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For Those New to the Kitchen....

This is the time of year when some of you (or your children) are venturing out to college (or the workforce) and are, for the first time ever, living away from home. Try to control the tears, moms, I know it's tough.

Having to cook on your own for the first time and starting your own kitchen can be daunting. It's been quite a few years (okay more than quite a few) since I was faced with that task, but I do remember feeling overwhelmed at the thought that Mom wasn't going to have dinner ready for me when I got home. It was all up to me now, and if I didn't want to rely on takeout alone, I'd better get my act together. Keep in mind, I haven't always been a chef. I was in the corporate world and in my 40's (ahem) before I realized I wanted to be a chef when I grow up.

Anyway, I thought I'd spend a few minutes sharing some time and money saving tips to make meal preparation a little less stressful for you "kitchen virgins". So...without further ado....

Common Spices & Herbs Not sure which spices to have on hand so you can whip up a wonderful, last minute meal? Below is a list of the most commonly used spices that are great to have in stock in your pantry, as well as tips on storage, saving money, and how to blend them to make magic in your kitchen! Starter Herb & Spice Kit:


Garlic Powder Onion Powder Paprika Cumin Cinnamon Chinese Five Spice Ginger Chili Powder Cayenne or Red Chili Flakes

Sea Salt (Pink Himalayan and Celtic Sea Salt are the purest)

Pepper Herbs: Thyme

Rosemary Sage Dill Tarragon Parsley Cilantro Oregano/Marjoram Bay Leaf Basil Time-Saving Shopping & Preparation Tips:

  • Know your store's layout. Some stores even have their layouts online so you can create a shopping list based on where items are located in the store. Organizing your list by aisle or department saves time so you only cover the store once and don't waste valuable time wandering back and forth trying to find things.

  • Shop the outer perimeter of the store only. The outer perimeter is usually going to contain the freshest, least expensive items. The center aisles are usually reserved for the pricier, processed (and less healthy) products.

  • If buying fresh herbs, upon arriving at home, wash & dry them, wrap the stem ends loosely in a paper towel, then place in a plastic zippered bag in the refrigerator. Label with the name and date.

  • Herb tips: Basil hates cold, so leave it at room temperature, wrapped in a moistened paper towel or in a jar with a small amount of water and it will last longer.

  • Garlic: If you’re using a large amount of garlic, chop a whole bulb of cloves in a small food processor (or go for it by hand with a knife if you’re so inclined), place in a small container and place in the refrigerator for easy access. Chopping garlic at least 10 minutes before using in recipes allows the cancer-fighting compounds to be released and become more potent

  • Buy herbs and spices in bulk and save money. Kroger, HEB and other stores offer a wide variety of bulk spices. Those cool looking glass jars aren’t cheap when you buy spices packaged in them. If you want glass jars, you can purchase them for as little as 99 cents at Bed Bath & Beyond or a similar store, then put your bulk spices in them. When empty, wash the jars and re-use. You can save 50% or more by taking a little extra time & effort.

  • Dried spices/herbs vs fresh: When cooking with dried herbs, add them at the beginning of the cooking process because they will take longer for flavors to meld and develop in the dish. Fresh herbs can be added toward the end of the cooking process because as they are chopped/torn, essential oils are released and flavor is immediately infused.

  • Place herbs/spices of your choice in a mason jar and add some olive oil, then use as a flavorful salad dressing!

  • Add chopped fresh rosemary, basil or lavender to a container of salt and make your own gourmet salts!

  • Fresh herbs & spices work great in softened pasture butter to make a dish special.

  • Experiment with different herbs/spices, feel free to substitute for spices you don’t have with something you do have, and come up with your own favorites to keep on hand!

  • Ever wonder about the shelf life of your spices? The good news is, they don’t spoil if they’re kept in an airtight container. The bad new is, after about 6 months, they lose their potency. Throw out and replace unused spices every 6 months.

  • While we’re talking about spices, what’s the big deal with all those different varieties of cinnamon? Bottom line: Ceylon (more expensive than the other varieties) has the most health benefits. Read more here:

Common Spice Blends: Southwestern: Cumin, Coriander, Marjoram, Chili Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Chipotle Powder, Ancho Powder Chinese/Asian: Ginger, Anise or Fennel, Chinese Cinnamon (cassia), Cloves, and Szechuan Pepper (or substitute Chinese Five Spice, which is a blend of all of these spices) Italian: Garlic, Oregano, Basil, Rosemary Middle Eastern/Indian: Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom French: Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Bay Leaf

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