Level Up

Meal planning and staying creative are just two ways to avoid becoming complacent in the kitchen. Let’s look at ways to level up as a home cook.

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There are ways to keep your edge in the kitchen, no matter what your schedule or family looks like. Meal planning and keeping a few secret weapon ingredients on hand are a good start. 

MEAL PLANNING

The dreaded question: What’s for dinner? Instead of struggling to come up with a dinner plan every night of the week, it’s much easier to plan out meals for a whole week at a time. It might sound like a daunting process but it can actually save you a lot of time and money in the long run. It helps if you break down meal planning into three categories: choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, and prepping your meals. Depending on your schedule, planning and grocery shopping on a Saturday, and preparing your meals on Sunday can work very well.  

When it comes to finding recipe inspiration, peruse your favorite cooking blogs, ask your friends and family to share their favorites, scroll through Pinterest and, of course, keep reading our weekly issues, where we feature quick and easy-to-prepare meals that are sure to impress. 

Meal planning can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re able to double up on ingredients for your meals. It is important to cook with an ingredient you really love and think of different recipes you can make with it throughout the week. If broccoli is one of your go-to veggies, use it to make broccoli soup, a stir-fry, steamed in a rice bowl, and in a curry recipe. You get the idea. Pasta and rice are other favorite crossover ingredients, as there are so many recipes that call for both. By maximizing the ingredients that you use, you’ll eliminate food waste and maintain variety in your diet. Ultimately, meal planning is a personal process and is different for everyone. Meal planning should ultimately get you excited about cooking!  

It helps if you break down meal planning into three categories: choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, and prepping your meals.

SECRET WEAPONS

A well-stocked pantry means you’ll be prepared to cook for unexpected guests or when you get inspired to make a new recipe. Let’s start with liquids. It’s hard to beat sherry vinegar. Anytime you need to add a great tasting acidic component to dishes, reach for a bottle of this. With its nuttiness and caramel notes, it brightens and deepens flavors at the same time. Add a dash or two into a pot of beans, marinara, and soups or drizzle it on fresh asparagus, tomatoes, and in salad dressings. In a similar way, a good olive oil can take ingredients to the next level. Whether you're roasting a chicken for dinner, baking a loaf of bread or sautéing veggies, make sure to have a bottle of good extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on hand. Another great type of oil to always have kicking around is one with a higher smoke point and more neutral flavor than olive oil. We recommend grapeseed. Lastly, in the liquid department, coconut milk makes a delicious, rich base for curries and stews and is ideal for lactose intolerant people.

It’s hard to beat sherry vinegar. Anytime you need to add a great tasting acidic component to dishes, reach for a bottle of this.

In the dry goods department, all-purpose flour, breadcrumbs, and Kosher salt are must-have pantry items. Every home cook understands the need for all-purpose flour. It is needed to make a roux, which is the base of numerous stews, soups and sauces. Panko breadcrumbs are a Japanese style crispy coating – perfect for anything that needs a little crunch – from chicken nuggets to a binding agent for meatballs and fish cakes. As for salt, once you say goodbye to iodized table salt, your homemade food will taste better immediately. Kosher salt is made of bigger crystals that won’t dissolve like the tiny ones in iodized salt, preventing you form over-salting food. It is also free of that funky iodine taste. You should be using Kosher salt in everything you’re seasoning, even if it’s just adding it to pasta water.