Nutrition & Fitness
Used to Eating Out for Every Meal? Use These Tips to Cook Food You'll Want to Eat and Actually Enjoy
Eating out has its perks. For starters, you don't have to worry about cleaning a messy kitchen or loading and emptying the dishwasher. You can simply relax while someone else prepares a mouthwatering meal for you.
That's not saying you wouldn't like to make dinner for yourself and others more often, but when responsibilities at work and home overwhelm your daily life, cooking is usually the last thing you want to do with your free time.
Of course, not everyone is an expert chef, either. Thankfully, these cooking tips and tricks will help you prepare meals you'll love right in your kitchen.
The Benefits of Home-Cooked Meals vs. Fast Food
The convenience of driving up to a window and ordering something to eat is a real advantage if you're hungry or have somewhere to be. There were 204,555 fast-food establishments in the United States as of 2022, a 1.3% increase over 2021. However, dining out adds up and isn't exactly the healthiest habit.
The benefits of home-cooked meals versus fast food are evident — and cooking at home certainly outranks ordering takeout every day. You can make smarter dietary decisions and save money. Restaurant meals that cost $13 are approximately 325% more expensive than what you'd spend on groceries and cooking at home.
Cooking also allows you to decide what ingredients to include or swap out in your dishes. Controlling fats, sugars and sodium helps prevent obesity, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
Likewise, with gluten sensitivity affecting 6%-7% of the U.S. population, home-cooked meals prevent contamination that might lead to severe food reactions, inflammation and other digestive issues.
7 Tips for Cooking a Stellar Meal at Home
These seven tips will help you make a meal you'll enjoy, whether it's been a while since you pulled out the cutting board or have a reputation for being a subpar cook.
1. Use Fresh Herbs and Spices
The spice aisle at the grocery store is packed with dehydrated seasonings you can store in your cabinet, but quite a few taste so much better when fresh. Basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme and garlic can be bought in small containers if you'd like, but picking them fresh will enhance your home-cooked meals tenfold.
Have fun experimenting with different herbs and spices while you're cooking — maybe you'll create a unique blend of mint, parsley, oregano and garlic for roasting chicken.
You might also be surprised to learn that shellfish is a relatively easy food to make at home for dinner as you try out new recipes. Chives deliver an oniony zing when added to lobster cream sauces and marinades.
2. Buy Local Produce in Season
Visit your local farmstand or farmers market for the freshest seasonal fruits and vegetables. Locally grown foods travel fewer miles, meaning there's less time between when they're harvested and actually make it to your dinner plate.
Additionally, buying locally and in season means farmers harvest the produce at the appropriate time to maintain the essential nutrients — and they also taste better. For example, fruits and vegetables, such as apricots, tomatoes and okra, are seasonal produce during the summer and will lose their flavoring and nutritional value when autumn rolls around.
3. Let the Pan Preheat
As the saying goes, a watched pot never boils — and the same could be said for a preheated pan. Stop yourself if you're tempted to sauté your vegetables and protein before the skillet is hot. A cool pan will make pork and steak juices leak, causing them to steam rather than sear.
Additionally, certain cuts of meat require rapid cooking to maintain tenderness or they become tough. Vegetables also lose their crispness and will turn out mushy if a pan is too cool for sautéing.
You can check to see if your pan is hot enough by adding a small drop of water and waiting for it to sizzle. However, don't use this trick with oil to prevent splattering and getting burned.
4. Save the Fond
Whether you're searing protein or caramelizing onions in a skillet, you'll likely end up with browned residue at the bottom of the pan — also known as fond. An inexperienced chef might want to discard the fond immediately, but they'll miss out on the most savory flavors.
Pull the fond up without ruining your pan by adding a small amount of water or broth and reheating the pan. Then, pull up as much as possible by scraping against it with a wooden spoon. Add whatever fond you collect to gravy, sauce, soup or a hearty stew.
5. Add a Pinch of Sugar
Most recipes call for seasoning meat and vegetables with salt and pepper. After all, a sprinkle of each does a lot to boost the flavor. However, a pinch of sugar goes a long way, as well. It adds a subtle sweetness to your recipe and tends to offset bitter and acidic ingredients particularly well.
For example, a little sugar can balance the flavors if you use too much rice wine vinegar in a fresh cucumber-dill salad. Sugar also helps meat maintain its tenderness during cooking, particularly if you allow it to sit for a while before placing it in a pan or oven.
6. Simmer Spices in Fat First
Flex your culinary skills by simmering herbs and spices in fat for intense flavor. It only takes a couple of minutes in the pan for aromatics to bloom fully. Then add your meats, vegetables or liquids and allow the seasonings to do the hard work for you.
Sauté a tablespoon of olive oil, minced garlic and crushed red pepper before adding raw shrimp. Likewise, a pat of butter with thyme, oregano or chives is excellent for sautéing onions.
7. Use Quality Cookware
You can mix the tastiest seasoning rub or know precisely how to prepare the perfect al dente pasta — but if you aren't working with quality cookware, your meals may not be as good as you'd like.
Every at-home chef should own high-quality nonstick and stainless steel pans, as both types serve a purpose in cooking. For example, nonstick pans are better for cooking delicate foods that require low- or medium-heat settings, such as eggs or fish. Conversely, stainless steel pans can handle higher temperatures, acidic ingredients and metal utensils, but may be harder to clean than their counterparts.
Cooking at Home Has Never Been Easier or More Delicious
You don't have to eat out for every meal if you can learn the essential tricks for cooking delicious food at home. Save money and make healthier choices by skipping the drive-thru and whipping up a satisfying dinner that tastes better than your favorite restaurant dish.
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