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Solong
08-27-2014, 12:24 PM
I'm not a good cook. I have a few things I do well, including scrambled eggs. Everyone always raves about my scrambled eggs. My 'secret' ingredients are cottage cheese and steak seasoning. So simple.

'Fess up - I know cooks can be territorial, but I need help. Show pity and share your simple tricks.

fastweedpuller
08-27-2014, 12:28 PM
Umm, grow your own? Can't really screw up if your ingredients are great to start with.

Barring that, I can sex up ANYTHING with enough garlic.

panama10
08-27-2014, 12:31 PM
I love to cook. Period. It's my "relaxing" thing. I always make sure that I have garlic in some form (powder or the real deal) in the house, a dash of it adds tons of flavor to everything. Same with onions.

and I use this Tony Chachere for meats/ beans/ fish. just a tad. too much and it will make it super spicy

Original Creole Seasoning 3.25 oz. (http://shop.tonychachere.com/original-creole-seasoning-325-oz-p-21713.html)

amradiofairyland
08-27-2014, 12:43 PM
I've got Celiac disease and a ridiculous amount of food allergies, added to which we're pescatarians, so technically pretty much all my ingredients end up being secret ingredients. :) One secret we have is homemade tofu, which we call "faux-fu" b/c we make it without soy. It's a Burmese recipe made from chickpea flour and water. Friends who fear tofu because of its rubbery texture are pleasantly surprised, as this stuff sort of melts in your mouth (like very thick, tahini-less hummus cubes or something), and holds better to marinades and sauces.

In more practical secret ingredients: Hawaiian red-gold sea salt. Has volcanic clay in it--smoky, crunchy, and fantastic. Also very pretty.

bibiche
08-27-2014, 12:50 PM
Salt your food. And salt in layers (eg when making mashed potatoes, salt your water in addition to salting later).

A pinch of cayenne elevates favors. You don't want enough to taste it, just enough to liven the dish. Vinegar and fish sauce are other secret ingredients for punching up flavors.

ElizabethK
08-27-2014, 01:03 PM
My secret ingredients are maple syrup and soy sauce. I discovered a salmon recipe in my Gourmet Magazine cookbook that has that combination as a sauce, and I've started adding it to other meats, like turkey, as well.

I also sometimes just cook with olive oil and black pepper. That makes lovely roasted chicken breasts. And I almost always cook with chopped garlic.

We need more ideas however. Apparently my husband and 9 year old had a long conversation yesterday on how I am in a culinary rut. So clearly I have gone overboard with the maple syrup and soy sauce. But it is so tasty!

dbmamaz
08-27-2014, 01:06 PM
I have to do everything from scratch now, too, but back in the day, I used to use meatloaf seasoning packets (in the gravy section) as a rub on steaks before grilling them - very yummy.

and buttermilk makes all sweet breads and muffins better

Solong
08-27-2014, 01:15 PM
I am also celiac, dd is celiac/dh, and ds is unknown. If a looky-loo read that sentence, we just lost them.

Hell yes to garlic! My braids are drying right now. I'm stingy with the salt. I need to relax about salt.

bibiche
08-27-2014, 01:28 PM
I'm stingy with the salt. I need to relax about salt.

If it makes you feel better, not using salt correctly is probably the biggest reason that food doesn't taste good. Good restaurant food tastes better because professional chefs use salt and fats liberally. ;)

halfpint
08-27-2014, 01:31 PM
Yes to salt and garlic!

I also tend to get into ruts - my cure is a quick look at pinterest or a search on allrecipes.com for an ingredient I have too much of. I don't actually end up using any of the recipes, per se, just get ideas.

Sour cream added to bread or pastry dough makes it melt-in-your-mouth soft, and also makes pie crust easier to handle.

I put fresh sage in a lot of things, and mix chili powder and cumin for all things mexican-ish.

AddlepatedMonkeyMama
08-27-2014, 03:58 PM
Butter. It makes everything better. :D

kjandb
08-27-2014, 04:14 PM
America's Test Kitchen is my secret ingredient. Never had a bad recipe from there.

murphs_mom
08-27-2014, 05:32 PM
- Don't buy discount brands for staples (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, vanilla, etc.). The taste and results are totally NOT worth the little bit of money saved.

- I add an extra bump of salt when I make anything w/chocolate in it.

- Stuff from your own garden will (almost) always taste better than anything purchased.

- Canning your own (especially jelly!) will taste better, have less sugar, and fewer ick things in it than commercially prepared.

- NEVER use margarine. For anything.

- Let beef brown (whether burger, steak, or other cut of meat) a bit; that caramelization is where the deep flavor comes from. DH always complains that my chili is better than his...he doesn't brown the burger. He just cooks it until it's lost its pink color and is icky gray. Brown it.

- Eat after sex. Most everything tastes better afterward. :p

Tanaqui
08-27-2014, 05:44 PM
I, too, feel salt is a boon - especially in sweet dishes! I'm always increasing the salt content of my baked goods.

When cooking bacon, drain the fat early and often. NEVER pour that stuff down the drain. If you don't intend to cook with it later, pour it into a can or a paper cup you can toss out once it cools, or combine it with some flour or cornmeal after draining into a cup or bowl to toss it out immediately.

Resist the urge to overcomplicate your recipes. Often, simple is best.

Um. When all else fails, turn up the music, dim the lights, and eat by candlelight. Loud music dulls our sense of taste (NO, REALLY) and food always looks better (and thus tastes better) when you can't see it clearly! Those are the two huge secrets of the restaurant industry revealed :) The third is "give it an attractive name". This isn't "scrambled eggs", it's "Fresh organic eggs delightfully scrambled with a hint of cheese to bring out the flavor" or "Mom's Mad Monkey Brains" or "Feathery cloud eggs" or whatever will appeal.

pdpele
08-27-2014, 05:55 PM
Chicken and rice. Cheap (and gluten free, right?) - always a plus in my book. You need 5 ways to make chicken (or, really, 5 basic, good recipes you can get down). Then you can add rice/potatoes/whatever veggie/salad you want.

Whole chicken - roasted - lots of leftovers.

Good chicken cacciatore recipe - this is one of my favorite recipe sites Simply Recipes Chicken Cacciatore (Hunter Style Chicken) Recipe | Simply Recipes (http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/chicken_cacciatore_hunter_style_chicken/)

Use bone in for whatever you can - including chicken - and chicken thighs when possible (more flavor).

Second what everyone else suggested - when it comes to seasoning, more is more, usually. Salt, butter, wine, garlic, spice, etc. Try white pepper, it's one of my 'secret' ingredients.

DH and I learned to cook together - still one of our favorite things to do to while away an evening! I'm lucky - he grew up in a household of people who knew how to marinade and use spice, and both his mom and dad cooked. When I started I could seriously ruin spaghetti.

dbmamaz
08-27-2014, 06:03 PM
see, I reduce the salt in EVERY SINGLE recipe. I cant stand the taste of salt. Dh said he NEVER used salt when cooking when he was single. Its easier to add salt than take it away

bibiche
08-27-2014, 06:41 PM
see, I reduce the salt in EVERY SINGLE recipe. I cant stand the taste of salt. Dh said he NEVER used salt when cooking when he was single. Its easier to add salt than take it away

Yep, you can never take it away, no matter what anyone tells you. Thing is, if you use it judiciously you won't taste the salt, just the food. I can't stand oversalted food either. And use good sea salt - iodized salt is bitter.

kjandb
08-27-2014, 06:54 PM
Another good thing with anything homemade chocolate is a little bit of instant coffee/espresso. Just a tsp or Tbsp adds a lot of depth to the dish. I also second the not-skimping on the basic ingredients recommendation - unsalted butter, good flour (all-purpose/cake/bread), vanilla, cinnamon, sea salt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, etc. I also second the recommendation on making sure meats salted/browned to get that rich flavor. I love my pressure cooker, especially cooking at altitude, to give a really good depth of flavor as well. Growing my own herbs is a lot of fun, too - especially because it encourages the kids to try so many new things. I just love cooking!

Elly
08-27-2014, 06:54 PM
One secret we have is homemade tofu, which we call "faux-fu" b/c we make it without soy. It's a Burmese recipe made from chickpea flour and water. Friends who fear tofu because of its rubbery texture are pleasantly surprised, as this stuff sort of melts in your mouth (like very thick, tahini-less hummus cubes or something), and holds better to marinades and sauces.

This sounds interesting, please could you point me to a recipe you like? I *love* chickpeas.

I make a lot of Mexican and Mediterranean food and love cumin. I get through it faster than I use pepper, I think. I was also reading something last week that said that actually home cooking isn't as bad for salt as we tend to think. It's processed foods that are the worst (which isn't that surprising), so I've started being a bit less concerned about adding salt. I have also realised that my mum WAY oversalts food and how much I've cut down my taste for it since leaving home

Elly

AddlepatedMonkeyMama
08-27-2014, 07:12 PM
We need an SHS potluck. You guys sound like good cooks.

murphs_mom
08-27-2014, 11:10 PM
If you include an SHS bar, I'm in.

ejsmom
08-27-2014, 11:44 PM
My secrets are to add one or more of the following to make any recipe better: butter, bacon, sour cream, smoked sea salt (the best discovery ever), caramelized onions, chocolate, nutmeg, cardamom, oregano, or celery salt.

Obviously, you need to use some sense when adding those ingredients. The best way to become a good cook is to cook. Look at it as an exploration. My problem now is that I never follow any recipe exactly. I always end up tweaking it someway to make it "better", to me at least, anyway.

I heartily concur with browning your meats (and deglazing the pan with juice, beer, wine, or bourbon for rich flavor). I find I need a touch of oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper for beef dishes to really come to life. Cumin is a must for Tex-Mex dishes in my book. I have a pork chop recipe with butter, cinnamon, chili powder, brown sugar, vanilla an bourbon that friends specifically request when they come to eat. I will say, "but I made that last time!" and they insist on having it again.

My problem now is that I don't use recipes much anymore. I use what's on hand and season by smell and taste and experiment and then DS and DH want me to make it again, and I don't know how.

I agree that America's Test Kitchen and Allrecipes are good resources. I think it is helpful to read, try, and compare/contrast a number of recipes for the same dish to see what works (or doesn't) or what you like better, and figure out why.

If you enjoy food, you can learn to cook. I find those who can't cook are usually those people who find food something that just has to be consumed to stay alive, but they take no enjoyment in it and can be happy living on bologna on white bread, frozen meals, and cold cereal. There's nothing wrong with that. To each his own.

amradiofairyland
08-27-2014, 11:52 PM
This sounds interesting, please could you point me to a recipe you like? I *love* chickpeas.

Sure thing--here's how we make it:

Burmese Tofu

2.5 cups chickpea flour (besan)
1 tsp salt
4 cups cold water

Grease an 8"x12" (or so) pan/casserole dish Set aside.

In a large saucepan, mix the salt and chickpea flour so there are no lumps. Add the water and continue stirring to keep the mixture as smooth as possible. Turn on stovetop heat to medium and stir continuously until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes--I'm impatient and sometimes thicken the mix on medium-high, which takes about 5-7). The mixture will thicken pretty suddenly. Once it's very thick (hard to stir), remove it from the stovetop and pour/spread it in the prepared casserole dish so it is smooth and flat-ish. Leave to set (fridge is good) for at least 30 minutes before using as tofu.

This "faux-fu" will keep in the fridge for about a week, and can be cut and used however you would normally use tofu. You can also easily modify this recipe to make a baked vegan frittata (just mix in "toppings" and bake until browned).

It's different, but good!

dbsam
08-27-2014, 11:58 PM
My mom used to make Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies when we were little.
Everyone loved them...until they heard her secret ingredient was mayonnaise.

Deli76
08-28-2014, 12:54 AM
Salt pepper and GARLIC

I cant eat a majority of prepackaged food, so I make alot of my own food. I love my crockpot! I just bought a mini crockpot....love it!!! Loving the raw and steamed vegies too.

Elly
08-28-2014, 10:12 AM
Sure thing--here's how we make it:

Burmese Tofu

2.5 cups chickpea flour (besan)
1 tsp salt
4 cups cold water

Grease an 8"x12" (or so) pan/casserole dish Set aside.

In a large saucepan, mix the salt and chickpea flour so there are no lumps. Add the water and continue stirring to keep the mixture as smooth as possible. Turn on stovetop heat to medium and stir continuously until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes--I'm impatient and sometimes thicken the mix on medium-high, which takes about 5-7). The mixture will thicken pretty suddenly. Once it's very thick (hard to stir), remove it from the stovetop and pour/spread it in the prepared casserole dish so it is smooth and flat-ish. Leave to set (fridge is good) for at least 30 minutes before using as tofu.

This "faux-fu" will keep in the fridge for about a week, and can be cut and used however you would normally use tofu. You can also easily modify this recipe to make a baked vegan frittata (just mix in "toppings" and bake until browned).

It's different, but good!
Thanks! Where is a good place to get the chickpea flour?

amradiofairyland
08-28-2014, 10:18 AM
Bob's Red Mill makes a GF chickpea flour (I think it's labelled Garbanzo flour); that brand is pretty common in grocery stores where we are (Pacific NW), not sure of elsewhere? Any natural foods type store would have it. Could certainly get it online.

BakedAk
08-28-2014, 11:32 AM
I used to be able to cook, and I used to like to, but now my kids! Grrr. Very frustrating to try to de-rut when you KNOW that at most 1/2 of the family will even try it.


I think it is helpful to read, try, and compare/contrast a number of recipes for the same dish to see what works (or doesn't) or what you like better, and figure out why.



This made me think of my very scientifically minded DH. Before we were married, he read a newspaper article on the foods that were served on board the Titanic. One of recipes in the article was "Waldorf Pudding" - made with nuts and apples, like Waldorf Salad. Well, he thought that sounded interesting, so he made it. It was meh. So he tinkered with the recipe. Every Saturday for about 2 months, I got to try a new&improved version of Waldorf Pudding, with the improvements carefully documented. I couldn't look at apples or walnuts or pudding for at least a year. :p I still married him. He has some redeeming qualities.

Solong
08-28-2014, 03:18 PM
See, I always bring beverages to a pot luck. I guess I've sort of given up lately. I don't like salt either! I prefer unsalted everything, but have to admit that my meals are usually generously salted by everyone else. So, it is just me when it comes to salt in this family.

We have lots of fresh produce from the garden, and a good source for dairy and pork. Last night, I nuked a few beets in the microwave, mixed in some goat cheese and YUM. Two ingredients in the microwave = my kind of dish. They would've been better roasted. Ds wouldn't even look directly at the beets. Do not challenge potentially dangerous foods!

fastweedpuller
08-28-2014, 03:26 PM
Take Ejsmom's tip about the smoked salt, AnonyMs. Might change your thinking about NaCl.

bibiche
08-28-2014, 05:33 PM
Thanks! Where is a good place to get the chickpea flour?

You can also get it at any Indian grocery. It is called gram flour or besan. Or you can grind your own. I know some people use a food processor, but I worry that it would kill the blade, so I use an old fashioned coffee mill or the grain mill attachment to my Kitchenaid.

ElizabethK
08-28-2014, 07:07 PM
I remembered another secret as I was making dinner tonight:

Add cocoa to taco meat.

I make tacos regularly (part of that culinary rut) but they are huge hit. I add olive oil, garlic, chili powder and cocoa. I made them without the cocoa to start but them remembered that 'mole' (a Mexican dish) includes cocoa and thought I would try it. I don't know whys but it really adds to the flavor. I actually did keep that one a secret for a few months, not on purpose but because no one ever paid attention when I cooked, they just knew they liked the taco meat.

My kids watched me closely one day and were amazed. They love taco night even more now because they get to have 'chocolate' tacos.

zcat
08-31-2014, 05:58 PM
I add horseradish to potato salad and deviled eggs.
Add cinnamon to chocolate cake. If you want to "frost" some cupcakes quickly put some chocolate chips on top while they are hot and then just spread the melted chocolate.
Add some ground mustard powder to macaroni and cheese.

BakedAk
09-01-2014, 09:06 PM
Oh, yeah, horseradish! Perks up egg salad, too.

aspiecat
09-12-2014, 09:01 PM
DH, DS and FIL like the chocolate chip cookies I make, as they are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The secret? Using both baking soda AND baking powder.

The cookies end up a strange, flattish shape, but they definitely have a great texture.