Baby, it’s cold outside…

The polar vortex has reach Chicagoland again this winter.  It was a whopping -1* today with a windchill around -25* to -30*.  School was cancelled as it is again tomorrow.  What am I supposed to do besides a little kitchen maintenance?  Nothing makes me feel quite as accomplished as making sure all my spice jars are filled and my seasoning blends are made.

I used to keep my herbs and spices in their original containers in the cabinet.  The problem was, since I bought them at all difference stores, they were all different sizes.  It looked messy.  So many of them would be lost in the back of the cabinet…only to have me buy a duplicate.  After I moved into my parents’ house and took over the cooking in their AH-mazing kitchen, I came up with a new plan that I hope to bring with me to our new house when we get one.  It’s a spice DRAWER!!IMG_2961

I bought these little 4 ounce jelly jars at Walmart.  They were maybe $5 for the case at the time on clearance.  Make sure they fit neatly into the drawer you want to use or stack neatly into your cabinets.  I’m picturing a cute little 2-tiered Lazy Susan with the spices stacked 2 tall in one of those useless end cabinets.  Oh…now I want a spice cabinet!!

Then I started looking at the spices and herbs I REALLY use regularly.  I chose my 12 GO-TO spices and herbs and poured each one into the jars.  I made sure to label the top and side of each jar.  Anyone who cooks always ends up with their spices uncovered.  I found out quickly if you didn’t label both the top and side, you couldn’t match up the lid to the jar or you would have to sniff each spice to figure out what it was.  Not effective if you have a cold.  If I had really been on my game, I would have printed the labels with an awesome font instead of a permanent marker.  This works and took NO time.  IMG_2962

I took any leftover spices–either due to a large original container or duplicates or what have you–and put them into a simple plastic shoebox to store on a lower shelf of the pantry.  This is my back-up box.  I use this to keep my refill containers.  I will also buy in bulk when I can and store in emptied containers.  Think Sam’s Club, Costco, or even the grocery store bulk bins (they come in plastic bags usually).  I do keep some empty containers in there as I finish them off…you’ll see why in a minute.

IMG_2960Every so often, I simply lift each jar and see if it needs refilling.  If it does, I retrieve my handy plastic shoe box and refill away.  I replenish the shoe box items as they run out.  It is really simple.  It keeps my inventory relatively stocked without have duplicates or even triplicates (hello garlic powder) lying around.

Now, what do I do with all these spices and herbs other than my regular dinners?  I make spice blends!!  I have really moved away from packets for a lot of reasons–think taco seasoning, chili seasoning, and salad dressings.  One reason is that they are FULL of sodium.  I am not a health nut by any means.  But I do try to cut back where I can.  Those packets taste so damn salty to me.  Probably because of reason number 2–the MSG!!  So much of it is lurking in your packets as well as your bottled salad dressings.  It gives me major headaches.  This is one way I’ve gotten around that.  Number 3 is that they just taste better.  I can add what I like and remove what I don’t.  Not a fan of cilantro?  Eliminate it.  Prefer a little more kick?  Add some cayenne.  Finally, it’s so much cheaper.  I don’t usually use expensive, hard to find spices.  I can get most of them at Aldi–have I professed my love for that place?  They are under a buck there.  Make a blend that is equivalent to 10 packets and you have really saved a bit of cash.


So, listed below are my 4 favorite blends:  taco seasoning, chili seasoning, italian dressing, and ranch dressing.  I typically make them in a large disposable plastic cup.  That way there is a big enough neck for adding those larger amounts and to get in there with a fork (best utensil for this) to really mix them up before pouring them into their storage containers.  I use something similar to these 1 quart spice containers since I make larger batches.  I have no problem finding them at my regular mom-and-pop grocery store.  You might want to start off with a smaller empty spice container from one you’ve used up (remember I said I saved some) or even a glad ware container until you perfect the recipes for your tastes.  When I make the spice blend for someone, I will typically use an empty spice container and even type up the mix and recipe to tape to the bottle.  In my house, I am not that fancy.  I just write on the container in a permanent marker and keep the recipe in the notes section of my phone!

Bulk Taco Seasoning

adapted from:

1/4 cup dried onions , minced
1/4 cup chili powder
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon dried garlic , minced
1 tablespoon cumin , ground
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes , crushed (optional)
2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
1  1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried cilantro

2x recipe to fill 1 quart container


Combine the ingredients.
Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons to 1 lb. browned and drained beef with 1/3-1/2 cup water.

Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons to 1 lb. browned and drained beef with 1/3-1/2 cup water and 1 can diced tomatoes with their juices.
Simmer until reduced.

Bulk Chili Seasoning 

adapted from:
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons cumin
4 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked if you have it)

3x recipe to fill quart size container

You use about 2-3 tablespoon of the seasoning mix for 1 pound of meat, 1 can of chili style tomatoes, 1 can of hot chili beans, 1 can of pure pumpkin puree, and 1 can of tomato sauce. I promise…the pumpkin adds the perfect consistency, extra fiber, and just a little something extra. I also usually add a drizzle of honey and just a pinch of cinnamon. It’s that thing in the background that you can’t put your finger on but makes it delicious.

Keep a can of SPICY V-8 on hand if you need to thin it out.  Play with the seasoning recipe if you want.  You are going to get the spice from the red pepper and the cayenne–not the cumin.

Bulk Italian Dressing Mix–similar to Good Seasonings

adapted from:

1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon lemon pepper (VERY IMPORTANT)
1 tablespoon dried red and green bell pepper (if you can find–I only found it once–it’s fine without it)
2 tablespoons salt (I skipped salt all together)

In a small bowl, mix everything together.  Store in a tightly sealed container.

To prepare dressing, mix together 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons of the dry mix.  Shake until combined. Best left overnight.

Lower oil recipe:
Mix 2 tablespoons dressing mix with 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons warm water.  Shake.  Then add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup cold water.  Best left overnight.

Bulk Ranch Dressing Mix–similar to Hidden Valley

adapted from:

½ cup dry buttermilk powder (I find this at Walmart in the baking aisle)
1 tablespoon dried parsley for blending + 1 teaspoon reserved
½ teaspoon dried dill weed for blending + ½ teaspoon reserved
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons pieces dried portabello mushrooms (IMPORTANT INGREDIENT)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ teaspoon sugar

Add all the dry ingredients except the reserved teaspoon of dried parsley and the ½ teaspoon of dried dill to your blender. Blend until a nice powder.
Hand mix in the reserved parsley and dill – you want to see some herbs in your mix.
Store dry mix in an air-tight container or jar in your pantry for 2-3 months or in the freezer for 6 months or longer.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dip:
Mix 2 tablespoons of dry mix with ½ – 1 cup of Sour Cream. Chill for 2 hours and serve as a dip. If for some reason your sour cream isn’t very thick, and you want your dip to really set up thickly add in ½ teaspoon of unflavored gelatin.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing for salads:
Mix together
3 Tablespoons Dry Ranch Dip mix
1 cup of mayonaise
2/3 cup buttermilk




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