Contrary to what you might think this post is actually going to be about food. To go along with brewing beer, I really like to cook (not bake but cook). And cooking is something that I can nerd out about easily, put me in a fully stocked kitchen with no recipe and no menu, and I can come up with something really interesting. However, I know that cooking, even while following a recipe, isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to everyone. So what do you do when you have people over for a board game night or to watch a movie? Do you just order a pizza, breakout the Mountain Dew and Cheetos and settle in for the night? Or does that end up getting old after a little bit and you want to branch out?
I’m hear to tell you that branching out is easier and simpler than it might seem!
The first, and most important thing, is to know your flavors. This is the biggest thing and probably the hardest thing. If you are aren’t familiar with what paprika goes in and what it tastes like, you are going to have to take a guess at it and you might end up with too much, or you might end up not being able to taste it at all. And that doesn’t even cover what might happen to a flavor if you put oregano and nutmeg together. Now, that might not be a bad combination, but if you are expecting Italian foods with a new red sauce, you might not end up with what you are expecting.
There is no great way to learn your flavor combinations and how much you like of different spices and herbs beyond trial and error. You can cut down on the risk a lot simply be following a recipe the first time you make something. But if you want to get more adventuresome and creative, you should wing it some and learn from your mistakes until you hone your own recipes.
Secondly, keep a well stocked kitchen. This doesn’t mean that you need twenty different cuts of meat and every spice under the sun. In fact, if you can limit your spice rack to those that you use regularly it’ll help keep the spices fresher and the flavors stronger. There are definitely some basic things that you will want to have in your kitchen. Spice wise, I always need to have paprika, cumin, chipotle, chili powder, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne on hand and I use herbs like sage, oregano, basil and thyme quite often in my cooking. A few other things that are useful to have on hand that you will end up using often are olive oil, butter, vinegar, tomato paste, onion, and potatoes. With that in your cupboard you can create quite a number of different meals with just adding a couple of ingredients or even by just adding a protein.
But how do you put together something that is easy and interesting? With our busy lives, it seems harder and harder to have time to spend on cooking, and sometimes a frozen pizza or ordering a pizza is the best option. But there are some different things that you can do quickly. The first simple option is popcorn. You can buy and air popper and melt butter, neither of those takes all that long, but you want something special, something different than just popcorn, butter, and salt. That is where your spice rack can come in handy. chipotle powder is great to add some heat to your popcorn, or garam masala can add an Indian twist to your food. Chicken, like popcorn, is really a blank canvas when it comes to adding flavors. A marinade on chicken can keep it from drying out as much and add flavor into it. Lime juice and some lime zest on chicken gives it a great different flavor from what you would expect.
This is a jumping off point, I’m going to spin it into how to make different theme meals around different nerdy things. Some of them might require a lot of work, and others might only require a little more work, but before I leave you, here’s a recipe for some lime chicken that is great on the grill.
2 chicken breasts (thawed)
1 to 2 Limes
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
To do 12-24 hours before:
Put the chicken in a ziplock bag. Zest the lime into the bag and then cut the lime on half. Squeeze the juice of the lime onto the chicken, if it doesn’t cover the chicken all that well, cut the other lime in half and squeeze it’s juice in as well. Add the parsley, red pepper flakes to the bag along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Put that in your fridge for 12 to 24 hours.
Once you are ready to cook the chicken simply pull out of the fridge and slap it on a grill. If you don’t have a grill, you can cook it on a pan on the stove top or in the oven. I would recommend, if you aren’t that great and judging how well your various types of meat are cooked that you get a digital kitchen thermometer and check with that to verify the largest chicken breast in the thickest spot has hit 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle.
Do you have a favorite recipe that you like to cook? Or what sort of meal do you really love and want to spice up?
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