Tasty Tufts: Easy Ways to Improve Flavor

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Friday, everyone! Click on over to Tasty Tufts to read my new post on how to improve the flavor while you cook. There’s all sorts of food science and tips for how to apply the information to your meals, whether you eat all your meals in a dining hall or at home.

(Unrelated photo, but if you’re looking for a way to celebrate spring break, make a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies!)


Helpful Kitchen Tips and Strategies

Here are some of the shortcuts and strategies that I use almost daily in my kitchen to simplify cooking as well as improve flavor. I hope you find these as helpful as I do.

  1. Wrap a paper towel collar around the jars of sticky liquids like molasses and corn syrup then secure with a rubber band to keep cabinets mess free.

    Before I started doing this, the shelves of my cabinets were covered in sticky rings that made it impossible to safely remove molasses jars from high shelves and made a mess out of all the baking supplies. Now, I just fashion a collar around a new jar and our baking cabinet is cleaner than ever.

  2. Use parchment paper when baking for easy cookie release and even baking.

    Cookies will naturally stick to metal pans due to the sugar, fats, and starches in the dough. Greasing the cookie sheets, however, is not the best way to prevent sticking because the fat makes the cookies spread unevenly and brown faster on some of their edges. Parchment paper lets the cookies bake evenly, have a quick release, and makes clean up easier.

  3. Store natural nut butters upside down in the pantry to facilitate oil mixing when it’s time to open a new jar.

    Anyone else ever find themselves mixing a peanut cement with a sloppy layer of messy oil? Make things easier and let gravity do the work by storing the jars upside down. When a new jar is opened, all it takes is a few stirs around the sides with a knife and the consistency with be ready for a batch of peanut butter cookies or almond blueberry rolls.

  4. Make big batches of grains like rice or quinoa, then freeze extras in single serving containers.

    When you need a quick side dish or have nothing in the fridge for lunch, pull out one of these containers and after a few minutes in the microwave, the texture will be identical to freshly cooked grains. Toss them with some beans, a light vinaigrette, and some chopped vegetables, and you have a nutritious lunch that takes less than five minutes to make.

  5. Freeze parmesan rinds, then add as needed to simmering soups to boost flavor.

    Parmesan rinds are packed full of glutamates, which adds umami (savory) taste to food. Since no one eats the hard rinds anyways, pop them in the freezer and throw an inch-long piece in your next pot of minestrone or bean soup.

  6. Freeze ginger root for easy grating and quick access to fresh ginger.

    Ginger can be a difficult ingredient because it is notoriously hard to grate and I never manage to use the giant piece from the produce bins at one time. By freezing it, the flavor stays fresh and the fibers aren’t as stringy when it comes time to grate the ginger.

  7. Freeze black bananas for future banana bread.

    We always have a few bananas that get neglected and ripen too quickly, so I toss them in the freezer, and when I get enough of them, I pull them out for banana bread. Since they’re overripe, they’re nice and sweet, which makes for delicious bread.

  8. Stock your spice cabinet with widely used spices: cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and dried thyme.

    I consider these to be the most widely used spices. With this collection, you can make food from around the world—Mexico, India, France, South America, Italy, Spain, Greece, North Africa, and much of the Middle East.

  9. Toast all your spices briefly with the aromatics before adding the liquids in a curry or a soup.

    The chemical reactions that release the most flavor in dried spices occur at temperatures over 300 degrees. When you add the spices directly to a boiling pot of liquid, the hottest that the spices can get is 212, which dulls the flavor of the dish. A quick toast with the sautéed onions and garlic greatly increases the flavor and complexity of a dish.
  10. Read recipes carefully to ensure proper measuring.

    One cup of flour (measured before sifting) weighs 4 ½-5 ounces, while one cup of sifted flour (measured after sifting) weighs less than 4 ounces. This can have a huge impact on a baked good, so make sure you recognize what the recipe is asking for.

  11. Add an acid to a dish if it seems like it’s missing something.

    More often than not, a dish that tastes dull is not in need of salt, but the bright notes of a vinegar or citrus juice. Keep a wide variety on hand for multiple cuisines, as they will keep for a long time and can save a flavorless recipe.

  12. Store nuts with high oil contents like walnuts, pecans, and pine nuts in the freezer to keep them fresh.

    Rancid nuts taste bitter, and in the case of pine nuts, can leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth for up to a week. If you buy your nuts in bulk, store them in the freezer, where they will keep for about 4 months, compared to just a few weeks in the pantry.

  13. Mix granulated sugar with molasses in case of brown sugar shortages.

    It happens to me all the time: I’m making my way through a cookie recipe when I realize I don’t have any brown sugar. Rather than go to the store, I mix 1 cup of regular sugar with 2 teaspoons of molasses—problem solved.

  14. Add a handful of chopped herbs to brighten the color of a dish and give it a fresh flavor.

    We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, and if a dish is beige and drab, it’s not going to be as impressive as a bright and vibrant dish. Just a tablespoon of chopped herbs will work wonders on the aesthetics and taste.

  15. Save extra tomato paste in the freezer for constant fresh supply.

    I don’t know about you, but I rarely use the whole can of tomato paste. Any extras that I have I stick in the freezer, then when I need some, I chop off the desired amount and throw it in the pot. It defrosts easily and the flavor does not suffer when frozen.

  16. Make buttermilk with 1 cup of low-fat milk and 2 teaspoons of either lemon juice or a mild vinegar (white or apple cider).

    I never have buttermilk at home, but milk and lemon juice or vinegar works just as well and doesn’t leave me with 3 cups of buttermilk that I have to find a use for in the coming week.

  17. Offset the smell of cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, or kale by melting 1 tablespoons of butter with ½ teaspoon of cinnamon on the stovetop.

    Dark green vegetables are incredibly healthy, but very pungent when cooked. This quick mixture, when heated, helps to fix the aroma of steamed broccoli.

  18. Use a large (1/4 cup) ice cream scoop to make portioning baked goods a quick and easy process.

    A quarter cup measure is the perfect size for scooping out muffin and cupcake batter, and I even use if for cookies. 1 scoop, divided into 4 sections, makes perfectly portioned cookies that are the ideal size for snacks or parties.

  19. Boil spaghetti and toss with minced garlic and olive oil when a kitchen disaster has left you without dinner.
    Everyone has kitchen flops and disasters, and when that happens, just make this quick Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil. It’s delicious, fast, and easy to make. Everyone needs a backup plan.
  20. Stay far away from any fat-free cookie recipes. It’s a lie. They’re not really cookies.

    Cookies need fat for the proper texture and flavor. If you don’t want to eat fat, don’t make cookies.