A Perfect Pair

If you don’t have a recipe, how do find a perfect pair of flavors? My oldest son once called me during a layover in Vegas on his way home asking me to make Mexican lasagne for dinner. I had no idea what that was. He described it as a layered dish with lasagne noodles, meat, red sauce seasoned with a ton of spices like you’d use in tacos plus those in traditional lasagne, and cheese. I told him I’d give it a shot.

In that instance, I imagined the flavors in tacos. For that flavor profile, I chose salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. For the lasagne flavors, I added oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary. I combined both of these profiles using sight, smell, and taste to judge the amount of each to add. The result turned out better than I would have guessed when he suggested it.

This request didn’t throw me because I rarely use recipes when I’m cooking for my family. So how do I know what to put in the pot? I’ve probably mentioned before that I imagine flavor combinations in my head. I do. But there are several things in play when I’m cooking.
perfect pair
For one, I use my sense of smell. If you hold your head over a pan and smell for a moment, you’ll realize you can smell salt as well as garlic, and curry powder, and basil. When the balance of the aroma is off, the taste will be as well.

I also use my eyes. If I’m adding beans to chili or cranberries to a salad, I use proportions that look pleasing. This results in a full combination of flavors in each bite.

Throwing something together often begins with inspiration or imagination. Sometimes I take a bite of something and have a sudden thought that it would pair well with X. Other times, I take the ingredients in my refrigerator and imagine different combinations of the flavors there. Sometimes I do this when I’m choosing my groceries for pickup or purchasing items at the farmers market.

Beyond my senses and imagination, I use memory. I both watched and helped my grandmother cook. I think about how she seasoned things. I also pay attention to the flavors and ingredients I can identify in restaurant dishes. And I envision combinations I’ve seen in recipes before.

Even if I can remember the general ingredients, once I get started I have to determine proportions. Knowing how something should look is helpful. If I’ve seen the consistency of pancake batter, then I can tell if there’s too much liquid or not enough.

Cooking experience is valuable as well. If you’ve baked a lot of cakes, you’ll have an idea what the ratio of flour to sugar, oil, and eggs should be. It’s probably worth noting that when you make gluten or dairy-free versions, traditional rules may not apply.

The best gluten-free sandwich bread I make has a dough that’s more like batter than dough. But once you’re practiced in these adaptations, you’ll still be able to rely on experience to help you.

If you have never cooked, or watched anyone cook, from scratch and cannot imagine flavor pairings, there’s a handy tool called The Flavor Bible that tells you what to mix and match. This comprehensive reference book of compatible flavors was named by Forbes as one of the 10 best cookbooks in the world of the past century. It also won a James Beard Book Award.

Following a specific recipe to the letter will yield a more consistent result, but using a flavor guide can introduce playfulness into your cooking. Life is made of so many repetitious chores, I like to add a sense of fun and play whenever I can. Sometimes the best way to do that is to try to find yet another perfect pair.

https://www.karenandandrew.com/books/the-flavor-bible/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mix and Match

Sometimes in the kitchen I just have to mix and match. I grew up on a farm so it wasn’t convenient to shop at the grocery store often. We planned and purchased for a week at a time. If we decided to vary the menu from our plan, we sometimes had to make substitutions. Those habits stuck with me. I tend to shop once a week with a loose plan in my head. In between trips, I mix and match to create the meals I desire.
herbs
While our Cooking2Thrive recipes go through at least three extensive tests to make sure the proportion of each ingredient is just right, my everyday cooking is haphazard, thrown together, and, more often than not, delicious! I’m rarely deterred by lack of an ingredient.

I recently decided to make tuna croquettes. They’re one of my favorite quick & easy go-tos. I keep them really simple like my grandmother did. She always mixed canned salmon, an egg, crushed saltines and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Then she pan fried them in melted butter. I use tuna rather than salmon, but other than that I follow her lead.

Technically, these may not even be croquettes to you. They have no béchamel or brown sauce. They’re not rolled in breadcrumbs, and they’re shaped like round patties instead of cylinders. Nonetheless, they’re quite tasty.

Five-ounce cans of solid white albacore tuna in water are staples in my pantry. I combine one or two cans with one egg, gluten-free breadcrumbs, and a little salt & pepper. I never measure, I just add breadcrumbs until the mixture isn’t too wet or dry to hold together. Then I make patties and pan fry them in butter.

Most recently, I began making the croquettes and realized I only had about a tablespoon of breadcrumbs. That’s not enough. I had no crackers or bread on hand. I did have an open bag of Cheetos® puffs (yes, I know those aren’t healthy). I placed a handful of them in a plastic bag and crushed them to use in place of the breadcrumbs. I had to crush a few more, but they worked like a charm!

I had never before considered using Cheetos in croquettes, but there are substitutions I make on a fairly regular basis. I add vinegar to regular milk to use in place of buttermilk. I use coconut crystals in place of brown sugar. I use dates or honey to sweeten muffins or cookies. I substitute anise for fennel or vice versa. I mix and match citrus all the time depending on what I have handy, sometimes adding a little apple cider or rice wine vinegar to enhance the acidity of lemon, lime, or orange flavor and balsamic vinegar to enhance cherry.

Last week I baked some tilapia to serve over rice. I really wanted the fresh punch of a pico de gallo as a finisher on top. I had no cilantro, lime, or peppers on hand. What I had was grape tomatoes, yellow onion, and basil stir-in paste.

I thought why not see if I can combine these into something that will add the cool acidic top note I’m looking for? I chopped the tomatoes and onion into small pieces, added a small dollop of the basil along with some salt and pepper. The resulting salsa enhanced the fish and rice perfectly even though the flavor profile varied from pico de gallo.

At some point, most of us will discover we lack an ingredient needed to finish a dish we’ve already started cooking for dinner. That’s a great time to mix and match. If you’re not sure where to begin, a guide to pairing flavors can be helpful. Check out the award-winning book – The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.

Or just do what I do and wing it. Cooking is as much art as science. I can’t tell you how I know a substitution will work. I just see it in my head. You may be able to do this too. There’s nothing wrong with giving it a try!

Mixing and matching may make your food a little less predictable, but in my experience, no one seems to mind as long as it’s tasty.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/tilapia-has-a-terrible-reputation-does-it-deserve-it/2016/10/24/4537dc96-96e6-11e6-bc79-af1cd3d2984b_story.html?utm_term=.2f02886f3438

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flavor-bible-karen-page/1100163990#/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Go For Full Flavor!

Taco Bowl
Taco Bowl
Crafted, Greensboro
When you’re throwing together a meal or choosing one on location, go for full flavor! Last Christmas I made some Cauliflower Taters to take to my mom’s house. Since Mom is a dialysis patient following a Renal Diet, I wanted to make sure that I avoided real potatoes, too much salt, and too much cheese. This wasn’t a problem. The problem was, I froze.

Instead of keeping the proportions within tolerance and still going for full flavor, I stopped myself when the flavors were balanced…balanced, but bland. I recognized in the moment that I was stopping myself from that one last pinch of salt and spoonful of Parmesan. I convinced myself, against my better judgement, that I should stop at that point.

When we got to the table for the meal and I took a bite, I was very disappointed in my decision. I hate bland. And I wasn’t the only one. My kids and their girlfriends are used to layers of flavor from fresh ingredients. They were highly disappointed too.Case1
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I was reminded of those disappointing taters recently when I excitedly chose a quinoa and sweet potato cake, herb roasted chicken, and kale salad from a grocery case. Everything looked tasty and healthy. The combination made for a beautiful plate. I sat out on the balcony looking at the mountains anticipating that first delicious bite.

And then I took the first bite and cringed. With the exception of the salad, the food was simply devoid of flavor. Whether I’m on the balcony, at my mom’s table, or in a restaurant, bland food always leaves me feeling irritated and dissatisfied. Ben’s simple solution to this problem is to reach for the Sriracha. The processed food industry’s solution is to add chemical flavor enhancers. My solution in this case was to remake the leftovers into something else.
balcony meal
My most common solution is to use fresh ingredients, taste early, taste often, and avoid the temptation to back off on the flavor when preparing food for a specialized eating plan.

A meal that is kidney friendly, diabetes friendly, heart healthy, gluten-free, Crohn’s friendly, or colitis friendly can be infused with layers of flavor from onion, celery, carrots, garlic, shallots, scallions, basil, sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, dill, cilantro, tarragon, chervil, marjoram, black pepper, red pepper, paprika, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cumin, chili powder, curry, turmeric, fennel, lemon juice & zest, lime juice & zest, orange juice & zest, vinegar, infused olive oils, and a host of other herbs and spices. If you’re not sure which flavors enhance each other, check out a guide like “The Flavor Bible”.

Too often it seems that people associate healthy eating with tasteless food. That is unfortunate because healthy food can be delicious food as long as you go for full flavor!

http://craftedtheartofthetaco.com/

http://www.huyfong.com/

https://www.penzeys.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4443485-the-flavor-bible

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”