Mexico Life
Homemade seasonings, like this pumpkin pie mix, trump store-bought. Homemade seasonings, like this pumpkin pie mix, trump store-bought.

Homemade seasonings spice up holiday gift giving

Fresh-ground spices make a one-of-a-kind gift sure to be remembered

While I can’t be near most of my friends and family this holiday season, I’m finding that making gifts in the kitchen helps me feel connected even though we’re far away from each other.

Cookies are the classic homemade gift (more about those next week!), but these spice blends will be just as appreciated and are easier to give to folks who may have dietary restrictions that you’re unaware of. While putting together spice and seasoning blends may sound simple, there are some tips that will make your finished products really shine.

First and foremost, start with the freshest spices you can find. That means don’t go to any sort of discount outlet to get them. Go to a busy mercado (properly masked and socially distanced, of course) where spices can be found in bulk or freshly ground while you wait. You can also go to a bigger store that has sealed, packaged and dated jars of the spices you need. This is a good excuse to buy a box of kosher salt too.

As much as possible, you also want to grind, grate or crush the spices yourself. Fresh-grated nutmeg, for instance, imparts a brilliant burst of flavor unlike what you get in a jar. A mortar and pestle or molcajete can be used to prepare ground oregano or thyme or to crush the coriander, mustard or cumin seeds. And always grind black, red or other peppercorns yourself for the brightest flavor.

What you can find at places like Waldo’s are small decorative jars in which to put your spice blends. These can also be found at kitchen supply shops, where I always find fascinating things I didn’t know I needed. Tie some red or green ribbon around the tops of the jars and they’re good to go. Feliz Navidad, my friends!

This taco seasoning can also be used in red enchilada sauce.
This taco seasoning can also be used in red enchilada sauce.

 Jenn’s Taco Seasoning

I tend not to make tacos at home as they seem so much better at my favorite stands, but Jenn swears by this spice mix.

  • ¼ cup ancho chili powder
  • 3 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch or 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Mix everything well and store in an airtight container. Two tablespoons of this is equivalent to one store-bought packet.

To make tacos, use 2 Tbsp. per pound of ground beef. Add ¼ cup of water along with taco seasoning. Makes ¾ cup, enough to season six pounds of ground beef.

For Red Enchilada Sauce: Add 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning mix per 1 cup of tomato puree, plus a bit of vinegar to taste.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Add to cupcakes, quick bread or make your own Pumpkin Spice Latte!

  • 4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place up to six months.

Salt-Free Herb Blend

A sprinkle of this perks up chicken, fish, shrimp and vegetable dishes.

  • 4 tsp. sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp. EACH celery seed, dried marjoram, poppy seeds and ground black pepper
  • 1½ tsp. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. each onion powder and dried thyme
  • ½ tsp. each garlic powder and paprika

Store in an airtight container up to 6 months. Yield: 1/3 cup

Flavorful spice mixes are a great way to reduce your salt intake
Flavorful spice mixes are a great way to reduce your salt intake

BC’s Italian Dressing Mix

 Also great as a rub for chicken or in soup or tuna salad.

  • 1 Tbsp. dried garlic flakes or powder
  • 1 Tbsp. dried onion flakes or powder
  • 2 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • ! Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
  • ¼ tsp. celery seed
  • At least 1 Tbsp. salt, or to taste

Mix all spices together. Store in an airtight jar.

 To make dressing: In a shaker jar, add 2 Tbsp. of spice mix to ¼ cup vinegar (any kind), 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp. water. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice or a minced fresh garlic clove, if you like. Shake well.

Seasoned Salt

 Delicious on everything!

  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 1½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1½ tsp. celery seed
  • 1½ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. ground mustard

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 year. Makes about ½ cup.

BC’s Poultry Seasoning

  • 2 tsp. ground sage
  • 1½ tsp. ground thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground marjoram
  • ¾ tsp. ground rosemary
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. fine ground black pepper

“Everything Bagel” Popcorn Seasoning

  • 2 Tbsp. EACH white and black sesame seeds,
  • 1 Tbsp. EACH caraway seeds, granulated onion and granulated garlic
  • 1½ tsp. salt

Toss seasonings with 6 Tbsp. melted butter and 12 cups freshly made popcorn.

Discount stores are an economical place to find attractive spice jars.
Discount stores are an economical place to find attractive spice jars.

Garam Masala

 This classic mixture of spices makes the magic in Indian foods. 

  • 4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp. EACH ground coriander, cardamom and black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. EACH ground nutmeg and dried chili flakes

Store in an airtight container.

Ranch Seasoning Blend

Sprinkle on top of baked or scalloped potatoes, on garlic bread, popcorn or even fish tacos.

  • 2 ½ Tbsp. dried parsley
  • 2 tsp. EACH dried dill and dried minced onion
  • 2½ tsp. EACH garlic powder and onion powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1½ tsp. salt

Add 1 Tbsp. of seasoning and 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice to 1/3 cup mayonnaise.

Chinese Five Spice Blend

 Add sweetness and warmth to Asian-inspired dishes.

  • 2 Tbsp. anise seed
  • 2 Tbsp. fennel seed
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. whole cloves
  • 2 Tbsp. whole peppercorns

Grind with a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle until mixture becomes a fine powder. Store in an airtight container. Makes about ½ cup.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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