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Wednesday, 26 February 2014 11:54

Season It!

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One of the most frequently asked advice I have is for seasoning foods. This goes for vegetables as well as varieties of meats, seafood and poultry dishes. As a professional chef I have a seemingly endless supply of things to choose from at hand in any commercial kitchen I work from. Even at home it seems that most of my refrigerator and cupboard real estate is taken up with every imaginable condiment, spice, spread, flavored oils and flavored vinegars and on and on. OK, I'm obsessed.


That being said, I know that most normal people aren't as smitten as I am and most folks rely on just a handful of their 'go-to' seasonings for most of their culinary needs. But you know, that's just fine. So very many things that I (or you) cook are actually best when very little 'extra' flavoring is added. Let the food speak for itself flavor wise. Really, that's the best advice....keep it simple. After decades of cooking meats of all kinds I've come to enjoy the simplest of flavor combinations work best. For roasted meats I favor just salt, pepper and granulated garlic. For poultry I use salt, sugar (Truvia for CMWM diets) and paprika. For most vegetables, a little sautéed garlic on shallot.

However, outside of my commercial kitchens where I really do have an endless supply of things to flavor my latest menus, the home cook can do really well with just a few simple ingredients that can make a humdrum dish really come alive without any special culinary wiz bang technique. Here are some ideas for you to explore with. Sometimes to get out of a culinary rut, try something simple but different and you may find a new love for your vegetables or proteins AND stay on plan with wherever you are on your diet plans. And no, it's not cheating to use any of these flavor aids. The only training that you'll need is your own personal taste. Just let the aromas and flavors be your guide.

Lea & Perrine's Worcestershire Sauce - just a sprits on your steak, pork or favorite poultry dish can round out the flavors. Mere droplets in the pan drippings will make your sauces and gravies come alive.

Better than Bouillon Base (pictured above) - add just a quarter of a teaspoon to finish a vegetable stir fry or to spark up a side vegetable. The less you use, the better as it can make a dish really salty really quickly. But used with restraint it will add just the right touch to your side dish and it is great to complete your soups and sauces.

Taco Seasoning - Sprinkle a little of this on your vegetables or use it as a dry rub on your meats, seafood or poultry dishes to get that south-of-the-border flavor if you don't have a pantry full of spices.

Wishbone and Safeway Brands Salad Dressing Sprays (pictured above) - These salad dressing sprays are absolutely fantastic when sprayed on your favorite salad but are also great when sprayed on your side vegetables. Each sprits or spray adds only 1 calorie (and 1 gram of carbohydrates). A little goes a long way. Just spray on prior to serving your side dish. It's also great on your fish or chicken dishes.

Smoke, liquid or dry- As unusual as it may sound; just a drop or two of liquid smoke adds a ton of flavor. The best rule of thumb is to keep flavorings like this very subtle. Just use a little. Too much and it'll just plain taste weird. When barbequing, toss in moistened herbs, woody branches on your coals and all imbue unique and delicious flavors to your grilled foods. Or pick up some smoking woods at your local grocery store or camping goods store. Woods like apple, cherry or mesquite really to add great flavors to your grill (and they smell great too). Soak the wood chips in water first as this will make them last a bit longer on the fire and give off the most flavors.

Bacon Salt - This is one of the many new food trends, adding bacon from everything from salts to chocolate. The trick again is to keep is simple, subtle. A little goes a long way. First cook the bacon until very crispy then dry off all fat/moisture. I prefer to cook bacon on a sheet pan in the oven. It makes for a more even cooking and frees up time to do other things while it bakes. Once crisp and dry, chop it very fine. Finally, combine the bacon with double the amount of large crystal sea salt. At this point either grind it together with a mortar and pestle or pulse in a food processor. The resulting bacon-salt can now be used just like salt when salting anything you cook.

Dorot Brand frozen cubes / purées (pictured above) - These are must haves for your freezer stand by. These are pure purees of Garlic, Ginger, Peppers, Cilantro, Basil and Parsley packaged into little savory frozen cubes. Each cube is about a half teaspoon of the real deal. All of the selections are just finely minced or pureed garlic, ginger, etc. with no additives. With these you no longer have to go through the time consuming peeling and de-stemming. Just pop out a cube of whatever flavor you choose and spark up anything your are cooking!

Trader Joes Red Pepper, Eggplant and Garlic Spread - This is another one of those must have ingredients. It is just a blend of red peppers and garlic with a little eggplant blended in for good measure. This can be used just as is for a dip or as a glaze for your meats, seafood or poultry dish pleasure. It is also a great addition to a soup or a sauce. Mix in a little plain Greek non fat yogurt and non fat sour cream for a creamier sauce or dip and it's fantastic over poached eggs! Available at your Trader Joes store on online.

For you Do-It-Yourself Cooks:

Curry Powder, Cumin and Chutney - Mix nearly equal amount of each, stir well and this 'paste' will give awesome flavors to your chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes. It also works well as a glaze or a dip for your grilled meat dishes.

Tapenade - This little condiment packs quite a flavorful punch! It is typically a finely minced combination of Kalamata olives flavored with a bit of garlic and a hint of anchovy. You can make your own or just visit your local supermarket to buy it. It's generally packed in small jars (2-4 ounce sizes) and found where condiments like chutney are found.

Butter Buds and Frank's Hot Wing Sauce - For those who like it hot and spicy. Just heat up your favorite selection of Frank's Hot Sauce and mellow out the burn with a little buttery goodness with Butter Buds. Baste this on chicken for a spicy and savory roast. Simply delicious.

Gremolata - This is the classic Italian topping of Osso Bucco or braised beef shanks. It's equally good on your favorite roasted meats and seafood of all types. Just sprinkle on top prior to serving. It is composed of finely diced or minced lemon zest, garlic and parsley. It is sometimes flavored with salt, pepper and a little olive oil (optional).

Worcestershire and Black Pepper - I recently found this in the spice section of a local supermarket. How simple could this get?! These are two awesome flavors in one little pepper can.

Make your own spice mixtures, oils and vinegars. More about this on my next blog.

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