We have been making this awesome Air Fryer Whole Chicken recipe by Low Carb with Jennifer. In full transparency, this is not for any dietary purpose but because we like the recipe so much and it’s super simple. Here are some tips to really make this great!
1. Use an oil with a high smoke point, like the avocado oil recommended in the recipe. This will help the chicken skin crisp up without burning or smoking before the chicken is cooked through. The same tip applies to any items you may be frying or roasting crispy.
2. Use gloves to rub the seasonings and oil onto the chicken. I prefer lab or similar gloves for cleaning and food prep because they come in different sizes versus those giant plastic food prep gloves. Gloves are great for any prep work for either hygenic purposes or to keep spices and oils from getting embedded in your fingernails.
3. Remove the giblets! This may be obvious if you’ve cooked a whole chicken or turkey before, but be sure to remove any packets that are inside the cavity (center hole) of the chicken before cooking it. You can separately cook or use those, but in this case I discard them.
4. Pat it dry! Pat your chicken (and any proteins) dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture before prepping and cooking. This will keep your meat from getting soggy when it cooks.
5. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness in the thickest part and/or center of your chicken (breast and thigh at 165 on a whole chicken). This is an easy way to check for doneness without any cutting or any other sort of more uncertain technique.
If you’ve already rounded out the basics in your kitchen and acquired kitchen shears, you might be wondering what other items would help you level up your kitchen to achieve a wow factor. Here are my top five affordable items that have both practical applications and give the impression you have it all together in your kitchen.
1. Automatic wine opener – This little baby is one of my favorite kitchen tools. Most wine accessories give off an impressive air, but this one avoids some of the pretention and helps you avoid looking like a fool using a different opener.
2. Spoon rest – I went years thinking spoon rests weren’t necessary. What better would they be versus a plate or say, your plain old countertop? Turns out they can be super useful as long as you get one you will use! In my case I needed to get a large enough spoon rest to hold my cooking utensils and ladles, and I prefer stainless steel because it is easier to clean or avoid staining.
3. Toaster oven – I grew up with toaster ovens rather than a traditional toaster. While they typically take a little longer than a regular toaster for plain bread, a toaster oven has so many more functions and uses. You can make regular toast, cheesy or messy toast, bake cookies, roast vegetabls, broil, and so much more! Also, how does one even fit fancy bread into a traiditional toaster?? (rolls, croissants, thick cut, etc.) I’ve converted multiple friends, roommates, and family members to devoted toaster oven fans.
4. Food scale – Food scales are super helpful if you’re practicing recipes or do any baking. They help you understand approximate measures, portions, or how to scale your preparations to the ingredients you have on hand (e.g., you have 2 lbs of potatoes and not 5). For baking, it also helps with accuracy, as most recipes are developed with scaling or weighting of ingredients rather than measuring cups. If your flour settles, or maybe your eggs are large, your recipe will be just a tad off. The scale is also super helpful if you have any international recipes using different metrics.
5. Ingredients for a fancy cocktail – Hone in on your favorite drink of choice and get a few “fancy” ingredients to make that happen, alcoholic or not. You don’t need to stock up on a full bar to make a quality and impressive drink. Just one of something like bitters, vermouth, or a fancy soda can go a long way across multiple combinations.
I would recommend a good non-stick pan or a cast iron pan. These are very versatile and can be used to get a good sear on a lot of foods. A 12″ pan will get you the most use, but a smaller one (6-8″) is great for just eggs. For non-stick, it doesn’t need to be expensive but make sure not to get a really old one to ensure it doesn’t have chemical issues.
2. A chef’s knife and knife sharpener
A standard chef’s knife is the most versatile and best value. Nowadays you can also get very affordable knife sets if you are looking for additional sizes and types! Look out for sales or check out places like TJ Maxx for big discounts on the bigger name brands. No matter how many knives you have, make sure to get a knife sharpener and try to sharpen it every time you use it. Knives work so much better and are actually safer when sharp because they slip when dull. The sharpeners that have grooves to drag the knives through are easier to use versus the traditional steels (long sticks).
3. A meat thermometer
A meat thermometer is an overlooked secret to ensuring your meat is done to your liking and/or proper safe temperature. You can check for doneness without cutting into the meat or trying to check juice colors or other more difficult factors.
4. Caffeinated beverage maker of your choice
If you are a regular coffee or tea drinker, learn to make your basics or even your fancy favorites at home! This is so much cheaper and faster than buying this everyday, and you can customize whatever you want! My favorite feature is that I can program mine to run at a certain time so I can set it up the night before and wake up to fresh coffee. This should be something you get everyday use from, whether this is a coffee maker, espresso pod machine, french press, tea kettle, tea organizer, or more.
5. Towels. Plenty of them.
I’m glad to say everyone I know now generally has a few towels in their kitchen for drying hands, dishes, etc. Additional towels are helpful for cleaning (I use a completely different microfiber style), rotating them out for laundry, or quickly wiping up spills. Don’t live like a college student with a single dish towel in your entire home.
I used to hate cooking bacon. I needed a really large pan or griddle, it made a huge mess of splattered and leftover grease to clean up, and there were only so many pieces you could cook at a time if you had a group to feed.
Enter oven-baked sheet pan bacon. You need to be doing this unless you have some kind of industrial flat-top in your home kitchen or don’t have an oven at all. Cooking bacon in the oven is much more efficient and requires less cleanup.
Set your oven to 400 degrees (F). It’s fine if it doesn’t preheat all the way before you put the bacon in, similar to letting bacon or sausage start in a cool pan.
Take your sheet pan and line it with aluminum foil, then a layer of parchment paper. If you don’t have the latter, it’s okay to go without but I think the parchment makes the bacon a little crispier. Note that a sheet pan has sides in order to catch the grease (do not use an open cookie sheet). The foil doesn’t have to completely cover the pan but should also form a little tray inside to catch the grease. You can skip the foil entirely but will have more cleanup.
Lay your desired number of bacon strips out flat on your pan until full. You can fill multiple trays as needed depending how much bacon you need and the number of pans you own. You can use any metal pan with sides you have (jelly roll, sheet pan, a rectangular cake pan even).
Put the bacon in the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. Depending on the brand and thickness of bacon, this typically takes 15-25 minutes to cook. Remove the bacon from the oven when done to your liking, then move the bacon to another plate to drain the excess grease.
Let the pan cool (the grease may solidify), then dispose of the foil and parchment by removing the edges and rolling it up. Your cleanup is done, and you’ve made plenty of bacon!
Our favorite bacon brand is Nueske’s, which you can find in a couple grocery stores or butcher shops locally (for those of you in ATL, I’ve found it at Buford Highway Farmer’s Market and New York Butcher Shoppe). The taste is really excellent and the bacon is much leaner with less shrinkage versus other brands. You can otherwise order it online from their website. I typically order a lot of items and freeze some if ordering since the shipping is on the pricey side to cover the 2-day shipping with refrigeration packs. If I need to grab bacon at my local Publix, I typically pick up the Wright brand bacon.
In my adult life, I receive an unusual amount of compliments on my rice from other people. Glad to see my daily childhood chore has paid off! If you weren’t so lucky to have 10+ years of practicing this daily (and getting it thoroughly inspected and approved by your mother), read on to learn a few tips and tricks for getting the fluffy, perfect rice you desire.
Wash Your Rice
I think this is the single most important differentatior for getting great rice versus just good rice. I wash mine once, but some people and specific recipes will call for a double wash. Washing rice really refers to rinsing it. This removes some of the excess starch on the outside of the rice grains, allowing it to cook more evenly and preventing the starch from forming a gummy paste in your pot that makes the rice mushy.
To wash your rice, measure out the amount you need and place it in your rice cooker insert or cooking pot. Run cold water over it until your rice is covered, 1-2 inches above is fine and this doesn’t need to be exact. Swirl the whole pot around with your hand about 5-8 times. Carefully pour off the starchy, cloudy water. You don’t need perfection here either, since you’ll just be adding more water anyway to cook the rice.
Add the Right Amount of Water
I won’t lie here, adding water to rice without measuring may be my superhuman power that comes from decades of doing this by eye. For a standard size rice cooker (7-9 inches in diameter), my mom’s rule is your water should be a “knuckle” above the rice. Of course, my knuckles are an entirely different size than my mom’s, so this really averages out to about a 1-inch depth of water above the rice.
When in doubt, reference the back of the rice bag. Most of them use a 1.25 or 1.5:1 ratio of water to rice, depending on the type. Use a measuring cup or scoop to get the recommended proportions. Remember that it is easier to add more water and cook it longer than to undo watery or mushy rice.
Add some buffer time to the end of your rice cooking time (typically 25-35 minutes). This will let you extend the cook time if needed, but I also like to let it sit with the power or heat off for a few minutes to get cool enough to eat and redistribute the excess steam or condensation in the cooking pot. Kind of like resting your meats before you slice them. If you use a pot on the stove instead of a rice cooker, the resting steam will also help naturally release the rice from the sides of the pot.
Learn About Other Tyupes of Rice
The most common type of rice is long grain rice. The longer grains hold less moisture than other varieties and that “dryer” consistency makes it really versatile for multiple cuisines. This is the rice you will most often receive from an Asian restaurant. The problem with this is that it also dries out the fastest. As in, is terrible left over.
I typically buy medium grain or Calrose rice. The shorter grains absorb more moisture, so it is a bit stickier or chewier in texture than long grain, which I love (think more like sushi rice). I prefer the texture, but the rice will also retain that moisture longer when kept leftover. You can reheat medium grain rice (plain or with a little water sprinkled on) and it will keep for a few days. You can find this in most grocery stores, though it may be in the Asian section rather than the rice and pasta section (Kroger does offer store brand medium grain rice, Publix does not). In my opinion, leftover long grain rice can really only be repurposed into fried rice.
Final Note: Rice Cookers
If you eat rice regularly and can afford the expense and storage, consider investing in a rice cooker. Pretty much every household I know of that eats rice reguarly (daily in some cases) has one. There is a lot less risk of burning or drying out your rice. I’ve made rice on the stovetop less than 5 times my entire life and did not enjoy watching it boil, then simmer, then try to fluff it off the pot. Rice cookers are much easier to use and you can use a lot of the newer versions for other purposes such as steaming, or the functionality may be part of something very multi-purpose like an InstaPot. I’ve had this Aroma brand rice cooker for several years. We got it through a rewards program redemption but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well it works. and it works pretty well. The Zojirushi rice cookers are also highly rated at a slightly higher price point.
I love my kitchen shears, or kitchen scissors. These are scissors specifically for use in the kitchen, and they are one of my top used kitchen accessories. As long as I can remember, this is also something my mom has always had on hand, so they must be good!
What are kitchen shears?
Generally speaking, these are scissors designed especially for the kitchen. The blades tend to be sturdier than standard scissors, and the blades and handles are typically equal size. Most of them come apart for easy washing. Some may have extra features like an herb stripper or bottle opener built in. You will want to keep these with your kitchen supplies and avoid using them like regular scissors (opening food wrappers is fine, but avoid regular use on things like paper and boxes).
Where do I get kitchen shears?
You can purchase a pair online or at any home or kitchen store. This Kitchen Aid pair is highly rated on Amazon, and this fancier pair at Williams Sonoma. They often also come included with a knife set, so you may already have a pair at your disposal! I prefer the kind that are more like scissors rather than a spring-loaded garden snipper.
What do I use these for?
Cutting herbs or fine garnishes. I use kitchen shears to cut up a single green onion, or a little bit of herbs like parsley as a garnish. They provide enough dexterity to get a fine chop and avoid having to get out a knife and cutting board if you haven’t already used one. You will want to chiffonade your herbs still, which means roll them into a little tube and then snip off small bits from one end.
Cutting pizza. Geoff thought I was crazy that I cut my pizza with scissors instead of a pizza cutter. However, at 5’1″ I get pretty much zero leverage to push weight into a rolling pizza cutter and don’t find them particularly effective. The shears let you cut it across and also cut off smaller pieces and slivers as needed when you don’t quite want a whole extra piece.
Cutting food into smaller pieces. At every dim sum restaurant (Chinese tapas/small plates), if you ask them to cut or divvy up your dish, the employee will bust out a pair of kitchen shears and snip all the bao, shu mai, hom soy gok, etc. right in half for you. You can pretty much do the same thing for any food soft enough to be cut. This is great for quickly cutting up food from directly above its current plate or bowl, when you may not have the luxury of a good knife angle or transferring to a cutting board. A lot of people also use this for toddlers to cut their meal up smaller for easier eating and reducing choking hazards.
Cutting meat into bite-sized or stir fry pieces. Shears are fantastic for cutting up bacon – no stringy pieces, no stretching, no getting stuck to a cutting board. I hold a few slices at a time in one hand and snip directly into the pan or a prep bowl. I also cut up raw chicken with kitchen shears for soup, stir-fry, or even just trimming off weird fat or cartilage. I find the shears easier to handle than a knife in this case. You will want to use a knife if the size or shape needs to be more exact (e.g., thin slices, perfectly even dice), and you can slightly freeze or thoroughly chill your protein in this case for easier handling.
Trimming fresh flowers. I use my kitchen shears to trim flowers when putting them in a vase arrangement. They work on all but the toughest, woodiest of stems – most are like a vegetable! I don’t, however, use kitchen shears for my patio garden and use garden shears for that purpose.
And there you have it! Go forth and conquer with your kitchen shears.
I am a big sucker for ads and have already made a list of 50+ things I saw online and was swayed to buy or try based on the advertisement, Instagram account, Buzzfeed article, etc. I’ll eventually share out my best of best but since I’ve been on a cooking kick, I wanted to share my review of Home Chef.
Home Chef is a meal kit delivery service, and you’ve likely seen this promoted if you follow any sort of other popular lifestyle or fashion bloggers. With this service, you receive the raw ingredients to cook a meal yourself. I am not a Home Chef partner, and in no way receive any benefits or profits by sharing this review. I signed up for an account with a promo code for something like $90 off my first four orders ($15 off per week) last fall around mid-October.
Home Chef meals start at $8.99 per serving and can go up or down depending on how many portions you order and any customizations such as type of protein. Their website currently indicates you need to order $49.95 as a weekly minimum (when I tried the service, you could go lower but had to pay for shipping under a certain threshold). I tried Home Chef over about 6 weeks, placing 3 weekly orders with each order comprising 3 different meals for 2 people (week 3 below had 1 meal cancelled due to stock items, which they notified me of promptly).
The Food Itself: Everything we tried tasted good, and was not overly difficult to prepare. The portion sizes are plenty filling for adults. The proteins are satisfying for adult eaters (I was initially worried if it would really feed Geoff adequately), but you will not have any leftovers. They all come vacuum sealed and are stay very moist once prepared If you’ve struggled to use all of an ingredient, these will come pre-portioned with just the amount you need (e.g., one green onion, one packet of sauce, 1/2 cup of rice) to help avoid food waste or paying for more than you need. The only items you are expected to have at home are really salt, pepper, and cooking spray or oil.
Menu Variety: Home Chef offers 20+ options on their menu per week. As a “picky gourmet,” I could pretty easily select meals that sounded tasty. There is a good variety of different cuisines without anything being too crazy. Home Chef makes it easy to sort and filter based on factors like dietary preferences or difficulty level. You can change the protein for nearly every meal, but there may be a cost difference for major upgrades (e.g., chicken to steak or seafood). Home Chef has also several add-on items like bread, salad, and dessert.
Online Menu: The online menu has great pictures, and you can preview the instructions and ingredients for each meal. You can view at least 4 weeks’ worth of menus in advance, which is super helpful to plan ahead as well as potentially plan any skip deliveries.
Flexible Scheduling and Convenience: Home Chef offers very flexible scheduling. It’s as easy as advertised to skip weeks or customize your order without any hidden costs or penalties. You can select your delivery day for each order. All of this is easily accessible via the website or mobile app, and you can customize email reminders as well. You also know you’ll have everything you need (or the advance notification to make a meal sub), versus the occasional miss or replacement from normal grocery delivery.
Cost: Home Chef (and most meal kit services) is cheaper than eating out or ordering takeout, but for most people probably costs significantly more than doing it all yourself. If you are spending a lot eating out, just getting into cooking more, or want variety for every meal it is a fair option to try. It is more flexible to try versus other services and they run great intro deal for new customers. You will save money on certain items if you find yourself buying a lot of herbs, condiments, or spices for the first time or one-time use (for me, it’s things like an entire container of goat cheese). At the cost per serving of Home Chef, I can probably get twice as much or more food doing the prep myself and I personally love leftovers. I found the price of Home Chef pretty fair with the promo code, but a little expensive once that ended. My local grocery stores also offer their own meal kits or prepared meats that are more affordable, and I live two blocks away from a Publix.
Level of Effort: Most of the meals I ordered were not particularly complex, but a lot of them still took 30-45 minutes to prepare or require a multiple pans. As someone who is pretty familiar with the kitchen, I honestly thought some of these would be a little simpler or easier. Granted, you can select easier meals and their oven-ready meals are super simple (dump everything in a pan and bake). There were more steps involved than I had anticipated for some of the more average meals, and at the same thing, some things I would have liked to learn (e.g., demiglace steak sauce) came already prepared in a packet. If you are newer to cooking, it is a good learning experience but it might take longer to prepare depending how much prep there is for the vegetables or starches in your meal.
Plastic: By nature of being a mail-order meal kit, almost every ingredient comes individually wrapped or packaged. This is convenient to skip measuring and shopping, but feels very wasteful in the amount of trash and recylcable materials you have for one meal. Think of a salad kit in a bag or the way airplane meals are wrapped. The shipments also arrive in a well insulated box with gel ice packs that you also have to dispose of.
The food quality and convenience of Home Chef is great. It’s a good introduction to cooking and trying new meals you may not have prepared before. Two big takeaways for me were the appropriate amount of ingredients you really need for two people, and that you should definitely bake chicken breasts with some sort of cream-based sauce and a crunchy chip crumbles on top.
However, the cost can start to add up if you have prior experience budgeting and doing your own cooking. I honestly am not even the best grocery budgeter, and I think there are a lof of more cost effective alternatives, such as your grocery stores’ meal kit offerings as well as a good blog or cookbook on easy meals. I personally would rather get a better value out of my own cooking and use the savings on a really nice meal either at home or at a restaurant.
So, while I enjoyed my trial of Home Chef for a few weeks, once my promo ended I cancelled my account and haven’t reactivated it. If you want to give it your own try, be sure to search for a good promo code first and use it upon sign-up during account creation! You can also see the cost update live as you pick and choose different meals for each order to compare directly to what you spend now.
I’m on a roll with kitchen hacks right now, and it wouldn’t feel right to share my garlic tricks without also giving some love to ginger.
Ginger, or ginger root (since this is the root part of the plant), is commonly used for food and some medicinal purposes. You can buy ginger in powdered form, which has great uses for seasoning savory dishes as well as desserts. I’m specifically going to talk about fresh ginger, which has a much stronger and pungent flavor. It packs a big kick in stir-fry dishes as well as directly garnishing or accompanying foods like dumplings (especially xiao long bao).
At the grocery store, you’ll find ginger in the produce section. Usually I find it on a refrigerated shelf near something like green onions, herbs, or peppers, though occasionally they might be off on their own near the garlic and onions. It might be a small bin but your average chain store should carry it.
Most grocery stores sell ginger by weight rather than per piece, and I’ve never needed more than 1-3 tablespoons in a single recipe. Don’t buy an entire piece straight off the shelf that is the size of your hand. Pick out a piece that doesn’t look dried out and is not super skinny. Find a chunk or branch that is 1-2 inches in diameter, then snap off a piece about 3 inches long. Let it snap naturally where it branches if it’s a little larger than I just described. Aim for about the size of a fun size Halloween Snickers or half a sausage/hot dog link to get 1-2 tablespoons of ginger.
Fresh ginger will dry out after a couple days, whether at room temp or in the refrigerator, so buy it within a day or two of when you plan to use it. If you’ve got too much or like to keep fresh ginger on hand, you can peel chunks of fresh ginger and then store it in a glass container submerged in a clear liquor like vodka or gin. I have just a couple pieces in a small container right now, but you could do a whole jar.
Keep this in the fridge for future use. The ginger will lose a little color but the flavor and texture will last. I’m not actually sure I’ve ever seen this go bad, so you can keep it for at least several months. I would recommend a fresh piece when using as a direct garnish, but haven’t noticed a loss in quality when you’re cooking with the preserved ginger. You can also use the ginger-infused alcohol later for cocktails if you’d like.
Peel ginger using a spoon. Just your average spoon, either a teaspoon or tablespoon that you can manuever around the piece of ginger (ideally not a serving or cooking spoon as they are a little large to handle). Turn the spoon so it is facing down against the garlic, then drag it across your ginger (either toward or away from you) in a similar motion as a regularvegetable peeler. The edge of the spoon is sharp enough to remove the skin, and is easier to control over the curves and knots than a vegetable peeler or knife. I find the spoon method a lot easier to control and less wasteful for getting around the edges and knobs of the ginger.
I completely forgot to get ginger at the grocery store to demo this live, so here’s a ginger peeling video how-to of this on YouTube from That Clean Life. Enjoy!
Garlic and ginger are my superstar fresh ingredients. I almost always add extra fresh garlic or fresh ginger to a dish (50-100% more…). Unless these are in the actual name of the dish such as”40 garlic clove chicken” or “ginger pork,” I personally prefer more, especially for marinades, pastas, and dumplings! For anyone newer to cooking, try recipes as written first before making modifications to your specific tastes and preferences.
Here are my top hacks for prepping garlic!
You can buy pre-peeled garlic cloves or garlic paste, but I think fresh tastes better. Plus you can store garlic bulbs at room temperature for quite awhile versus using up fridge space. I keep a couple onions and garlic bulbs in a wire basket in my pantry.
You will need a cutting board and a chef’s knife. If you’ve never used fresh garlic, first tear into the papery outer layers (just grab the stem, twist, and tear) to remove the outer layers and separate the individual cloves you need. Then trim the bottom hard end off each clove, straight through the peel. If your knife doesn’t go all the way through the peel, hold your knife in place on the cutting board and lift the clove up to separate them. It’s okay if some the peel comes off in this step.
If your cutting board moves at all, set it on a damp towel to keep it in place. Then, lay your knife blade as flat as you can over one clove while keeping the blade against the cutting board. The garlic should be around center or toward the larger end of the knife.
Hold the top of the knife handle with your non-dominant hand to keep it steady. Do not grip it – no fingers should be between the knife and cutting board. Line the palm of your opposite hand up over the garlic and the dull side of the knife. Give this a good push with the palm of your hand to crack open the garlic clove. You can give it a pretty healthy smash but don’t pulverize it unless you want crushed garlic paste. I don’t draw my hand back to build up momentum, but get most of the force from the weight of the knife and leaning some of my body weight into my palm.
Set your knife aside. Grab the garlic by the tail-like top piece of peel, give it a small wiggle, and pull. The peel should easily separate from the rest of the clove (if not, whack it again). Your garlic is ready to chop or use!
If you really hate mincing garlic, crush the cloves through a garlic press instead (and for a whole ton you can run them through a food processor or blender).
This tip comes from my mom. To get the garlic smell off your hands, you don’t need one of those fancy metal “garlic soap bars.” You can rub your fingers on anything convenient made of stainless steel and then wash them with soap. I like to use the kitchen sink itself when possible, or you can use a utensil, cooking spoon, or pan – whatever you have out already is great. Make sure to get the skin right at and under your fingernails as well.
And that’s it! Next up I’ll share a few tips on fresh ginger.
Moving on from seasoning, here are my starter tips for other ingredients that add flavor to your food (things that aren’t spices).
I’m going to borrow some categorization from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. In all honesty, I haven’t done a deep dive into the actual cookbook, but t’s a great simple way to remember your flavor elements. As in, maybe you have your seasoning blend down but something isn’t quite right with your dish.
Salt. Okay, so this is still a seasoning but it’s the most important one and worth mentioning a second time. Salt and taste your food as you cook! Use a light hand to start, because it’s easy to add more but near impossible to take away salt. Feel free to salt to your taste as you learn what you like. I personally salt almost everything with a light hand except for potatoes.
It’s important to layer your salt as you cook and to season different components of your dish. It takes time to meld the flavors and your food will taste the best this way. It’s kind of like origami, where careful steps along the way pay off in a better overall result at the end. This means season your raw meat. If you have a sauté of onions or a sauce base, season that too, separately from the meat. Taste it once combined and salt again if needed. Skipping those separate steps and adding salt only at the end won’t be the same.
There are other ingredients to incorporate salt into food besides just salt, such as soy sauce, feta cheese, salted butter, or prepared ingredients like canned foods or chicken broth. Recipes will usually account for salty ingredients, but keep that in mind if you’re experimenting on your own.
Fat. Honestly for a lot of foods you can get away with just salt and fat to taste pretty good. Salt and butter are a big reason why restaurant food tastes so much better. Try adding a little butter (a tablespoon) to savory dishes – to finish a sauce, or over something like rice or vegetables. You can incorporate fat into your food via ingredients (mayo, butter), cooking method, or components (cream sauce) (see infographic here from NPR).
I’m going to focus on cooking with the right kind of fat. Olive oil is a pretty good all purpose ingredient, but canola and avocado oil have higher smoke points. This means they take longer to burn. So if you are deep frying or even just browning something that needs a nice sear, you will want to use one of those over olive oil or your pan may start smoking before you have the result you want. If your food will easily absorb the fat flavor when cooking, such as eggs or shrimp, consider using a mix of oil and butter or just butter. For a buttery option at higher heat (e.g., hash browns), you can use clarified butter or ghee, which have the milk solids removed and have a higher smoke point than regular butter.
Acid. This is the secret flavor ingredient that sometimes is hard to even place exists in a dish. A dash of lemon juice or red wine vinegar is a great way to add final pizazz and depth to a savory dish. If you’ve never tried this, I would start with something like squeezing lemon juice over something that is generally “garlic and herb” flavored like chicken or risotto. A splash of red wine vinegar or wine is great to enrich the flavor of pan sauces. In a saute pan, this also doubles as a trick to deglaze or unstick any meat bits (fond) off the pan, which adds even more flavor to your meal and makes cleanup easier.
Heat. I won’t get too in depth here, but your cooking method also imparts flavor to your food. For example, roasting, grilling, smoking, or browning instead of boiling (think of oven roasted potatoes or grilled veggies instead of the boiled version of each). This too can happen in layers – are you sauteing, caramelizing, or toasting any individual ingredients before they go in the pan? A key flavor component of many braised dishes like short rib or a pot roast comes from searing (browning) the meat first before letting it simmer slowly.
Combining it all together. The risotto in the featured image at the top of the page is a great example of layering all these components together for maximum effect. Most risottos start with sauteing your aromatics (which I’ll cover later) like shallots and garlic, then adding the raw rice to let it brown or toast in the pan. The risotto gains flavor and salt through absorbing broth and other cooking liquids (e.g., I separately saute shrimp or mushrooms and pour that liquid into the pot). The risotto gets finished with salt and pepper, butter, a little parmesan or marscapone cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice, and red pepper flakes. Bon appetit!