When it comes to kitchen tools, Becky Selengut says she can't live without her spice grinder. In this case, the "spice grinder" is actually a repurposed Krups electric coffee grinder. "It's the best and the cheapest," said the private chef, cooking instructor, and author of cookbooks Good Fish and Shroom. Selengut uses her grinder to pulverize everything from aromatic sticks of cinnamon to cardamom pods.

"I buy almost all of my spices whole—they last longer," she said. "Once ground, they quickly lose their flavor. This sounds corny, but the act of grinding them up and the smells are part of the pleasure."

A rainbow of seeds, pods, roots, and leaves becomes the basis for Indian curries, and a mixture of fresh spices and tea leaves is used as a rub for duck. While working on her latest cookbook, Shroom, Selengut discovered something else to put in her grinder: porcini mushrooms, which she grinds into a powder and throws "on everything." It gives her shiitake-noodle salad with nuoc cham and herbs an extra umami punch.

But what if you want to use your coffee grinder for its original intended purpose? Selengut recommends having two. "Unless you like cumin coffee." recommended