• Tommy Centola

Check the spices in your pantry

Dry spices and seasoning are a staple in kitchens. What many people don’t realize it that after 6 months, they start to lose their potency. As a rule of thumb around the first of the year, I go through my pantry to see which of these need to be replaced. I always label when I use them for the first time. If you cook regularly, you will find certain spices that you use often. Let’s peak into my pantry and see which ones I know are fresh since I constantly use them.

First let’s look at the two basics, salt and pepper. I use two different salts, sea salt and kosher salt. Kosher salt is a bigger flake which I use to give the final dish a saltier flavor. I also use it for seasoning my water before I boil pasta. For most of my recipes, I use sea salt.

I always keep three kinds of pepper on hand: black, white and cayenne. Each pepper gives a different flavor to the finish dish. I use black for flavor, white to give the dish some bite, and cayenne for heat. For my black pepper, I buy whole peppercorns, using a Peppermill to freshly grind them for each use.

For dried garlic and onion, I prefer using granulated instead of powder. The main difference is the grind. Granulated is a coarser grind, which I find lends to a more pronounced garlic or onion flavor. In my opinion, the powdered forms don’t give the final dish the flavor granulated does.

The three main seasonings I use are basil, oregano and thyme. Since these are often used in Italian cooking, it should not surprise you that they are among my favorites. If you find that oregano is too strong, you can substitute marjoram, which will give you a tamed down flavor from oregano. My mother-in-law has issues with oregano. When I started using marjoram in its place, she was pleased to get the full flavor of the dishes without the heartburn issues she had before.

Another favorite powdered spice is paprika. It is made from very mild peppers. You can use this as a milder substitute for cayenne. The paprika that I use the most is smoked paprika. It adds a subtle smoky flavor to any dish. It’s also great for adding to seasoning blends.

Below, I have included the recipe for my personal Creole Shake Seasoning blend. I have a secret ingredient that is not often found in blends like this, ground bay leaves. I use bay leaves often in my cooking. A trick that I learned from my mom was to put a bay leaf in white cooking rice. It gives the cooked rice a unique flavor. When I was developing my blend, this little trick came to mind. The ground bay leaf gives my blend that little something extra.

Of course, you will always fine cinnamon in my pantry. It’s impossible to bake with out it. Another spice often found in baking is nutmeg. If I need to add a little to a recipe, I will grate what I need from the whole seed. For measured amounts, I always reach for the container in my pantry.

I didn’t want to talk about spices and seasonings without sharing a recipe. I know I have shared this before but this is a special recipe for me. I use it in almost all of my cooking. Once you start making your own, you will never go back to a store bought blend again.

Creole Shake Seasoning Blend

4 tablespoons paprika

4 tablespoons granulated garlic

3 tablespoons sea salt

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

2 tablespoons granulated onion

2 tablespoons basil

2 tablespoons thyme

1 tablespoon cayenne

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon ground bay leaves

1 tablespoon white pepper

Blend all ingredients together well. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. This is an estimate, since mine never last that long.

Since you want to give your family a great home cooked meal, make sure you’re using quality ingredients. Once a year, go through your pantry. Throw out any old spices and start the New Year off fresh. You’ll find that your dishes will taste a lot better.

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