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A spice collection makes a great gift

Are you frantically looking for the perfect gift to mark a wedding, an anniversary or a graduation? Relax. You'll find a great idea in your local supermarket _ a personalized collection of spices. The spices you choose will depend on whether you're giving them to a beginner or a gourmet cook.

For new cooks, the basics are probably best. According to the American Spice Trade Association, the 10 most popular spices in the United States are black pepper, garlic (minced and powdered), seasoned salt, oregano, onion (minced and powdered), cinnamon, chili powder, paprika, parsley flakes and nutmeg.

Novice cooks might also appreciate seasoning blends that save them from buying countless containers of individual spices. Italian seasoning, chili powder, curry powder, salad seasoning, poultry seasoning and barbecue seasoning are handy, well-balanced spice combinations that need few other ingredients added for flavor.

For gourmet cooks, think about any strong interests. It helps to know if they specialize in a certain cuisine.

For lovers of Mexican food, include a container of chili powder, some cumin, oregano and cilantro.If Indian food is their "thing," add ginger, coriander, cumin and curry powder (the "Indian" blend of these and other spices). Should their passion be pasta, be sure to add basil, garlic powder, oregano and Italian seasoning.

Once you've made your selection, take some time to package the spices attractively:

Arrange the containers in a spice rack and leave room for adding more.

Place baking seeds, such as sesame, poppy and caraway and your favorite bread recipes in an attractive breadbasket with a colorful napkin.

Fill a salad bowl with seasonings, such as dillweed, tarragon, onion and garlic powders, parsley flakes, dry mustard or a salad seasoning blend. Add jars of spiced vinegar, a bottle of salad oil and a pepper mill.

Present the "sweet" spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice, in a distinctive cake pan or mold with a set of measuring cups and spoons. You can also add a set of pastry tubes for fancy frosting flourishes.

Finally, to make your spice gift very personal, include a few family recipes or a favorite cookbook.