What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen 

  • 2021-09-05, 05:22 AM
  • Kelli Kelly
What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen 

I am going to take a week off from telling you all about what I cooked recently. There are a couple of reasons for this hiatus, but the primary reason is: This last weekend, I spent a bunch of time doing fun things like attending the Cantaloupe Festival and scoring the second-highest rating in my fantasy football draft (Let’s Go ‘Loupe Style!) and not a whole lot of time cooking.  Rather than pull a recipe out of a hat and build a story around something that I really loved cooking that one time or that I would love to cook one day, I thought that I would take some time to talk about fundamentals--specifically, what I have in my pantry.   

The conversation about a well-stocked pantry is actually quite involved. There are basic products that are staples for a nimble and efficient home pantry and if you exert a little care and thought in the things you keep in your pantry, you will be a much more prepared cook. I always have a little twinge of delight when I choose a recipe to prepare and then discover that I already have the majority of the required ingredients. That being said, I didn’t just know what I like to have readily on-hand. It took years of cooking dinner and frankly my culinary training, to cultivate the list of must-have ingredients. 

I fully expect that this will actually be a series of columns broken down into different categories: baking essentials, non-perishable ingredients, condiments, sauces, oils and vinegars, Asian ingredients, and (today’s focus) spices. 

At the beginning of the year (like literally New Years), our good friend Pip spent a week at our house hanging out with our dogs (Cubbi, Graci, and Ryno), while Neil and I visited his parents in Las Vegas. When we got back to town, Pip told me that before he even went home, he stopped to stock up on spices because after cooking with my spice pantry for a week he decided that he needed to up his spice game. A well-stocked spice rack (or cabinet) helps make cooking new recipes a delight instead of a challenge. Actively managing your spice collection ensures that 1. you are not buying a new container of spices every time you decide to try a new recipe, 2. You do not end up with duplicate spices, and 3. You are rotating through your spices to maintain freshness. A bonus is that you can easily mix up a custom blend of spices that will kick your chili, or your tacos, or your minestrone up a notch. 

Speaking of tacos… Neil got a craving this week for old-school, ‘80’s era, ground beef tacos in crunchy corn shells. In the interest of convenience, I bought a kit that included those nifty “stand-up” shells and included an unlabeled white packet of taco seasoning. That might have flown in my house in 1999, but (after using the packet) I realized that I just wasn’t satisfied with the flavor of the taco meat. In the end, I doctored up the mix so much that I should have just made my own mix in the first place. So at the end of this missive, I will offer a suggestion of where to start when mixing up your own taco seasoning and I will throw in a couple of extras for good measure. But first… 

Here is a list of the spices that I always try to have on hand in Kelli’s Kitchen.  

The Basics 

Salt - I use Diamond Crystal--the texture is just the best. It crumbles easily between your fingers so you can use it course or fine as needed. Alternatively, use coarse sea salt in a grinder. Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to iodized table salt. 

Whole Peppercorns and Grinder - Don't settle for pre-ground black pepper. Do yourself a favor and get a grinder. 

Garlic Powder 

Onion Powder 

Cinnamon - be choosy with your cinnamon. A lot of cinnamon is not real cinnamon. 

Chili Powder - at least one though I could argue why a variety is better. I have basic chili powder, New Mexican chili powder, Californian chili powder. I also have dried Silk chili and Black Urfa chili which are less “powders” and more ground dried peppers. 

Ground Cumin - also Cumin Seed. I use these all the time! 

Ground Coriander 

Ground Nutmeg - sometimes I like to be bougie and use whole nutmeg that I grate myself--it’s fun. 

Dried Oregano - If I had to choose one variety, I would go Mexican Oregano. 

Paprika, smoked and sweet (I use the smoked kind all the time). 

Red pepper flakes - This is another one that I have multiples of… regular red pepper flakes are perfect for pizza… but Cobanero chili flakes rank #1 in my book. 

Dried Bay Leaves 

Cayenne & Chipotle Pepper (If you like spicy food!) 


For Italian or Mediterranean Cooking 

Dried Basil 

Dried Thyme 

Dried Rosemary 

Dried Mint 

Dried Parsley 


For Fall Inspired Cooking (and also for baking) 

Ground Cloves 

Ground Allspice 

Ground Cardamom 

Ground Ginger 


For Indian Inspired Cooking 

Curry powder 

Turmeric powder 

Ground Ginger 

Garam Masala 

Ground Cumin 

Ground Cardamom 

Ground Cloves 


Super Special Niche Spices 

Saffron - it’s spendy but delicious 

Vanilla Beans - same 

Star Anise 

Anything WHOLE (allspice, cloves, coriander, cardamom, etc) 


With this collection, you will confidently be able to make your own spice mixes for chili, tacos, pumpkin pie spice, chai spice, and more. 


Sourcing is important. If you are going to intentionally stock your spice cabinet all at once, consider buying from an ethical wholesaler or boutique spice shop. I use San Francisco Herb Company for bulk spices and Burlap & Barrel for specialty single-origin spices. 


Taco Seasoning 

2 T onion powder 

2 t garlic powder 

1 T kosher salt 

1 T chili powder 

1 ½ t crushed red pepper 

1 ½ t ground cumin 

1 t dried oregano 

1 ½ t cornstarch  

1 t sugar 


Pumpkin Pie Spice 

3 T ground cinnamon 

2 t ground ginger 

2 t ground nutmeg 

1 ½ t ground allspice 

1 t ground cloves 


Chai Spice 

2 t cinnamon 

2 t ginger 

2 t cardamom 

1 t cloves 

1 t coriander 


EASY Garam Masala 

1 T ground cumin 

1 ½ t ground coriander 

1 ½ t ground cardamom 

1 ½ t ground black pepper 

1 t ground cinnamon 

½ t ground cloves 

½ t ground nutmeg 




Kelli Kelly



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