The Art of Housewifery: Measuring and Spices

I grew up thinking a glass measuring cup was an all-purpose measuring cup.  Imagine my surprise when I found out it is, in fact a liquid measuring cup.  Similarly, a single measuring cup is to be used for dry or soft solids only.  Thankfully using said measuring cups is pretty easy, so here’s how you do it!

Dry Measuring Cups

When measuring dry ingredients, (in my picture I used sugar) I always stick my cup in the bag, or container, and pull out a heaping cup as shown below.

Do not use a heaping cup unless your recipe calls for a heaping cup!  Especially when baking.  Baking is all about exact measurements, so having a heaping cup can really mess things up.  Next you want to take a spatula, or in my case a dull knife, and use the flat edge to push the excess off the top.  Your left with what I have in the picture below.

A nice tip to know as well is to put a piece of wax paper, or a paper plate under your cup.  That way when you push off your extra you can easily pour it back into your bag or container.

Liquid Measuring Cups

I, shamefully, don’t have any small liquid measuring cups.  I just have this 4 cup one.  This was actually my Valentine gift from my husband two years ago!  He got me this and a card and that was it.  It was perfect!  Anyway…when pouring your liquid into your measuring cup you need to do it slowly so you don’t overfill.  From a standing perspective this looked like it was at the 2 cup mark as is shown in the below picture.

You should always crouch down to counter level to make sure your liquid is at the line it needs to be at.  As you can see I was not quite at the 2 cup mark.  Also if you are measuring water from the faucet, you need to fill up your cup, let it settle and stop moving, and then check to see where you are at.

Measuring Spoons
Measuring spoons are easy peasy.  You want to do the same as with a dry measuring cup.  Heap in your ingredient.

Then push the excess off with the flat edge of a butter knife or spatula.

When measuring a liquid in a measuring spoon just fill it to the top without letting it spill over.

The only two items that should be measured a little differently are flour and brown sugar.  When measuring brown sugar it needs to be packed.  That means you heap in the brown sugar, and press it down, then fill with more and press down.  Recipes usually say if it needs to be firmly packed, or lightly packed.  When measuring flour you should shake the bag or container it is in, then spoon the flour into the cup then push off the excess.


We’re going to start off by going through the most commonly used herbs.  These are almost always available in stores in fresh and dried varieties.

Minty, clove like aroma-you may also see cinnamon, lemon and anise basil; these all taste like basil, as well as what they actually are

Substitute: oregano or thyme
Bay leaves 
Usually dried whole leaves, they have a woodsy flavor.  You should never crumble a bay leaf! Use it whole, then remove before serving.
Has a flavor akin to parsley with a hint of tarragon, when heated over high heat it loses it’s flavor.

Substitute: parsley and tarragon
Soft onion flavor, looks like grass and you just snip off what you want to use and it continues to grow.

Substitute: thin sliced onion tops
This is the leaf of the coriander plant.  It has a very pungent flavor and its best to use less rather than more.

Substitute: parsley
Main flavor of pickles, great in potato salad

Substitute: fennel leaves or tarragon
Much like oregano, but milder and sweeter flavor

Substitute: oregano
Refreshing and sweet herb that has the classic cool aftertaste.  Different types are peppermint which is harsher, and spearmint which is more delicate.  Great garnish for desserts.

Substitute: basil, marjoram or rosemary
Robust flavor, most commonly used in Italian dishes, especially pasta and pizza.

Substitute: basil, marjoram or thyme
Fresh taste, curly leaf variety has a stronger flavor verses Italian parsley
Bold flavor, kind of pine-y, used commonly in Italian foods

Substitute: thyme, or tarragon
Warm, woodsy like flavor, common in turkey stuffing and with pork and sausage

Substitute: marjoram, or rosemary
Herb used very commonly in French foods, it’s aromatic and licorice like flavor.

Substitute: chervil or a dash of crushed fennel seeds
Lemony with a touch of minty flavor, goes very well with most foods

Substitute: basil, marjoram, or oregano
 ((I googled for all these herb pictures, of course I forgot links for credit!  If one of these images is yours please let me know and I will gladly give credit!))

Fresh herbs are much more pungent and flavorful when compared to dried herbs.  Herbs stay fresh after cutting for up to one week by cutting the stems and placing them in standing water.  If you see wilting or dried out leaves, pinch them off.  It is best to add herbs towards the end of the cooking process as fresh herbs will lose flavor and color the longer they cook.  Dry herbs can be substituted for fresh herbs!  If you need to substitute dry herbs for fresh, use 1/3 the amount called for in the recipe.  It is also wise to crush herbs with your fingers before using as it releases the oils and therefore enhances flavor!

Now for spices!  The following are common spices you may come in contact with.

Ground Allspice
Flavor: blend of cinnamon, nutmeg cloves
Substitute: ground cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves
Anise seeds
Flavor: licorice like
Substitute: fennel seeds
Ground Cardamom
Flavor: spicy-sweet with peppery and ginger like tones
Substitute: ground ginger
Cayenne pepper
Flavor: Smoky, Pungent, Hot
Substitute: small dash of hot sauce
Chili powder
Flavor: hot, spicy, peppery taste
Substitute: dash of hot sauce plus equal measures cumin and ground oregano
Ground  cinnamon
Flavor: strong, warm, sweet
Substitute: ground nutmeg or allspice
Ground cloves
Flavor: strong, pungent, warm
Substitute: ground allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg
Ground cumin
Flavor: spicy, slightly bitter
Substitute: chili powder
Curry powder
Flavor: fragrant, mild-to-hot blend of up to 20 spices
Substitute: equal parts of ground spices common to curry, like: cumin, coriander, red and black pepper, ginger, turmeric
Fennel seeds
Flavor: licorice like flavor
Substitute: anise or caraway seeds
Ground ginger
Flavor: sweet-hot flavor
Substitute: ground allspice, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg
Dry mustard or seeds
Flavor: hot flavor when mixed with water, seeds are hot, spicy
Substitute: 1 tablespoon yellow mustard for each 1 teaspoon dry
Ground Nutmeg
Flavor: slightly sweet and spicy
Substitute: ground cinnamon, ginger, or mace
Hungarian/Spanish Paprika
Flavor: Hungarian paprika is more pungent than Spanish and can be labeled sweet (mild) or hot; Spanish paprika is sweet and bitter
Substitute: cayenne pepper, but use sparingly
Pepper, black or white
Flavor: black pepper is more pungent than white
Substitute: white may be substituted for black but is milder in flavor
Garlic Powder
Flavor: garlic-y
Substitute: fresh garlic
Onion Powder
Flavor: Onion-y
Substitute: fresh onion

Spice Blends

This is great knowledge for people who want to get good, correct flavors in their foods.  Here are some great spice blends that you can easily make if you have a good spice selection in your cabinet!  There are no exact measurements, but I would just go by sense of taste and smell.  Just have fun!

Barbecue Seasoning-usually salt, sugar, garlic, cayenne pepper, hickory smoke flavor, onion.

Herb Bouquet-usually thyme, parsley, and bay but you can make one using any group of herbs you’d like.  Wrap in cheesecloth, or tie herbs together with cooking twine and submerge in dish.

Cajun Seasoning-usually onion, garlic, salt, and white, black and red peppers

Dry Rub- a mix of dry herbs and spices that you rub onto your choice of meat

Five-Spice Powder-usually includes cinnamon, star anise, or anise seeds, fennel, Szechwan, or black pepper and cloves

Italian Seasoning-usually basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary, occasionally garlic and red pepper

Jamaican Jerk Seasoning-salt, sugar, allspice, thyme, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, onion, and Chile peppers

Lemon-Pepper Seasoning-salt with black pepper and dried grated lemon peel

Mexican Seasoning-usually cumin, Chile peppers, salt, onion, sweet peppers, garlic and oregano

If you want to make your own spice blends easier, or if you want to grind your own spices you can do so easily at home.  Just buy a coffee grinder!  Use it for herbs only though, as if you grind coffee it will flavor your herbs and your herbs can flavor your coffee.  After grinding store in a cool dry place like you would regular herbs.  And remember to store ground/dried spices away from the heat of your stove!

This wraps up all the posts I plan on doing on basics.  However, if anyone has any questions at all about the basics of cooking, from measuring cups, baking ware, knives, seasoning, nutrition or food safety please feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment.  I would be more than happy to answer your question!  In addition to that, if you struggle with anything in particular when it comes to cooking, or if you’ve encountered a problem, please let me know and I’ll find an answer for your problem and will add it to a post.  Next week will be an exciting tutorial on how to make boeuf bourguignon, and how to properly set a table, along with other practical dinner party hosting guidelines.



Alexis said...

I also just recently learned that you are supposed to use different cups for liquids and solids. I thought a measuring cup was a measuring cup!

Keri at Growing in His Glory said...

Nice. I really like your chart with the herbs and spices with their pictures. That's very handy to have in the kitchen when you need a quick substitute. Thanks!