When I first tried my hand at cooking when I was around the age of 10 or 11, my favorite thing to do was put in the spices. I liked to crush the dried leaves between my fingers. I liked to stir the pot, sample, and then add more spices (and then more…). I hated measuring anything! I liked the experience of adding different spices until I decided that everything was just right. I grew up in the country, so most of these dishes were pretty simple. Spaghetti sauce is what sticks out in my mind as being my favorite “guinea pig” as a kid. For whatever reason, when I look back at my first experiences with cooking, this is what I remember: spices.
I moved out on my own to Louisville when I was 20. I started to seek out new types of cuisine, watch cooking shows, and experiment in the kitchen. I wont say I’ve become a master chef by any means, but I have learned that cooking relaxes me. I know there are some people who probably think I am absolutely insane for saying this, but sometimes after a long day at work or school, all I want to do is go home and cook. I zone out! Every other worry goes out the window– except for maybe deciding on what I’m going to chop next. Whether I’m actually in the kitchen cooking, or I’m just brainstorming for my next trip to the grocery by looking up recipes on Pinterest when I can’t sleep at 3 A.M, time flies by when I’m thinking about food.
Here are a few surefire tips I’ve learned over the years when it comes to cooking. Some of these may be a refresher course if you already know your way around the kitchen, but I have to make sure everyone has the basics down. 🙂 (I’ve also included a few awesome recipes!)
- When you’re cooking any type of meat, in any dish, from African Peanut Stew to Emeril’s White Bean Turkey Chili, don’t forget to season your meat with salt and pepper. It makes all the difference in the world!
- Always go light on the rosemary. It can overpower any dish!
- If you like heat in your dishes like I do (and I mean heat in scoville units, not temperature), use fresh ingredients like jalapenos or serrano peppers without removing the inner white part of the pepper (a.k.a. capsaicin). This is where all the “heat” is, and your food will have a lot more kick if you use fresh ingredients during the cooking process, rather than just adding hot sauce after the fact.
- Fresh basil makes everything Italian ten times better!
- A few dashes of liquid smoke make green beans amazing (or anything else you want to add a hint of smokiness to).
- Chili is an exercise in throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a pot. I’m sure you all have your own methods for the basic pot of chili. Next time don’t forget to throw in a few squirts of your favorite mustard, ketchup, bbq sauce, a couple pinches of brown sugar, a splash of vinegar, a few clips of cilantro stems (or ground cardamum), and a dash of cinnamon. Most importantly, instead of adding water before you let your chili reduce down, add a dark beer or a large cup of coffee to the mix. Do NOT do this if you don’t have time to let the chili meld together. This requires AT LEAST two hours and I prefer four or more for the best fusion of flavors.
This was dinner tonight. Might not be the prettiest Instagram shot ever, but it’s my favorite way to kick off some fall weather, unwind after a long school day, and warm up my insides!