Ready-made spice mixtures can save time, money, and are pretty useful in the kitchen. The problem is, there are more commercial spice mixes available than Brigham Young has wives. Or children. To compound everything, the quality and composition can vary considerably from one brand to another. What's a foodie to do?
Within the plethora of choices, there are three common blends that are used in a large number or recipes. With these three in your pantry, you're pretty safe when it comes to quick cooking.
Finding quality mixes is important, and expensive isn't always best. For example, I love the relatively inexpensive Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder (such pure and peppery flavor!), but can't stand the more expensive McCormick “gourmet” Madras (Yuck. Did I actually pay money for this? No link for you!).
Sorry. I haven't tried enough brands of the other two mixes to give you a recommendation. Maybe you'd like to leave your own recommendations in the comments.
Which brings us to:
There are several curry blends, from Indian to Thai. Some are mild, others are quite hot. Curry powder gives curried dishes an authentic flavor that can sometimes be hard to match if you're mixing it yourself. My current preference most everyday cooking is the Madras curry powder from Sun. (It comes in a lovely silver and white tin, not a bottle.) Perhaps you have a favorite curry blend you'd like to share.
Usually, garam masala is a mixture of cumin, coriander, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, pepper, mace and ground bay leaves. It's quite common in curries from northern India, giving the dish a mild, almost perfumed, quality rather than the more fiery and hot mixtures.
Pumpkin Pie Spice
A traditional mixture of sweet spices, usually allspice, cinnamon, clove, coriander, mace and nutmeg. As it's name implies, it's a common mixture for pumpkin pies, but it can also be used in sweet potato pie, cookies and cakes, to impart a mild kick to the otherwise sweet dish.
Photo by Piotr Bizior