Everyone is looking for the simple things they can do to make their cooking as good as it can be, us included. For the most part, the cooking tips that make the biggest difference are practice-based: confidence in the kitchen, knife skills, sense memory. But those things take time, and sometimes what we're looking for is a quick trick that will help immediately. We've got ten of them for you today.
The quickest way to eating better tasting food is to use better ingredients. But which ones? And what does better really mean? Does it mean you have to drop a whole paycheck at the grocery store? No way, dudes. No way. We've got 10 simple ingredients that will make you a better cook, asap.
1. Good Olive Oil
You know what cheap olive oil tastes like? Oil. You know what good olive oil tastes like? Olives, flowers, sunshine.
Good olive oil doesn't have to be insanely expensive. In fact, we don't even use the ultra-expensive stuff. What you want is something somewhere in between that can still do the heavy lifting of sautéing and marinating, but also tastes good as a finishing drizzle over soups, vegetables, pasta dishes etc. What we're really into right now: California Olive Ranch's Everyday California Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
2. Good Butter
Good, European style butter will make everything from pancakes to grilled cheese to plain old bread and butter taste even better. Usually, the more yellow the butter, the better it will taste, because cow's milk turns yellow when the cows have been grazing on grass. Which is what you want. Good butter is usually a little bit more expensive than the regular stuff, but it's totally worth it. What we're really into right now: Kerrygold, Plugra and Celles Sur Belle for special occasions.
3. Kosher Salt
There is one simple, true answer to why we prefer kosher salt: it's easier to work with. The big salt crystals make it easier to pick up, control and also melt slower for more even seasoning. Some of us swear we can detect the iodine in table salt, but we'll leave that up to you. Also, table salt is still best for baking since it disperses better. The best news is: it's not expensive, so free upgrade. What we're really into right now (and forever and ever): Morton's Kosher Salt.
4. Fresh Black Pepper
The powdery, pre-ground stuff in a tin box is stale and gross. Let's all admit that. Buy some whole black peppercorns from a place that specializes in spices. Then get yourself a sturdy pepper-grinder and introduce them. Then you'll realize why nearly every recipe calls for salt AND pepper. In fact, even buying peppercorns in a grinder at the supermarket will be better than pre-ground.
5. Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs will make your food taste better almost immediately. Dried herbs have their place, but ground up, dried basil leaves will never compare to the taste of the fresh ones. Same goes for parsley, oregano, thyme, almost everything. Fresh herbs are often less expensive than dried ones, and you never have to worry that they've been sitting in the cabinet for three years.
6. Good Vinegars
Just like olive oil, the difference between good vinegar and the generic stuff is pretty staggering. This is especially true when talking about red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Your caprese salads are going to thank you. What we're really into right now: Fini Balsamic Vinegar, Pedro Romero Prestige Reserva Sherry Vinegar.
7. Dried Beans
Don't run away. We're not saying you should be using dried beans every single time you want to make chili or a burrito. But, when you're making a bean salad, a pot of beans and greens, minestrone, etc., taking the time to coax deliciousness out of dried beans is an incredibly good use of your time. As an added bonus, dried beans are usually WAY cheaper than their canned counterparts. Here's how we work with dried beans.
8. Fresh Citrus/Zest
Please, please, please hear us say this: the stuff in a bottle isn't the same as the real thing. Even the best orange juice from a bottle won't taste the same as the juice straight from the fruit. Plus, with fresh citrus, you get the added bonus of being able to use the citrus zest, which imparts the fruit's natural oils into every ounce of your dish.
9. Real Parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano
10. Homemade Stock
Not only do you get to be in control of the exact flavors, aromas, salt-level and ingredients, making stock at home is also a great way to use up leftover vegetable and kitchen scraps. Here's how we make our own stock -- we promise it's worth it.