Kitchen Tip: Add Finishing Touches

Worknight Dinners
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In just about any situation in life, the key to knowing what you’re doing is pretending that you know what you’re doing.

When you’re behind the wheel of a car trying to impress your new boyfriend with your stellar sense of direction or presenting to a boardroom full of c-level executives, if you hold your head high and speak confidently, you will gain trust.

The same rules apply in the kitchen.

Kind of. In a perfect world, we’d all have enough time to grind our own spices, chop fresh basil for pesto and crush our own tomatoes for marinara sauce.

Fresh food tastes better than food that’s been treated with chemicals and preservatives and studies have shown that it can be better for you, too.

But, is this a perfect world?

No, not really.

It is a world with deadlines, traffic and bus delays.

People work long hours, take care of families and occasionally, don’t eat dinner until nine o’clock at night.

So sometimes, we do open cans, bottles and boxes when we want to make a meal.

By keeping a few key ingredients in your pantry and a few special tips in mind, you can do that and still make just about any meal seem gourmet.

herbed cheese dip

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Use Your Herbs

Herbs are a great way to add a low-fat, calorie-free kick to soups, stews and casseroles. You can even chop fresh chives or basil to mix with goat cheese for a savory hors d’oeuvres spread.

Say Cheese

A sprinkle of hand grated or shredded parmesan goes a long way in a simple meal.

From basic salads and sandwiches to quick pastas and omelets, grated parmesan cheese adds a sharp, sophisticated flavor to any dish that will leave you wanting seconds.

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Pesto, Please

One of the simplest weeknight meals is pasta.

Not only is it efficient for your wallet, but it cooks in under fifteen minutes. Paired with a simple sauce it can be a healthy, filling meal for any night of the week.

If you’re privy to tomato-based sauces like marinara, you can spice it up with a little bit of pesto sauce to add a nutty, earthy flavor that sets your sauce apart from the rest.

Extra Extract

Don’t be afraid to season your favorite dessert with a few drops of flavorful extract.

A few drops of almond extract adds richness to bread pudding and a splash of vanilla extract adds some kick to your vanilla milkshake.

But beware – a little goes a long way here, so be sure to have a light hand.

Unrecognizable woman hands cooking salad. Top view

Chop Ahead of Time

Don’t resort to canned or frozen vegetables when you can have the real deal.

If you chop your vegetables the previous night – or even on Sundays so you’ll be set for the week, you’ll have garnishes, side dishes and salads ready to go at a moment’s notice.

What are some of your favorite finishing touches to add flair to a meal?

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Sarah Caron
    July 8, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I totally agree with Lydia — cook ahead of time so that you have meals prepared for those late nights or when you just don’t feel like cooking. A mini-food processor, some ice cube trays and some plastic bags can go a long way in prepping ahead of time.
    Also, thinking ahead really helps — it’s way less work when I know what I am making every day before the day even begins.
    In addition to zest and fresh lemon juice, balsamic vinegar is another fav finisher of mine — a little into marinara adds an unexpected depth of flavor and a bit tossed with sauteed veggies makes them irresistible.

  • Reply
    Carissa
    July 7, 2009 at 2:44 am

    so my steam-in-the-microwave veggies are no good? haha. I often resort to those steamer pouches. unfortunately, whenever I buy fresh fruits and veggies they tend to go bad before we eat them because I am not the best about planning out dinners. but I do like the tip about adding pesto to tomato sauce. I love pasta and I LOVE pesto, but I have never added pesto to tomato sauce. so I will have to try that soon!

  • Reply
    annie
    July 6, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Great ideas! I agree herbs are essential! And I have been using more lemon juice and zest too!

  • Reply
    Sunny
    July 6, 2009 at 9:16 am

    i love these tips! you’re so right about not resorting to canned or frozen veggies. there’s absolutely no nutritional value in them. i would definitely rather have fresh veggies and it only takes a minute to wash and chop them!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    July 6, 2009 at 2:23 am

    Great, post, Maris! I love your tips 🙂 I always go to chives to fancy up and add an extra burst, when plating in the spring and summer 🙂 Easy to cut perfectly and right in my garden. Convenient, I guess..lol

  • Reply
    Natasha - 5 Star Foodie
    July 6, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Excellent tips! Love using the herbs and cheese as well; also I use various finishing salts.

  • Reply
    Christina
    July 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I think that spices really make a meal but like Elra, I need a spice 101 lesson too. I basically always use the same one: italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.

  • Reply
    Melissa
    July 5, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Keep a few lemons & limes in the fridge. A squeeze of lemon over some steamed veggies, or some lime over a bowl of chili really brightens up a dish.

  • Reply
    lisa (dandysugar)
    July 5, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Great weeknight meal tips. In addition to lots of fresh herbs and veggies, I like to have a lots of lemon and lime on hand and a variety of nuts. I like to chop roasted pecans and throw them in a stir fry or toss some pine nuts in my pasta.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    July 5, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Great tips!

  • Reply
    Sara
    July 5, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I totally agree with you on the herbs – I grow most in my garden so I can just run outside and snip a few to perk up any meal.

  • Reply
    elra
    July 5, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Great tips!
    My favorite finishing touches would be sprinkling the roasted chipotle pepper over anything I made.

  • Reply
    mandy
    July 5, 2009 at 10:58 am

    These are great tips. I always struggle with knowing what to do to finish the meal. I can use some spices but I really need a spice 101 lesson.

  • Reply
    Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)
    July 5, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I’d add to that list: cook when you can, on the weekends or days off, and freeze it. Pesto will keep for months in the freezer, and can be defrosted quickly for a worknight dinner. Make ice cube trays full of your favorite pesto. When frozen, store the cubes in a plastic bag. Then take as many cubes as you need for pasta or soup or pizza.

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