Welcome to the last installment to My Cooking Journey Series! The theme of this article is to show you that you don’t need fancy and expensive ingredients and equipment to get great tasting food. Of course, taste is subjective, but for this article, you’re going to have to trust me — friends and family — when I say I can make some great tasting dishes! Let’s get cooking.
Buy fresh produce (and freeze if needed)
Fresh produce is always going to be better, healthier, fresher, and tastier than frozen food. There are a bunch of studies done by food scientists explaining why — so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail there. So now I will say — buy fresh! It’s been my experience that fresh produce and frozen produce costs almost the same.
If you feel like you are not going to be able to use what you have in time, then go ahead and freeze it appropriately, but don’t buy it frozen. When you directly buy frozen items, you have no clue when it was last frozen, and the process (preservatives) it’s been through. While they claim that the taste is just the same… I’m sure they’re lying. At least… to me, it’s completely different. The structure and integrity of the frozen veggie/fruit are not comparable to the fresh counterparts. Supposedly it’s not supposed to degrade, if you have even cooked a little, you definitely know that fresh produce tastes and holds better than frozen produce. My tip is to freeze as a last resort. I prolong my produce’s life in the refrigerator by cleaning them in water and drying them completely and then storing them in veggie drawers with a high humidity setting. This works great for the sorts of products I typically buy – fruits such as apples, oranges, and veggies such as chilies, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, etc.
When you need to freeze something, there are different tactics to freeze different produce – you can find some great tips by a simple google search. I love to store my leaves (mint, coriander, etc.) in ice cube format – easy to pop one out when needed than having to thaw a huge block of ice with leaves in it.
Invest in a spread of good quality spices
Higher quality spices are typically richer — which means they you will need less, and they will last you a longer period of time. By putting in those few extra dollars up front, your spices will pay off in the long run as it will pay you dividends with the amazing intensity of flavor! Having a range of go-to spices is essential in whatever you are trying to put together. What to buy depends on what you typically cook. The main dishes I make are a variety of Indian foods, pasta dishes, sandwiches, Mexican foods, salads, and grilled meats.
Here is what is always on my tier one spice shelf:
- Chilly powder (Cayenne Pepper or Ground Paprika depending on how spicy you like your food, I have both and also an Indian version)
- Ground Turmeric
- Garlic powder
- Ginger Root Ground (I don’t use this much in cooking but it adds an amazing kick to fruit smoothies – try it out!)
- Cumin powder
- Coriander powder
- Garam Masala (which is a staple Indian spice mix)
- Chipotle Powder
- Onion Powder
- Pepper powder
- Oregano Leaf Cut
I also have a standard set of whole spices that are the second tier and I won’t go into many details here. But a lot of Indian dishes call for some whole spices and using these make all the difference.
The best thing about spices is that if stored properly, they can last a really really long time!!! That means you will never be throwing it out because you didn’t use it in time. Sticking them in the freezer prolongs their already-long shelf life. I have a third tier of spice mixes that are meant for very specific dishes such as biryani mix, chickpea masala, that I store in the freezer since I don’t use them often. This makes them last for years on end.
Make small substitutions that go a long way
Staples such as oils, flours, rice, sugars, salt, etc. come in a variety of brands and prices. Where you shop for these staples also makes quite the difference since many grocery stores now hold their own name brands such as Target with Market Pantry. Throughout college, I didn’t cook much and my grocery shopping philosophy was to save money since I already spent most of my food budget in dining halls – I thought to myself “I am young, my body can take this (“sh*t”) every once in a while”. So I never used to care too much about what brand or what the product in it had.
Lately, I have had the budget and time to make wise decisions about my health and cooking. I found that doing some research on what flours are good for you and your dietary needs, or what oils are better for your consumption, can go a very long way in terms of taste and health. And a lot of these substitutions have not been that expensive either! Mostly within a difference of $0-2. So take that next step if your budget allows you to stock your pantry with better quality items. You are probably thinking $2 adds up over time. But how much flour do you actually buy? I make at least one baked good every month and use flour as an additive in cooking and I only need to buy 4-5 pounds every 4-5 months for myself. That is a $6 difference per year. Do the math for yourself and assess your needs.
And there you have it! The start of your journey to making “luxurious” tasting dishes. Show us your creations in the comments sections!