Thick. Rich. Golden. The natural sweetness of honey is perfect in things like tea and greek yogurt, drizzled over fruit and whisked into barbecue sauce. It adds a delicate floral flavor to whipped cream and cheese. There are so many ways to incorporate honey, but have you considered dressing your salad with it? I find the sweetness of honey pairs well with bitter greens like arugula and radicchio. You don’t even have to make a vinaigrette. Simply dress your greens with olive oil, salt, and pepper, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a healthy drizzle of honey. Add crunchy walnuts and gorgonzola cheese for a bite. The textures and flavors make for a delicious combination. So next time you decide to make a salad, push the oily, store-bought dressing aside, and reach inside your pantry for that familiar golden bear.
Cardamom, as we know it, is a seed pod. It’s intensley aromatic and is generally used in ground form, to flavor both sweet and savory dishes. Many Indian recipes will call for cardamum: black in garam masala for curries, and green in sweet dishes and chai. In my opinion, cardamom is best suited for desserts. It has floral notes, with a hint of vanilla. Try mixing a pinch or two in vanilla bean ice-cream, or in chai tea. Cardamom is great in milk as well. As part of a dessert, I like to mix honey, cardamom, and vanilla into plain milk. It even goes great with chocolate milk. Next time you’re squeezing some Hershey’s syrup into your milk, try adding a couple pinches of cardamom and a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla. It makes a world of a difference!
Whoever decided to burn sugar is a genius. From sweet sauces to savory meats to melt-in-your-mouth onions, caramelizing infuses an incredible depth of flavor AND color. Caramelized onions can heighten any dish. Use it as a topping on pizza, inside sandwiches, or even in quesadillas. Don’t like the sharp bite of raw onions? Caramelize them. All you need is a stove and a pan. Here’s a quick tip on caramelizing onions: season them with salt as soon as they hit the pan. The salt will draw out any excess liquid and speed up the cooking process. You want to develop a deep brown color and that takes time. The drier your onions are, the faster they’ll caramelize. Stay tuned for a recipe using these delicious candied roots.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way…
Boiling meat and vegetables is pretty boring. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything drier or more bland than boiled chicken. When you boil things, you end up drawing out liquid and flavor. Often times recipes will call for boiled chicken to make soups or salads or large pots of chili. Sometimes people serve boiled carrots and green beans as a side dish. But have you ever thought of roasting? I’ve said it before, but roasting really is the best way to maximize flavor. It produces moist meat and charred, flavorful vegetables. A little olive oil, salt and pepper really goes a long way. For a flavorful side-dish, try roasting vegetables like potatoes, butternut squash, or red onions. Roasted asparagus is always delicious. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees and cook until slightly charred. Instead of boiling chicken, roast it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and dice into cubes for chicken salad, or shred it with your fingers for chilies and soups. It might take a little longer, but it’s definitely worth the wait!
The weather is getting warmer, and in spite of my tendencies to cook elaborate hot meals steeped in butter and cream, I think it’s time to lighten things up a bit. Hot, rich food just doesn’t sit well in the summer. Warmer weather calls for lighter fare, grilled meats and fresh vegetables. It makes sense, really, considering that this is the time when most people remember that long forgotten place called “the gym”.
Quinoa, Couscous, and Tabouleh are some of my favorite grain-like dishes. Whether they are officially classified as “grains” is beyond me, but suffice it to say they are grain-like in texture. I like them because they’re lite, easy to prepare, and they’re the perfect vehicle for vegetables and flavorings. They can be simply dressed, in a little olive oil and lemon juice, and combined with fresh herbs like parsley or mint. In lieu of starchy sides like potatoes or pasta, try preparing these dishes instead. A little garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper go along way. Got red onions? Even better.
So next time you’re grilling a lean piece of meat, or flaky cut of fish, plate it over a bed of fragrant couscous…. or quinoa…or tabouleh. Your taste buds ( and your waistline), will be glad you did.
It’s no secret that I’m big on seasoning. Beyond anything else, the perfect seasoning can make or break your dish. It is that essential thing, like lighting to a work of art: too little, and you can’t see a thing, too much, and you’re blinded. I’ve noticed that many people don’t seem to season their pasta water appropriately, if at all. For those that don’t know, you MUST season your cooking liquid. It’s really the only chance you get to flavor the pasta itself. If you season it after it’s already cooked, the salt merely sticks to the outside of the pasta. Even the most sublime pasta sauce cannot compensate for a bland noodle. For a large pot of boiling water, I generally use about 3-4 teaspoons of salt. A basic rule of thumb (borrowed from the Italians), is that your pasta should be cooked in water as salty as the sea. Which leads me to my next point: avoid over-cooking your pasta. Not only does it damage the integrity of the noodle ( no one likes a limp noodle ), but you run the risk of reducing your cooking liquid and winding up with OVER-seasoned pasta. You want the water to be salty, not the pasta itself.
Note: For a softer seasoning, use Kosher salt.
If you didn’t go to culinary school, and you aren’t obsessed with Food Network, then you may not be aware of the fact that you should be layering your seasoning. This means, quite simply, seasoning every step of the way. Of course, many of us don’t do it, and it can be somewhat disastrous if you wind up OVER-seasoning your food. But the point is to season your food before you are done cooking, and definitely before you are about to plate it. It might be daunting at first, considering many home-cooks are afraid of over-seasoning their food, and it’s true: you can always add more salt but you can’t take it away. However, if you get into the habit of seasoning your food earlier on, you’ll notice a difference. Adding salt during the cooking process makes food taste flavorful and bold; adding it AFTERWARDS makes it taste salty. So get in the habit of seasoning in stages, tasting as you go along. It’s all about setting the groundwork for an amazing dish.
We all love tomatoes, using them in pasta sauces, soups, and even as a base for eastern curries. But have you ever felt that a sauce was too tart, too acidic, in other words, too tomatoey? Tomatoes are a naturally acidic vegetable (or fruit), and when cooked they can often taste bland and underwhelming. I find that they require a balance. Sometimes, adding a teaspoon or so of sugar can make a world of a difference. Got balsamic vinegar? Even better. The sweetness balances out the tartness and rounds out the flavor. Another way to elminate the “tomatoey” taste is by slow cooking. Roasting is an excellent way to enhance flavor. Try roasting tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, and chunks of white onions. Blend them together to create an excellent pasta sauce. If you’re making a pasta sauce over the stove, make sure to cook the tomatoes well, allowing for the herbs and seasonings to really penetrate the sauce. Tomatoes are a great base, but that’s all they are. You shouldn’t be tasting them in your dish.
For centuries, salt has been a requisite in cooking and consumption. In olden days, it was said to have been more valuable than gold. Not only was it used for preservation purposes, but it had this uncanny ability to flavor food. Scientifically speaking, adding NaCl to foods can increase the volatility of chemical compounds, resulting in a rapid release of molecules into the air. Aroma makes up nearly half of the tasting experience after-all. Salt charges foods, making them taste more like themselves, or rather, how they SHOULD taste. The biggest mistake that home cooks can make is to under-season their food. Americans seem to have an aversion to salt; maybe they’re afraid of hypertension. Regardless of the health risks, it is essential to a well-flavored, well-seasoned meal. You don’t have to eat like this everyday; I’m not your physician. But next time you taste something unbelievable at a restaurant, and you claim that you’ve never had anything like it before, ask yourself why.
Tip: For health conscious people, use sea salt instead of table salt.
Sadly, grilling season is coming to an end. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in a few barbecues here and there.
Here is a tip: when barbecuing meat, throw some lemons on the grill and squeeze them over the meat when it’s done. The lemons caramelize and their flavors intensify, giving it a bolder, sweeter juice.