The simplest dinner plan in my household is protein + pasta or rice + vegetable. We cook quite a bit, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when people compliment these straightforward meals versus more elaborate ones.
A key item to making delicious food is learning to season your food. This is really tough when you first get into cooking! I have a ton of spices, but you can buy premixed seasoning blends that will do a lot of the guesswork for you. I prefer premixed seasoning blends over preseasoned or marinated meat as those tend to be too salty for my taste or have extra preservatives in them that can affect the taste.
If you have absolutely no spices in your kitchen, start with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder as your basics. Fresh ground black pepper will have a stronger flavor. I’ve now acquired multiple versions of each, and find that Kosher salt is the most user friendly for prepping proteins. Kosher salt comes in larger, wider flakes similar in size to sesame seeds or raw sugar. The texture makes it less dense in saltiness versus table salt and easier to slowly layer in salt in your food. It’s also perceived as having a better, purer flavor versus table salt since it doesn’t contain iodine or other anti-caking ingredients. Note: you can definitely use normal salt just fine! If you use a recipe that calls for Kosher salt you will need to cut down the amount of table salt you substitute in.
My next personal staples are paprika, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, and dried basil. Added with the salt, pepper, and garlic powder these make a pretty good all purpose savory seasoning. I sprinkle these over raw seafood and meat prior to cooking. You can leave out any part you don’t like – I don’t usually put the basil on potatoes, and only do one of the hot peppers most of the time. Use a light hand on the salt and peppers, but you can pretty liberally apply the rest.
There are also lots of premixed spice or seasoning blends you can buy or mix up on your own following a recipe. If you don’t use individual spices often, the blends will ultimately save you a little money since it can be a pretty big upfront investment to purchase several. The seasoning on this air fryer rotisserie chicken recipe is pretty simple and is SO good. There are also salt free mixes that let you add salt to taste. This can be great for dietary needs and I also find without salt, it is pretty hard to overseason with these. Sprinkle them liberally over your uncooked proteins and then whatever sticks on to your food naturally will taste great.
There are endless options you can get at grocery stores, specialty food stores, or online. Here are a few of my favorite seasoning blends that we order or buy special:
Penzeys Mural of Flavor – salt free, all purpose savory herb spice blend. We got this in a sampler pack gift and used it all really quickly and bought more. It’s super good for dinner food but I’ve also put it on eggs and potatoes. If you don’t have a Penzeys store nearby, you can order online but there is a minimum to get to free shipping.
Penzeys Sandwich Sprinkle – salted, similar to a cheese herb garlic salt. I like to add this one to pasta with butter, or over veggies like broccoli to oven roast.
Williams Sonoma Lemon Potlach – salted, specifically the lemon version (there is a regular potlactch). WS makes a bunch of these and we’ve gotten a few as gifts that have been fun to try out. They are all pretty good but this one stands out as our favorite and has been amazing on salmon.
That wraps up my starter tips for getting into cooking and seasoning your food. Once you get a sense of what tastes good together, feel free to play around with spices, or reference recipes and Google to see what kind of mix and match works well!