quick tips for more flavor

More bang for your buck! More yummy for your money! Or, less catch-phrase-y, why the bleepity bloop should you even cook dinner if it’s not the most delicious possible version of that dinner?

  1. Brown it. Or toast it, which is a different technique with a similar result – get color and flavor on it. Before you put meat in the crockpot, brown it in a pan on the stovetop. It adds an extra step and an extra dish to wash but what it adds in flavor and texture is worth it. The same goes for vegetables – roasting in the oven or browning on the stovetop adds an extra layer of flavor compared to steaming or boiling. Toasted nuts and sesame seeds will always taste better than raw ones. Before you boil rice or oatmeal, melt a little butter or oil in the pot over medium heat and stir your grains until they get a warm, toasty smell. Bronze your bagel instead of warming it.
  2. Use liquids other than water: a splash of wine to thin out an overly-thick sauce; Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and diced then boiled until tender in just enough broth to cover them for luscious mashed potatoes that can go without cream or butter; rice steamed in broth will have an extra layer of flavor; green beans simmered in broth and soy sauce will taste amazing with an Asian-inspired salmon; a splash of coffee or vanilla in anything with chocolate.
  3. Extra garlic and onion! The pungency and size of a garlic clove or an onion are all over the place. Most likely, your recipe can handle the additional bulk and flavor of extra onion or garlic as long as you can too.
  4. Add salt throughout the cooking process – but only a little bit each time.
  5. If a recipe calls for white sugar, consider brown sugar. It might change the moisture content (depending on how much you use) and it will definitely affect the color, but the payoff is a richer, slightly smoky taste instead of the bland sweetness of white sugar. You can also use maple syrup or honey in some recipes, but be careful substituting a liquid sweetener for a dry one in recipes for baked goods.
  6. Cut the sweetness. You might prefer a dish or baked good with less sugar because the reduced sweetness allows the other flavors to shine through. But this is a tricky tip, since a recipe might not rely on sugar solely for its sweetness but also for its chemical properties. For example, baked goods can rely on sugar to add moisture, for structure or to help yeast rise, so cutting sugar can result in an inferior final product. Usually, I do some research to find a similar recipe that uses less sugar and I make my decision to cut the sweetness from there. Caveat: don’t cut the sugar from jams, jellies, or cooked candies.
  7. A tiny bit of heat from your favorite hot sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, or chili powder can go a long way to adding a layer of flavor without burning your mouth off. Just go for some background heat instead of chili-pepper- eating-contest level.
  8. If you’re baking something simple with cinnamon, you can also add other warm spices that play well with sweet. Allspice and nutmeg are a good start. Take it closer to a chai flavor with cardamom, cloves, coriander, and a little black pepper. Go the pumpkin spice route with ginger and cloves. Bonus: you’re more likely to use up the spices in your cabinet before they go bad!

how to get in the habit of making dinner every day

  1. Know that this is the right option for you.
  2. Write a meal plan. Start with just planning the next three days and work your way up to a weekly plan if it makes sense for you. Be realistic about your schedule, what you will actually eat, and any other limitations. Don’t feel you need to cook each meal from scratch right from the start – ease into it.
  3. Get your recipes together.
  4. Write a shopping list.
  5. Go grocery shopping.
  6. Make sure your food doesn’t go bad. Store it properly and use it before it spoils.
  7. Give yourself the time to prepare dinner and make it a pleasant event. I like to start with a clean kitchen, drink a glass of wine and sometimes listen to music. The kids watch TV while I cook and I refuse to feel guilty about it.
  8. Eat at the table. That way you can focus on the food you made! It’s harder to notice how it tastes and what might improve your food the next time you make it if you’re concentrating on watching TV or working. In our house we make exceptions for the Super Bowl, the World Series, Election Day and the third snow day in a row when we’re starting to go a little crazy and the only solution is an indoor picnic dinner.
  9. Refine your technique. Don’t make something again you don’t like it. If you were only lukewarm on a dish, think about how to make it better. If it took too much work, how could you make it more easily?
  10. If at all possible, have someone else clean up. You worked hard! Someone else scrape that baking dish clean!