Well, it’s clear that I haven’t had a chance to post much here recently, and I haven’t been doing many cooking challenges lately either. Sometimes life gets too hectic. With that in mind, I am returning my focus to simple recipes, and I will post a bunch of them here.
By simple recipes, I mean recipes that have only a handful of ingredients, no more than five total, including salt, pepper and oil. Or quick but complete dinners that you can put together in one pan. These are the kinds of recipes that you will memorize after making them two or three times, so that you can easily whip one up on a weeknight even if you’re dead tired, or you can pull out when you’re not sure what to make with that ingredient you picked up on sale.
These recipes are great to add to your repertoire, but the problem is that they can become boring after a while. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a ready-made arsenal to add pizzazz to any recipe. You can vary the flavors depending on your mood and what you have available.
Here is my list of sure-fire ways to quickly and easily boost the flavor quotient in a simple recipe:
- Garnish it with fresh herbs after cooking.
- Sprinkle in a little citrus juice or vinegar at the end of cooking.
- Add minced chiles or red pepper flakes for heat.
- Substitute heavy cream, sour cream, plain yogurt or melted butter for some of the oil.
- Sprinkle with grated Parmesan or other cheese or with crumbled bacon (you can substitute bacon grease for some of the oil as well).
- Mix in slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pesto or other ready-made ingredients from the pantry.
- Substitute or add similar vegetables.
As I post some of my favorite tried-and-true simple recipes, I’ll provide examples of these flavor boosters. But never be afraid to experiment. Cooking is more fun that way!
Broccoli and potato soup is one of my fallback recipes. I end up making it often, when I’m low on ideas or haven’t been to the store lately. I generally have the ingredients to make this soup. It takes well to all kinds of seasonings and is great garnished with some shredded cheese or a dollop of sour cream.
This time, I decided to garnish with strained yogurt instead of sour cream. Both are similarly tart, but yogurt seems healthier somehow. Strained yogurt is simply yogurt from which the liquid has been strained. It has a thickened, spreadable quality, and it can be blended with other flavors to make a dip or spread. Some people call it yogurt cheese.
You will need something to strain the yogurt through. I always use a coffee filter, and it works well. A muslin towel would also work.
I tuck the filter into a funnel suspended over a glass or into the top of a tall glass, secured with a rubber band. I then fill it with plain yogurt and put the whole contraption into the fridge to sit, preferably overnight. The liquid will drip out and can be discarded. The resulting yogurt cheese can be stored up to 2 weeks. Use it wherever you might use cream cheese or sour cream, or just spread it on your toast in the morning.
Another big-time party is coming up, so time for a couple of dip recipes to hit my blog. This dip is a very pretty coral color, super-easy to make, tangy and really good. It goes well with crudites and pita chips. No one will ever guess you used yogurt (yuck!) for the base. (Actually, I eat plain yogurt almost every day for breakfast, so I am a fan of the flavor.)
Roasted Red Pepper & Yogurt Dip
Serves: many people
Time to make: ~5 minutes with pre-roasted peppers
In a food processor, proccess together:
- 1 cup roasted red peppers — jarred or roast them yourself under the broiler until the skins turn black
- ½ cup plain yogurt (not low-fat!)
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
Notes:If you use jarred red peppers packed in olive oil or vinegar, substitute some of the liquid from the jar, but reduce the amount a bit.
If you roast your own red peppers, let them steam for about 10 minutes in a paper bag after roasting. This will make it easier to remove the skins. But don’t stress about peeling every bit of skin off, since the smoky flavor will just add to the flavor of the dip.