How to make food go from just ok to good

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As a new cook you’ve probably got one burning question – how do I get my food to go from just ok to being really good? Well, there are plenty of answers to that question, but the answer really lies in your levels of skill and creativity.

But before you click away because you think you have no skills or creativity in cooking, read on. Today I’m going to share with you some of the most basic skills and techniques to give you those levels of skill and creativity that can boost your meals from being just ok to awesome.

Tip 1 – Have a clean kitchen

A clean kitchen helps you to not only be organised, but it also means you food will taste like it’s supposed to. A dirty knife or a dirty chopping board can mean that one food starts to taste like another when you don’t want that. For instance, onion is usually used at the beginning of a dish but if you chop the rest of the milder vegetables using the chopping board you used for the onions you’ll impart the strong onion scent into the other veg and throw out the taste of your meal. A quick rinse between chopping the onion and the other veg will make the difference. The same applies when you cut something that is extra juicy (like tomatoes), extra sticky (like dates), extra soft (like a ripe avocado) or extra gritty (like a head of broccoli). A quick clean can give you the meal you wanted to make not the one it ended up being.

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Tip 2 – Improve your chopping skills

The one job you’ll have to do consistently when cooking for yourself is chopping. You’ll have to chop onions, garlic, vegetables, potatoes, or whatever else you need for a meal. One of the best ways to make a meal go from ok to good is to make sure that everything is chopped to the same size. If you can’t get perfect flat founds of potato or zucchini then use a mandolin (get one with the finger guard or you’ll cut your fingers to shreds!), or practice, practice, practice your chopping skills until you can do it. Practice makes perfect and that’s how I managed to go from doorstop sized pieces of potato to thin discs of potato. It might seem too hard now, but with practice (and a really good dash of patience) you’ll get there too.

Tip 3 – Add salt

Every piece of chef’s advice you’ll find on the internet to home cooks says to add salt – and I totally agree! If you’re cooking with fresh ingredients they don’t naturally come salted. But if you’re cooking with processed and packaged goods you don’t need to add the salt, or at least as much as you need to add to fresh foods. The trick is to put a little but of salt in as the food cooks and then right before you serve the meal taste it and add a bit more if the meal needs it. Don’t add a lot because then you’ll have ruined the dish – but a small amount of salt makes the difference in taste between an ok dish and a really good dish.

Tip 4 – Use fresh ingredients

All the best chefs recommend using fresh ingredients, and all the best dietitians tell us to eat more fresh foods – so ditch the processed stuff and get some real food! What does this mean? It means roasting your own beetroot, making your own steak sauce, combining your own salad dressing and creating a meal from scratch using ingredients that come from nature. I think it’s okay to use canned foods as long as they only contain the food item plus water or brine (such as diced tomatoes or a can of beans). Don’t use anything that contains more than 5 ingredients a a general rule and always limit the amount of packaged food you use. [It’s okay to use bottle tomato sauce but learn how to make your own pasta sauce instead!].

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Tip 5 – Notice the patterns

After you start reading and following recipes you’ll start to notice the same patterns. Usually a dish on the stove will start by cooking the onions and garlic in the pan before you add the protein and sauce. You’ll usually see that dairy products are added at the end of the meal, but spices are added at the beginning and often fried in the pan before liquid is added. Meat needs to be rested (let to finish cooking on a plate on the bench before you serve it). Once you notice these patterns you’ll begin to understand where you’re making mistakes and you can correct them easily.

So next time you want to turn your average meal into an awesome one, keep these ideas in mind. Do you have any other tips and tricks for making awesome meals? Be sure to leave a comment below if you do.

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