One of the easiest ways to be a better cook is to taste as you go, asking “what could make this better?” I’ve met folks who admit that they don’t taste what they are cooking and I wonder, if you don’t taste and adjust the flavor, how do you know it’s turning out right? This is possibly one of the reasons people think they can’t cook- they are relying on a recipe instead of their own tastebuds.
If you think about it, you know how you like food to taste. You have food preferences, whether you’ve ever stopped to identify them or not. Your preferences are what make you love certain foods or tastes. Some people always add a splash of hot sauce to their food because they like spicy food. My husband loves salt- garlic salt, to be exact, and he will salt his dinner plate before even tasting a bite of food! Yes, that bugs me, but he knows how he likes his food to taste. It’s not my flavor profile but it is his, and I respect that.
To be a better cook, you need to taste and adjust the flavors in the foods you are cooking. But what are you tasting for? Good question. You’re going to adjust a few key ingredients until the food tastes the way you like it.
Start with salt- a pinch of kosher salt at a time. It’s pretty hard to go backwards after you’ve oversalted, so go slow. Why kosher salt? It has a bigger crystal, and seems to add more flavor. I prefer Morton’s Kosher salt, but many people rave about the brand Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Since I can’t buy that brand off the shelf at HEB or Walmart, I’m less inclined to use it. I did order some from Amazon to try and have decided that I prefer Morton Kosher salt. Oftentimes adding more salt will fix the flavor of the dish, but if not, try sugar.
When adjusting flavor with sugar, I usually use granulated sugar but brown sugar, honey or agave syrup can used. Adding sugar can mellow the flavor of a dish that’s just a bit acidic. A common way I use this trick is with tomato-based foods, like spaghetti sauce, marinara, or tomato soup.
If salt or sugar doesn’t quite fix it , try a bit of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar. These are acids and both work to brighten the flavor of foods. Or maybe the food needs a bit fat, such as olive oil or butter, to add richness. These are a few of the ways to work on flavor while the food cooks, but the tweaking doesn’t stop there.
After you’ve finished cooking and you are eating the meal, there is still room to evaluate the flavor profile. Ask yourself if there is anything you could add to the dish or what you would change to make it better? Then make that note- literally, write it in the cookbook or on the recipe you printed out and try the recipe again soon. This is one of the main ways to make recipes your own, as well as becoming a better cook.
With Fall officially here, it must be acknowledged that pumpkin spice is the trending flavor. It’s possible to buy pumpkin spice for your pantry, but I like to mix up a container from the 5 spices that make up what we know as “pumpkin spice”. It seems to be more fresh, and I’m able to customize the amounts of the spices I put in. Here’s my mix:Print
Pumpkin Spice Mix
Pungent, customizable, and more robust than store-bought pumpkin spice.
3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground nutmet
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
Measure and mix the spices together. Place into a tightly-lidded container and label.