Cooking is hard work. Learning to cook when it’s just not your natural drive is even harder. There is much to be said for a simple home cooked meal. However, cooking is a skill that many don’t posses. Learning techniques and flavor combinations can be very overwhelming for someone with limited natural talent…or desire.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
So the question is this, what makes simple ingredients taste and look so good? What are some things you can do to elevate a bland meal without having to attend culinary school? Here are a few of my tried and true tips.
- Herbs and Spices. Herb it up! Whatever it is, you can’t go wrong throwing some thyme and garlic on it. Most people don’t add enough herbs. Don’t be afraid. Herbs like thyme, parsley, oregano and Herbes de Provence are very forgiving. When you look at a gourmet dish, doesn’t it look inviting with all those herbs? Even if you don’t know what to do, just adding some dried parsley, gives your dish a look of freshness and sophistication.
- Color. Brown and white are boring and unappetizing. You eat first with your eyes. When cooking a dish, make sure you have a variety of color. Roast a bunch of veggies together like purple onions, carrots, zucchini and red bell peppers for a gorgeous side. Add green onions to mashed potatoes to breakup the dullness.
- Vegetables and lots of them. This goes along with number 2. Vegetables add color and freshness to any meal. Mix up a variety of raw and cooked vegetables and you will have a beautiful dish.
- Marinate or brine meat. This step adds a big punch for little effort. The flavors soak and penetrate the meat, leaving it moist and flavorful. Take a gallon size ziploc bag, add meat, a couple tbsp of oil of choice, 2-3 tbsp of vinegar (apple cider vinegar, balsamic, red wine vinegar etc..) 2-3 tsp sea salt, pepper and/or spices. For an easier marinade you can find a clean salad dressing and add 1/4-1/2 cup to the bag. Let rest for at least 15 minutes. I like to divide all my meat up in bags before I freeze them so I can add marinades or seasonings then. When I am ready to cook it, the meat is already seasoned. You can skip the vinegar and just add salt and spices too. The point is, if you let your meat sit in these components, they will produce a more succulent dish. No mater how cheap the cut.
- Use gourmet cheeses. Feta, Gouda, Asiago, Parmesan…all these cheeses will add depth to any dish. Not to mention they just sound fancy. Much is not needed. A little goes along way. You can have eggs or a Spinach and Feta Frittata. A simple zucchini can be turned into delectable Herb Roasted Parmesan Zucchini Wedges. Sprinkle on almost anything and be amazed!
- Grill it. This one is a no-brainer. Anything tastes better grilled. And the beauty of those charred grill marks are exquisite!
- Experiment with gourmet add-ins. There are a handful of ingredients you can keep on hand that take something plain and heighten it’s makeup. These ingredients are: pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, olives, fresh herbs, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, butter and cream.
- Use fresh garlic. I can’t describe in words the amazing difference between fresh garlic and garlic powder. Garlic powder is just okay but freshly minced garlic is way, way better. You just have to trust me. Garlic bulbs are very inexpensive. Invest in a convenient press, and taste the difference today!
- Salt. Sea salt to be exact. Not only is it better tasting, sea salt is actually good for you. It contains a plethora of trace minerals besides just sodium. Plain white table salt has a metal like aftertaste due to the process that it goes through to remove the beneficial minerals. Real sea salt is either pink (Himalayan sea salt) or gray (Celtic sea salt) in color. If it’s white, it’s not the real deal. Some may have to adapt to its taste. However, it doesn’t take long and before you know it, you will despise the white stuff.
I hope these tips help. Incorporate one or two of these ideas into your next meal. Experiment and have fun. Happy cooking!