Cooking is not only a great skill to learn on its own but it’s also a fantastic way to keep yourself occupied during a pandemic.
I use recipes frequently, some of you might recall several years ago when I did my own little cooking experimentation; I did not repeat a single meal for a year.
When it comes to food, I improvise quite a bit, using a recipe for “flavor inspiration” based on what I have available in the house at the time.
Part of my reasoning for starting a blog was to help home cooks elevate their cooking abilities by learning the basics of preparing food and how to use what you have on hand to make a delicious dish.
With that in mind, here are some ways to, both literally and figuratively, spice up your cooking.
Experiment with ingredients
One of the most common mistakes many home-chefs make is they tend to stick to the same few recipes with the same few ingredients over and over.
And sure, if you only cook what’s familiar, you’re less likely to be disappointed but you’re a whole lot more likely to get bored.
So why not vary up your ingredients?
If you normally use chicken, substitute it for a different protein.
Even just the occasional substitution can radically change the flavor profile of a dish.
This means you have the chance to try something new without having to radically alter your diet or learn a totally new recipe.
Flavor inspiration from other cultures
The familiar is comfortable and that’s why most people tend to stick with it when it comes to their cooking.
However, if you want to be able to delight your taste buds with something new, you should expand your cooking knowledge to other countries and culinary cultures.
You’re likely to find different cooking methods and flavor combinations from other parts of the world that you might never come across.
Eating at a Colombian restaurant might well inspire you to start including all kinds of ingredients and flavors in your diet that you’d never really known about before.
Then you can even start to combine those kinds of ideas with your own cooking as well.
Early this year, I dined at a new Latin restaurant called Sabor. READ MY REVIEW HERE .
Now, I want to research and make my own empanadas at home with different proteins.
Watch different cooking shows
Don’t just watch the same boring – here’s a recipe – here’s the ingredients – here’s how to cook it – stuff that Food Network dishes out. (pun intended)! YAWN!
One show I recommend is Gordon Ramsey’s Uncharted.
He visits different regions, immerses himself in the local culinary scene, to gain inspiration, then develops new dishes using local ingredients and techniques.
Besides Ramsey’s incredible culinary skills, he is absolutely hilarious!
Also consider PBS’s, The Mind of Chef.
Each season features either a chef or group of chefs who cook, inspire, and educate the viewer about their cooking style and regional fare.
Produced by the late Anthony Bourdain, the series combines travel, cooking, history, science, and humor into an unforgettable culinary journey.
Episodes are available on YouTube.
Finally, chef and food writer Samin Nosrat explores how mastering four basic elements of cooking, Salt Fat Acid Heat can take you from a good cook, to a great one!
Play with your food and flavors
Most people tend to try and stick as close to a recipe as possible for fear of getting something wrong.
However, once you’ve got a level of confidence in your culinary skills, why not branch out and try something new?
Take the basic ideas from your recipes and try and make something of your own.
It might not always work out but fortune favors the bold and you could well end up with something totally unique that you’d never be able to find anywhere else.
For example, Chicken parmigiana, or chicken parmesan has long been considered a heavy meal, with its breaded chicken, a rich red sauce, tons of cheese, and sometimes bacon on top.
The Grilled Chicken Parmesan recipe below has only 383 calories per serving!
Most people assume that, in order to be a great cook, they need to have dozens and dozens of recipes memorized but that’s not the case.
As long as you have a few staple meals that you feel confident with, it’s often pretty easy to start mixing up ideas and combining them until you’ve got a catalog of recipes that are all pretty unique to you.
Let me know if you try this version of Chicken Parmesan!
And KEEP COOKING!
Latin-Italian Grilled Chicken Parmesan
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped fine
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 14.5 ozs canned diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ozs. chicken breast, sliced horizontally to make two cullets
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/8 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 cups La Lechonera Natural Mojo Marinating Sauce
- Pour the La Lechonera Natural Mojo marinating sauce in a dish or ziplock bag and marinate the chicken for at least 1 hour, up to 4 hours.
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat.
- Add the onion, bell pepper, and Kosher salt. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until onion is tender.
- Add the garlic. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the canned tomatoes and the juice, then mash with a potato masher.
- Turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until slightly thickened. Should take about 10 minutes.
- Off heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese, basil, olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade. Discard the marinade.Pat the chicken cutlets with a paper towel, so to create a dry cooking surface.
- Turn on the grill and set to medium heat. Clean grill with brush and baste on vegetable oil
- Lightly season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Grill chicken on the first side until well-browned, for about 3 minutes.
- Flip chicken over and add 2 Tablespoons of the cooked tomato mixture to each cutlet, spreading on top of the cooked side.
- Close grill and cook chicken for another 3-5 minutes or until it registers about 155ºF.
- Top chicken cutlets with shredded mozzarella, then cook till cutlets reach 160ºF.
- Remove chicken from the grill, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Any remaining tomato sauce can be served on the side.