My goal for this website is to show you foods that are easy to make and healthy to eat. Good food should be available to everyone, no matter how pressed for time or lousy in the kitchen you are (or think you are.) So pretty much everything I talk about here is about eliminating ‘the fuss’ from your cooking.
There are a few things that require a smidgen of extra work (or cost) but to me, make a huge difference in the quality, taste, and overall enjoyment of a dish. Consider them ‘low investment, high return.’
These are four things I never cut corners on.
Fresh ground black pepper
This is a no-brainer for me. I was still at university when I first discovered the joys of a pepper mill, and I have never looked back. And if I could make time for it as a sloppy, fast-food-eating, beer-drinking college kid, I think you can surely make the time for it too. Fresh ground pepper just perks a dish right up, and there’s something kind of soothing about the sound of those little peppercorns crackling apart as you twist.
You’ll have to spend a few extra dollars to buy a pepper mill, but peppercorns are still dirt cheap and will last you ages. Here’s how black pepper impacts your health in every possible way.
No, you do not need to spend dozens of your hard-earned dollars buying fancy Himalayan pink-tinted salts (though you can if you want to!) Many grocery stores sell small containers of sea salt (often found with the specialty items) or even large containers of it carried with the regular items. It is worth paying a bit more for a smaller amount (and anyway, be honest: when’s the last time you finished one of those boxes of table salt?)
There is something about a good sea salt that brightens a dish up much more than regular salt. If you can find it (and afford it) pick up a small bit of ‘fleur de sel’ – this French sea salt is considered the best finishing salt in the world. (“Finishing salt” means you put it on only at the very end of the dish – and the good thing about this is you’ll typically need to use much less of it than if you were adding it earlier it on and boiling the crap out of it. )
Don’t confuse sea salt with table salt. Want to know the difference? Click here.
Real Parmesan cheese
Ok, actually, real Parmesan cheese is called “Parmigiana Reggiano”, but this is actually a trademarked name, and so technically to be called that a cheese must come from a specific region/producer. (It’s similar to the difference between real “Champagne” and generic bubbly.)
You don’t have to buy this uber authentic kind, but get thee to a cheese shop (or even the fresh cheese section of your grocery store) and look for a brick of Parmesan, or even Romano cheese. These cheeses are very hard and grate up finely and beautifully. You will never ever go back to pre-grated or ‘shaker’ Parmesan again.
Cheese like this is phenomenal on pasta, and great on salads and soups as well. You can buy a grater specific for cheeses, but I just use my regular 4-sided box grater and it works great. If you wrap the cheese well, it will last for several months in the fridge. (Typically it will get too hard to grate before it actually goes ‘bad’.)
When a recipe calls for fresh-squeezed lemon (or lime or orange) juice, I’ve been known to sub in the bottled stuff. I keep those little squeezy bottles of lemon and lime juice in my fridge and typically rely on them for salad dressings or to perk up a drink. BUT. When a recipe calls for ‘zest’ or grated rind, make no substitutions! It is worth it to pick up a lemon (or lime or orange) and grate that bad boy up.
So next time you find yourself making a lemon loaf, and the recipe calls for a couple tablespoons of finely zested lemon rind – don’t think you can get away with just adding extra lemon juice. I have done this in the past, and it just doesn’t compare. The bitterness of the rind adds a real complexity to the flavor and it’s really worth adding the real thing, even if it can be a pain to grate and your hands will smell like lemons for two days.
So those are the four things I consider ‘worth the fuss’. I’d love to hear what you guys think. Are there ingredients you stand by, no matter how much longer they take to prep or how much more they cost to buy? What’s ‘worth the fuss’ to you?