New year, new spices for your kitchen -- plus other pantry tips

Now that you've cooked your way through the holidays, time to replenish the pantry

Now that you’ve cooked your way through the holidays and used up every bit of chocolate, almonds, honey and spices in your cupboard, you’ll probably want to replenish them.

Chocolate prices are going up, so buy what you’ll use over the next few months. Almond prices, too, are bound to rise as California’s drought continues.

You’ll need to check your spices, too. They have a shelf life. Stop before you use that paprika — which is God knows how old and has likely changed from a fiery orange to a rusty brown. In the grand scheme of things, investing in new spices for the new year isn’t all that expensive.

Go through your spice jars and taste. If you sense that maybe that turmeric or nutmeg doesn’t taste quite as vivid as you remember, you’re probably right. Now is the time to be ruthless and throw out any spices that have lost their mojo.

That ground cinnamon that smells like dust? Toss it. Those dried up vanilla beans? Stick them in a jar of sugar, but don't count on them giving their all to your baking.

Regroup and reorganize the spices that are left. Do you need more containers? Do you need to think about a new place to store them? Please do avoid keeping them next to the stove or oven. They want cool and dark to keep their potency. (As does your olive oil, which will quickly turn rancid if left near light or heat.)

Then make a list of spices you need to replace and head to dedicated spice shops such as Spice Station in Silver Lake or Penzeys in Santa Monica and Torrance. You can count on spices being fresh at both shops because the turnover is high.

Think about which cuisines you’d like to cook in the new year and make sure you’ll have all the spices on hand. If it’s Moroccan, then ground and whole cumin, ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks, paprika both sweet and hot, etc. For Italian, dried Sicilian oregano, Calabrian hot peppers — and potent black peppercorns for cacio e pepe. For Mexican, a whole range of chiles, Mexican oregano, cumin, epazote and more.

A couple of years ago I spent New Year’s Day driving all over the San Gabriel Valley in search of a long list of ingredients for Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Most, except for Szechuan peppercorns and star anise, weren’t spices per se. I remember loading my basket with Red Boat fish sauce, various chile pastes, dried shiitake and other fungus, papery tofu skins and rice flour wrappers. You get the idea.

With your spice collection freshened up and your pantry replenished, you’re ready to start a new year in cooking.

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.

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