spices do not go bad, over time they lose the potency which affects the flavors. Ground spices lose their flavor more quickly than whole spices. So it is a good idea to get whole spices in larger quantities and then make ground spices or spice blends in a smaller amount. Usually, ground spices stay good for 4 to 6 months and whole spices are good for a year.

This is all for now! I will keep updating with new spices as I experiment with them. Hope you find this essential Indian spices guide useful. Please do share it with your family and friends.

Ready to try some Indian recipes? Here are some recipes that I recommend you start with:

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