If you’ve resolved to cook more often, more skillfully, or more healthfully in 2019, The Happy Kitchen is here to help! And we know it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Big plans for roasted vegetables, homemade salad dressings, and hearty stews can quickly go out the window as other responsibilities stack up, and when you miss a recipe step, or forget to buy an ingredient, or a dish just isn’t turning out like the recipe promised, it’s easy to get discouraged.
That’s why we look for easy-to-follow recipes for our cookbook and classes, and we also hope that our cooking class participants go home feeling more confident to improvise when things don’t go as planned.
Here are a few of our favorite tips to help you think about finding great recipes, stocking your pantry, and improvising your way into more homemade meals.
- Start with what you have. Consider what you already have before you make a meal plan or grocery list. And if you’re throwing together a meal on the spot, choose one of your available ingredients and make that a focal point. Keep it simple: think stir-fries, whole grains and veggies topped with a simple sauce, soups, etc.
- Keep a well-stocked pantry—dried beans, pasta, and whole grains create a foundation for simple meals. Identify a few key flavor enhancers (soy sauce, lemons, anchovies, Dijon mustard, capers, toasted sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce, etc.), spices, and staple ingredients (olive oil, eggs, salt, pepper, etc.) and make them a regular part of your pantry.
- Know what you like. Use ingredients that already work together. For example, if you love Italian food, experiment with ingredients in that flavor family, like basil, tomato, olive oil, and Parmesan.
- Keep it balanced. Remember that the basis of creating and balancing flavor is in how you use the Five Tastes: Sweet, Sour, Salt, Bitter and Umami/Pungent. Too sweet? Try a little acid. Too bitter? A drop or two of sweet and sour can turn that around.
- Follow your nose! Scent and taste are closely related, so let your sense of smell guide you as you develop your culinary intuition and judge cooking times. The scent of toasted nuts and seeds is pleasingly nutty and aromatic at the moment they are ready…wait any longer and they will smell—and taste—burnt.
- Make a plan before you start cooking. Take stock of what’s on hand, lay out all your ingredients, and have all your cookware and tools at the ready.