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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Becoming a better cook

The Seattle Times just ran an excellent piece on how to add flavor to summer meals, but really, you can use these tips all year long. I believe anyone can be a good cook with some basic knowledge and techniques, and this story lays down a great foundation. Do take a minute, if you can, to check it out.

While we're at it, I'll add a couple of my favorite go-to flavor tips:
  • Wine. I realize everyone can't cook with wine, and I sympathize, because wine (or champagne, beer, and spirits) adds incredible depth of flavor to everything. Wine, or stock, if you don't or can't indulge, elevates food from good to great.

  • Parmesan. A sprinkle off high-quality, freshly grated parmesan adds loads of flavor to savory dishes and breads.

  • Prosciutto. I'm not into ham at all, but add cubed or sliced prosciutto to just about everything: soups, salads, pastas, stews, whatever. Give me a plate of sliced prosciutto, a bit of parmesan and some melon or grapes and I'm all set.

  • Acid. Citrus fruits like lemon, lime or orange, or vinegars such as balsamic, red wine, or champagne will add a bright burst of freshness that'll make your food special. Add a little squeeze or splash when you're almost done cooking soups, stews, pastas, stir-frys or almost any dish. Professional chefs extole the virtues of of acid in good food all the time.

  • Good salt. Upgrading to sea salt, French fleur de sel or kosher salt gives dishes a cleaner, milder flavor. Table salt is harsh. The pros recommend using kosher salt for everyday cooking and sea salt of fleur de sel for finishing a dish. I also encourage you to experiment with flavored salts. Above, see one of my favorite flavored salts, Orange Saltburst, courtesy of my friend Abbie in Austin.

  • Good oil. Investing in a small bottle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil, or other flavored oils, will enhance your cooking dramatically. You don't need to cook with it per se, simply drizzle a bit on salads or savory dishes to finish them off.
Check out the Times piece for info on how to use the products in the photo above.

Let me know if you use any of these tips regularly, or if you experiment with some new ones in your own kitchen. And I'd love it if you and give me some of your best flavor boosters in the comments section.


  1. Maria,
    Love the blog, you have a pleasant writing style. It feels like a Julia Child for the new millennium ;-)

    We've taken to dressing salads with a good 18 yr Balsamic and nothing else. Very delicious and low/no fat and calories too.

  2. Nice post! We started bringing back different kinds of salts from our travels in France the past three summers and now have quite the collection :-)

  3. Andrew, thank you, I'm blushing : ) ... and you're so right about the balsamic.

    Mardi, love your Australia shots. Your travels sound amazing.

  4. Thanks - it's been a bit crazy this past week as I have been terribly jetlagged but I am managing to keep up with the posts! Helps that there is some cool subjects to take pictures of (the food!)

  5. Fresh Eats,

    Good post. You are absolutely bang on with your suggestions. There are plenty of simple ways to improve a meal.

    Love your blog. Andrew is do have a pleasant writing style. That's what I love the most!


  6. Hey Maria - Can't find your actual email address so just wanted to check up on how that guest post for my blog is going??? Can't wait to see what you come up with!

  7. Mardi, I'll email you something in the next couple of days. Having trouble posting to your blog - keeps freezing up my computer.

  8. Hi - I have made a few behind the scenes fixes to the blog in the past couple of days so hopefully that's fixed it - I am guessing you are on a PC?? If you email the post to me I will get it sorted.. Cheers!