Friday, June 22, 2012

Adding a little FLAVA FLAV

So how do you make cheap and easy meals taste expensive and complicated? Here are a few ideas:

(If you have a lot of cooking experience please skip over this since it probably comes second nature to you.)

- Aromatic vegetables: 

Onions, carrots, shallots, fennel, leeks, GARLIC, celery... Almost all dishes can be improved with some combination of the above. Saute or "sweat" (cover over low heat) them first for best flavor. Here is a great article that goes into greater detail. I always have at least onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in the house.

-Herbs and spices: (Want to know the difference? Read about it here.)

It's really easy to grow your own herbs. Just give them sun and good drainage. Most them like to have their roots dry out in between waterings, basil is an exception.) A lot of them are perennial and will give you years of nearly free flavor. You can even dry some for the winter or bring them inside during frost. I personally grow oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and lavender. I used to have a much more extensive herb garden but I'm limited to an apartment balcony now. If you have the space, grow tons! They are easy, beautiful, smell amazing, and have lots of culinary and medicinal uses. Sigh... I miss my garden...

As far as spices go: buying in bulk is definitely cheaper, if you can't use it all split it with a like-minded cook. Keep your favorite spices on hand, but don't be afraid to try a new one every now and then. Variety is the spice of life... or variety is the spice of...spices. I'm not going to list all of the spices in my cupboard but will tell you one thing I do: I add cayenne pepper to almost everything I cook. We like a little kick. I find using spices helps reduce the amount of salt required.

- Alcohol:

I'm pretty new to this but have recently discovered that it is wonderful for making a simple dish taste special. White wine for chicken/white sauce, red for beef and red sauce. Beer is used for marinating meat and chili (never tried it, but hear it's delicious). There are tons of sauces that include harder liquor like brandy, vodka, and of course rum in baking. It's really not expensive when you consider how long a bottle lasts... if you only use it for cooking, that is. ;-) Here's a helpful chart about how long it takes alcohol to "burn off"if your wondering/concerned.


Similar to wine, acids like vinegars or citrus juices perk up sauces and bring out flavor in meat. Keep several types on hand. Juices I like to keep on hand: lemon, lime, and orange. Vinegars: white, apple cider, red wine, balsamic, and rice.


Making canned/bottled sauce is something I've only dabbled in (barbeque and salad dressing are about as far as I've gotten). Store bought sauces may be cheating... but they sure are convenient and can can rescue a kitchen disaster or provide easy flavor to a good start. Some sauces I like to have on hand for cooking: soy sauce, barbeque, ketchup, mayo, several mustards, Worcestershire, Italian dressing, an a couple different hot sauces (I like Cholula, BeefyGeek likes Chipotle Tobasco.)


Don't be afraid of a little fat in your food. If you're cooking from scratch, chances are it's a lot healthier than restaurant or pre-packaged food already. You can use "healthy fats" like olive and coconut oil but they have a low smoking point so you have to be careful if sauteing or frying. Or even in the oven I have found... coating a chicken with a little olive oil before roasting... take out your smoke detector's batteries.  Again, a little goes a long way. You'd be surprised how much a pat of butter can richen up a skim milk "cream" sauce... is richen a word? Anyway... use a little first and you can always add more. Although they are technically not fats, I would include other high fat goodies here like cheese, olives, nuts, and high fat meats like bacon or pancetta. Using them sparingly as a garnish on a plain dish can really up the "yum factor"

Welp, that's about it for now. A super amateur home cooks "secrets" to flavorful home cookin'. What are your favorite ways to perk up your dinner?

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