Food & Drink

Clean up and use up your spices with these pre-made spice mixes

Poultry Spice. Photographed in North Liberty on Friday, September 28, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Poultry Spice. Photographed in North Liberty on Friday, September 28, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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When I’m stressed, I bake. Luckily, stress often kills my appetite, so instead of eating the results of my baking spree, I share them. Hmm, maybe it’s not the act of baking that reduces stress, but the sharing of cookies.

When I’m frustrated, I clean. Technically, I clean often because I’m a bit of a neatnik, but frustration-induced cleaning is deep cleaning. It’s pulling things out of cupboards and drawers, dusting and wiping down the storage space, then sorting through everything, tossing some items and keeping others, before putting them back in a manner that would make any organization guru proud.

My kitchen tends to get the brunt of my deep clean bouts. It isn’t because I’m not keen on putting things back while cooking but because it’s the one room in the house I’m consistently adding things to.

When I finished my Year of the Purge in 2014, I vowed not to bring anything into the house without removing an item first. New pair of running shoes? Out the old ones go. Overindulged at a book sale? Better clear off the bookshelf. Stack of magazines in basket boasting Oscar predictions in 2016? Get those in the recycling bin pronto!

The kitchen, however, is the one place where my in-with-the-new-and-out-with-the-old practice falters. After all, I’m not going to toss a half-empty box of cereal just because I bought a new one. Likewise, a sale on pasta doesn’t mean the boxes I already have in the pantry are deemed unusable. I may get a bit out of hand with some items — I remember writing a column years ago about discovering eight cans of chicken broth when I organized the Lazy Susan — but they all get used. Eventually.

This brings me to my most recent kitchen deep clean: the spice cupboard. I don’t know about you, but my spice cupboard is a constant work in progress. I clean it, then I buy a few items, and the next time I open it to grab the salt, it looks like the aftermath of a rave. How do those tiny jars wreak such havoc?

We all know spices need to be cleaned out regularly to maintain freshness, but how many of us do that consistently? The fact is, your nose knows when it’s time for them to go. Manufacturers tell us that jarred herbs and spices should be tossed after six months; the truth is most will remain good up to a year. Whole spices stay fresh even longer, sometimes up to two years.

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I like to purchase whole spices whenever I can. The thrifty side of me enjoys knowing I’ll get my money’s worth from the purchase, while the foodie enjoys the process of getting out the grater, zester, or mortar and pestle to ground the spices by hand.

Talk about a stress reliever.

Because I wasn’t feeling all the way better after making my spice cupboard look amazing — and tossing a few jars of cream of tarter in the process; I still can’t remember why I even bought one, let alone three — I decided to reduce the number of jars on the shelves further by mixing up some of my own spice mixes. Yes, the pre-packaged taco mix, barbecue rub and chili powder saves time, but they tend to be packed with sodium, too. Cutting one’s sodium intake is always a good thing.

One more thing. When you do buy a new jar of spice — or even a box of baking soda or bottle of vanilla extract, note the date of the purchase on the wrapper or the bottom of the container before you put it away. I started doing this is couple of years ago when I realized I could no longer read the teeny-tiny expiration date without a lot of squinting. Trust me; your eyes will thank you.

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