Does your cooking seem a little on the bland side? Many of us have a least one spice rack from last Christmas, but how often do you really use it? Creating a well-seasoned dish does take a bit of practice, but you have to be willing to work on the basis of trial and error. Read on for a few tips that you can use when venturing into the world of herbs and spices.

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First, we will start out with using herbs. Below you'll find a list of herbs that are commonly found in store-bought spice racks, as well as examples of dishes that they compliment well. This is just a guide, so don't be afraid to experiment with the different herbs in your cupboard. With herbs, you can easily go by scent. Open up a jar—does it smell like it would go well with the dish you have in mind?

Basil: tomato sauces, pesto, vinaigrette
Bay Leaves: soups, marinades, sauces
Cardamom: pickling, but sometimes used in pastries
Celery Flakes: soups, salads, and dips
Celery Salt: pickling, potato salad, cole slaw
Coriander: pickling, meat, Oriental foods, curries
Dill Weed: soups, potatoes, fish, sauces
Italian seasoning: pizza sauce, spaghetti, lasagna
Marjoram: chicken, sausage, stew, soups, meat, potato, pizza and spaghetti sauces
Mint: lamb
Onion Salt: Italian dishes, soups, sauces
Oregano: Italian dishes, stew, soups, sauces
Parsley: potato dishes, eggs, soups, sauces
Rosemary: most roasted meat, stuffing
Sage: chicken, pork, stuffing
Thyme: meat dishes, sauces, clam chowder

Spices can be a bit trickier, as their scents are not nearly as pronounced as herbs, so you may just have to familiarize yourself to the individual flavor of each spice.

Allspice: Tastes like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Baking, roasts, soups, sauces
Cayenne Pepper: meat, chili, Mexican and Louisiana-style foods, seafood (careful—a pinch or less is enough—this stuff is hot!)
Chili Powder: chili, stews, beef (hot)
Cinnamon: baking, hot drinks (cocoa, apple cider, chai)
Cloves: baking, ham (baked), desserts, marinades
Cumin: chili, meat
Curry Powder: mixture of Indian spices (turmeric, garlic, coriander, cumin, ginger) curries, meat, poultry, seafood, Oriental and Indian dishes
Garlic Salt: sauces, meat, poultry, pasta, soup
Ginger: chutney, preserves, Oriental and Indian foods
Lemon Pepper: salads, seafood, poultry, meat
Paprika: eggs, seafood, salad dressing, sauces
Red Pepper: sauces, meat (hot)
Turmeric: curries, meat, eggs

It seems like a lot to take in, but you'll get the hang of what each herb and spice can contribute to your dishes as you become familiar with the different flavor combinations. The best way to learn to use seasonings is to create a sauce or dish that you're familiar with. Once you've accomplished the "normal" flavor, mess around to create a particular flavor that suits you. For instance, try making spaghetti sauce from scratch rather than buying the ready-made stuff in a jar. You know what spaghetti SHOULD taste like, and this one is almost a fail-safe when learning to season from scratch. All you need is a few cans of tomato puree and your spice rack. You could use "Italian seasoning" if you have it, but it's kind of a cheat as far as seasoning goes. The basics for your spaghetti herbs should include basil, oregano or marjoram (or both, if you like, however oregano is simply wild marjoram), parsley, coriander (just a little), and thyme. From the spice shelf, just throw in a bit of garlic salt to taste and you're set!

Don't be afraid to be adventurous in the kitchen; all great chefs have to start somewhere, and learning the basics of herbs and spices will give you a great foundation.