The summer is coming to an end, but we have two more great posts coming from Camille. Below is one of my favorites that she's done!
There are two types of people in this world—rule followers and rule breakers. If you’re usually a rule-follower, a great place to practice breaking the rules with positive consequences is in the kitchen. If you’re already a rule-breaker, well, you’ll have no problem bringing this skill of yours into the kitchen!
To get the most out of your rule breaking, you must understand that the best results will stem from cooking. Unless you’re highly skilled in the area of baking, I suggest not trying to make any major deviations from a recipe (trust me on this one). Cooking is an art, but baking is a science.
Growing up, I did much more cooking than I did baking, thanks to my Nana. She always stressed creativity, and the idea that you don’t have to follow exactly what the recipe says: if it looks right and tastes right, then it is right! One thing she never gets right is her meatloaf, but she always enjoys making it. It was fun to put recipes together from ideas and be able to tweak things based on our own preferences or available resources.
On the other hand, my mom always taught me how to make healthy swap-outs to create lighter versions of my favorite dishes. Between the two of them, I was always encouraged to try new recipes and to be adventurous. The worst that can happen? You end up eating takeout for dinner. Here are just a few tips I’ve taken from the days I spent in my Nana’s kitchen, and developed into life skills as I’ve ventured out on my own.
1. Learn to build a recipe with what you have.
Let’s face it: sometimes life gets busy and we don’t have our kitchens stocked up the way we want them to be. Sometimes when you feel like you have nothing to eat, all you have to do is be creative. For ideas, sometimes I visit this website which gives you recipes based on what you have in your fridge. Or, look for inspiration from seasonal picks at your local farmers market.
2. Master the art of substitutions.
Ingredients can often be swapped out for others. Some recipes are way too involved when it comes to having fresh herbs, or measuring out a million different spices. A few tips:
Usually, dried herbs will do. They also last longer than fresh herbs, which makes this the budget-friendly way to go—just make sure that if the recipe calls for fresh, you use half the amount of dried. Fresh herbs have more nutritional value and can add a fresher flavor to the dish, but let’s get real—not everyone has an herb garden on the balcony of their apartment. So until you get yours growing, consider using one key fresh herb in the recipe and the rest dried.
If you don’t have the exact herbs and spices a recipe calls for, don’t panic. What are you making? Learn which herbs pair best with certain dishes with this awesome infographic from cooksmarts.com. Let’s say you have a recipe that showcases chicken with mushrooms and it calls for fresh parsley. Other herbs that would pair well with those ingredients would be rosemary, oregano, or marjoram. Adding a new herb will put your own twist on the recipe, and teach you a new way to add flavor!
If you find a recipe you think you’ll like, follow it the first time you make it. Then think about what it’s missing or how you can make it more suitable to your taste. Tasting as you go can also help you to make changes the first time through. If something tastes bland or not right, think about what else can be added to enhance the flavor. A little citrus can go a long way to enhance flavor and add depth. If you find the dish a little too acidic, a pinch of sugar could do the trick.
4. Read recipe reviews.
If you find a new recipe online, sometimes others who have tried it post their experiences on the website. Always read the comments and at least be mindful of the changes others made. If someone thought a dish was too salty, taste as you go and be mindful of the way you spice it.
5. Look to your favorite restaurant meals as inspiration.
Although you may not be able to replicate the dish exactly, you can use the flavor combinations to spark ideas for your own creation. I recently read an article on what makes a restaurant salads taste so much better than ones you make at home. Most of the differences were added salt and fat to the dressings. Look at restaurant meals for inspiration, but also appreciate the differences in your own creations, as most of the time your dish will be healthier and fresher.
6. Expect to fail.
Sometimes what you make tastes nothing like what you envisioned. That’s perfectly fine. You win some and you lose some. If you’re preparing for a dinner party, use a recipe you’re sure will turn out great. If you’re making dinner for your husband on a Tuesday night, try out a new dish and get creative with it. I’m sure he’ll be an honest critic.
7. Most of all—have fun!
Build a healthy relationship with the food you eat. Share your art with others around you. Appreciate its health benefits. Savor every last bite of your hard work.
What kind of go-to dishes do you make when you feel like your cupboards are bare?
Camille is a Dietetic intern working with dailyServing, LLC and Katie Goldberg, RD as part of her supervised practice hours. She is also earning her MBA from Dominican University’s Brennan School of Business and one day hopes to change consumer nutrition choices through affective and informative marketing and education. Camille is an alumna of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and is passionate about cooking, running, traveling, and supporting animal welfare.