Spices and seasonings can take a dish from being as plain as cardboard to (almost) literally out of this world. Spices were discovered and have been used for hundreds of years in a number of combinations that is unfathomable. The world of spices is wide open to explore, but we as Americans have been trained to use recipes to prepare dishes and most of the time we are scared to stray. This can cause a problem when we want to try a new spice or seasoning, but do not know the proper way to use it.
Unlike most Americans, other cultures around the world do not seem to be so intimidated using spices, chiles and dried herbs. Many of these other cultures have grown up helping out in the kitchen and have no problem cooking by adding a pinch of this spice or a dash of that spice. Americans on the other hand tend to be much more apprehensive about making a mistake in the kitchen. Master these few "rules" and you'll have much more confidence in experimenting and getting the most out of your spice cabinet.
You don't want to overpower the food with spices you want to enhance its flavors, so except in a very few instances you want to use herbs and spices sparingly.
Remember the ½ Rule - Start off with 1/2 teaspoon of spice for any dish that serves four to six people. And for herbs, use 1/2 teaspoon for powders and 1-1/2 teaspoon for dried or chopped.
Let Flavors Marry - During the preparation of salad dressings, blend the ingredients of the salad with the seasonings several hours before they are needed and then refrigerate. This allows the flavors to bond.
Chile Peppers are HOT! - Don't underestimate the potency of red peppers or any spice blends with red pepper (or any chile pepper) in them, as at first their tastes usually appear somewhat mild – but their heat will sneak up on you and you don't want them to overwhelm you after two or three bites!
Dried vs Fresh - Because oils are concentrated in the drying process, it takes about half the quantity of dried herbs as fresh.
Don't Let the Flavor Disappear - It's best to add ground or cut spices and herbs around the midway point or towards the end of the cooking process, so that their flavors won't disappear. This allows the spices enough time to marry with the food.
Make Your Fish Delish - With fish you want to marinate in lemon juice and herbs and then refrigerate for several hours before cooking. You can also place the herbs across fish before steaming.
So there you have it. Once you've got these easy steps down you'll find yourself gaining in confidence and will soon be experimenting with the flavors that you most enjoy.