Cooking is something I have always enjoyed; however, it does not come easy to everyone. I learned to cook by spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom, who was no stranger to spices and flavor. I love to play with different flavors and create new dishes from scratch. I like to take a recipe and doctor it until it’s mine. I’ve been cooking for so long, I can make a meal out of just about anything. In fact, I make some pretty awesome dishes by using the things in my fridge that are about to expire.
*An amazing sauce I made one night by combining three of my original sauce recipes
I’m sure all of us know not everyone can cook. The way I see it, there are four types of cooks. Those who can cook really well, those who think they can cook really well, those who believe they can’t cook, and those who don’t even try to cook. To me, the main difference between those who can cook and those who think they can cook is whether or not their food is bland. We’ve all the seen the memes surrounding people who only have salt and pepper in their spice cabinet.
*If you don’t get what’s wrong with this picture, then you are one of those who thinks they can cook
For those of you who are struggling to cook, who want to expand your cooking knowledge, and who can cook, but need a little help, here are my 10 cooking tips, tricks, and rules to making bomb ass food.
Salt and pepper are NOT seasonings. Yes, technically they are, but what I mean by that is that they are not something you should solely rely on. If the only seasonings you ever use is salt and pepper, you need to do some spice shopping. If you’re following a recipe, and the only seasonings are salt and pepper, add more. The number one reason food is bland is because people don’t use anything to season their food.
Garlic powder and/or onion powder are great for when you feel like a dish needs salt. It also adds more flavor than just plain salt does. When I feel that what I’m cooking needs more salt, I add onion or garlic powder first. I’m not saying you can’t ever add salt, but you may want to try one of these alternatives first; you don’t want your dish to be overwhelmingly salty.
While we are on the subject of good and bad spices, STOP USING GARLIC SALT. I have never bought garlic salt, and I have never missed it. If a dish needs garlic, I add fresh garlic or garlic powder. If a dish needs salt, well we already covered that. If you have garlic salt, throw it away! I promise you, you will not miss it. Nothing tastes more artificial to me than garlic salt. Get rid of it; you can thank me later.
Want to get some spices, but aren’t sure where to start? First off, don’t buy spice racks that come with a ton of spices; you won’t use most of them. You are better off buying your own and focusing on flavors you like. If you aren’t sure where to start, try to get a few things that are salty, earthy, and spicy. For salty, garlic powder and onion powder are great starters. When I say earthy, I’m talking about herbs. They come in a wide range, so you may have to experiment a little. Italian seasoning is a good go to. Basil and sage are two of my staples. Oregano is great for spaghetti sauce and dill is fantastic with potatoes. When I want some spice, I use red paper flakes, paprika, or cayenne. Go easy with cayenne if you haven’t cooked with it a lot; a pinch can go a long way. It’s also not a bad idea to have some Cajun seasoning blend on hand. Other great things to have on hand is cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, and ginger.
Play with your spices. Experiment with different combinations to see what flavors you like together and which ones you don’t. I know that most people have thyme in their cabinet, but I don’t like it. I love paprika, but I know others who can’t stand it. Start small; add just a pinch of this and tiny bit of that. You can always add more if you want.
Sugar is a great way to balance bitterness. I use this trick mostly for tomato sauces, especially for spaghetti. I’m not a fan of jarred spaghetti sauce, so I usually make my own using a can of tomato sauce and adding seasonings. The problem with this is that tomato sauce can be incredibly bitter, so I add a little sugar to combat this. Just adding a spoonful of sugar to a bitter dish can make a world of difference.
Buy fresh whenever you can. Fresh garlic tastes better than garlic powder. Fresh parsley is way more flavorful than dried. Fresh chicken is juicer than frozen. Fresh green beans are phenomenal compared to canned ones. The list goes on and on. When its within your ability, buy fresh ingredients. It will make your food taste a million times better.
Coconut oil makes veggies and meat taste amazing. I don’t love the taste of olive oil, but I don’t like to use too much butter when I cook. The solution? Coconut oil! Coconut oil can give the buttery taste so many of us love without the fat butter adds. Every time a recipe calls for olive oil, I use coconut instead. It adds a better flavor, and when it comes to chicken, it keeps it nice and juicy. The key is to find a brand that doesn’t taste too coconutty.
*This is the brand I use
If you need to thicken a sauce, you can use a roux. They are super easy to make; just take equal parts butter and flour (I usually start with 2 tbls of each). Melt the butter and stir in the flour, and bam! You have a perfect thickening agent. I also use this when I need cream, but all I have is milk. I just make a roux and then stir in the milk to thicken it to a consistency closer to cream. Knowing how to make a roux is a skill that has come in handy more times than you would think.
*This is what your roux should look like
Recipes are a guide, not an instruction manual. Have you ever made a recipe that sounded absolutely amazing only to have it end up being just… blah? This is when all that spice experimenting can come in handy. Take a recipe, and make it your own! Add flavors you know you like, make it a little spicy, add more than a teaspoon of salt- whatever you like! My main rule is when the recipe is at the bottom of a blog post (which we all know is the most annoying thing in the world- I just want the recipe, Susan, I don’t care about how crazy your week was) is if the post uses the words hubby and/or kiddos, add A LOT more seasoning. Second rule? If the only seasonings the recipe calls for is salt, pepper, and garlic powder, add A LOT more seasoning. I use recipes as a starting guide and then jazz them up to make them my own, which almost always ends up tasting way better.
*I promise you; it will need more than three ingredients
Bonus tip! SEASON YOUR MEAT BEFORE YOU COOK IT!!!
*If your meat looks anything like this, throw it away and try again!
Everyone can learn how to cook, you just have to know a few basics. Start with one meal and tweak it until it’s perfect. If you know someone who makes really bland food, suggest some flavor. Just have fun with it! You will be amazed by what comes out of your kitchen!