Who enjoys bland food? Exactly no one enjoys bland food. Different regions and cultures each have their own list of ingredients and cooking methods to ensure this very travesty is avoided… but I do believe these 10 reasons hold true regardless of background! You might be surprised to see how a few tweaks transform the meals that hit your table. Regardless of your preferred seasoning.
Your meals CAN be packed with flavor. You are NOT a bad cook. If you’re willing to experiment and practice, you’ll look back in shock at just how far you’ve come. So if that sounds like a plan, I’ll start hitting with my 10 Tips to help your meals taste anything but bland!
1. Limited Palate
No, I’m not trying to pick a fight. But if you aren’t constantly exploring new-to-you food groups, seasonings, and recipes you are seriously being shortchanged. Look. I’m all about comfort food. The meals I love, the recipes I trust, the spices that remind me of home. And I’m not saying to get rid of that. I AM saying to grow beyond that.
The more you challenge your palate, the more creative you’ll naturally become in the kitchen. The two go hand in hand. Two peas in a pod if you must. I believe this to be so important I highlighted it as one of my Kitchen Basics In 7 Practical Steps. If you really want to up your game and say no to bland food, this is THE BEST place to start.
In fact, I’ve seen so many home cooks struggle with where to begin that I created a free 30 Day Cooking Reset that will help you conquer one small task a day, leaving you with a well rounded, refreshed experience sure to help your meals taste better. Go check it out!
2. Expired Spices and Herbs
This is the one that’ll sneak up on ya. Did you know that ground spices (think chili powder, curry blends, cinnamon) lose the majority of their flavor within one year of being bottled? Whole spices (think cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, dried chilis) can hold well for up to three years if stored correctly. Which is why a mortar and pestle are such common kitchen tools in many kitchens across the world- where whole spices are ground on demand for the particular dish being made at that moment.
The above tidbit holds true for herbs as well. While “expired” spices and herbs aren’t actually expired, that term is used to indicate a lack of color, lack of smell, and lack of taste. Honestly. If you can’t remember when you bought that chili powder or your jar of dried parsley…it’s probably time for a refresh. Because all the seasoning in the world won’t matter if it carries no flavor. Which means you’ll more than likely end up with- bland food.
3. Under Seasoned
Now that you’ve double checked a few of those spice bottles and replaced the ones that needed to go, it’s time to conquer the more intimidating part. The act of seasoning itself. Not the using of a particular seasoning, but the quantity in which you use. A shake of adobo. A sprinkle of red pepper fakes. A dash of garlic. A pinch of salt, and a crack of fresh pepper just aren’t going to cut it. Do you know what all those pinches bits add up to? Yup. Bland food.
Unless you have dietary restrictions and are working with a physician to monitor the intake of certain ingredients (which is, by all means, serious)… the only thing hold you back from dumping it on is- fear. What if I use too much salt? What if it’s too hot? What if I don’t like it? What if… you ended up with incredible, mouthwatering bite of food instead?
The easiest way to explore this uncharted territory is simply to add “a bit extra” each time. I understand, really. You can’t go from a 1/4 teaspoon to a Tablespoon overnight. No one is asking you to. Maybe bump it up by a 1/2 teaspoon each time until you find that sweet spot. The spot that’s not too slaty or too hot. The one the makes your heart smile because holy wow- you made THAT.
I’ve got to add a disclaimer here. Because like everything in life there isn’t a one size fits all. There are spices you want to use in smaller quantities because they are extremely pungent, and a little goes a long way. I frequently consult Google if I’m unfamiliar with a certain herb/spice and start with a little. A few examples of this would be: saffron, cayenne, rosemary, cloves, peppermint, vanilla, sumac.
4. Out of Season Produce
Another rule?! I would encourage you not to look at it from that point of view. Instead, take these tips I’m dropping as suggestions. Swaps. Upgrades. Bits of advice that you can slowly play with to see which one’s make the biggest difference. One of the most simple substitutions you could ever make is to purchase in season produce.
It is true. We live in a global economy. Strawberries can ship from Spain in February no problem. But you already know they won’t taste the same as in season berries from your local farmer during the peak weeks of fall and spring. I’m so passionate about local, seasonal produce, and how identifying and sourcing these ingredients can make or break a dish… that I published a whole article about it! You can hop on over to my 5 Steps to More Flavorful Produce for a more thorough read if it tickles your fancy. My article is loaded with simple but practical tips that will help you select the best produce possible for your area.
5. Skipping a Sear
I’m not only going to chat about searing, but also about charring. Both of these cooking methods elevate a simple meal to infinity and beyond! *Please tell me you used your Buzz Lightyear voice when you read that!!*
When you sear a piece of meat you are initiating a natural chemical reaction that transforms both sugars and proteins into a brown crust that produces incredible flavor. For the 411 on all things searing I’ve located this solid article from the BBQ in Progress crew. I found their article straight forward and packed full of helpful info.
Next, we move to charing. A common method for preparing vegetables. Think… charred Brussel sprouts, charred red peppers, and charred asparagus. What differentiates burned from charred? There’s a fine line there. But a proper char will elevate the naturally sweet notes found in certain veggies. Take sweet corn for example. Or sweet potatoes. Butternut squash too. These veggies all benefit from the introduction of a char and add a level of complexity to your dish that will have folks asking, “you made this?”. For those of you who’d like to go down the rabbit hole of charring, I’m providing you this awesome article from Bon Appetite.
Both searing and charring occur at high temperatures for a short period of time. Don’t be afraid of heat. And definitely raise an eye brow when you see any recipe encouraging you to char something at 375f/190c…. that’s not high heat. You’re typically looking for anywhere from 425f/217c to 500f/260c.
Ok so this one isn’t always avoidable. We’ve all been there. We’ll all be there again. Throwing a frozen pizza into an oven that hasn’t preheated and hoping it taste decent. BUT IF it can be helped, all you need is a bit of foresight and planning, so why not? Take the extra 15 minutes. Your food will taste better, and heaven knows you’ll be happier.
Marinades fall in to this category for me. If you aren’t already incorporating marinades into meal time routines… start now! With just a bit of planning your chicken can spend the afternoon bathing in herbs and spices, to then sizzle it’s way to perfection on your stove in minutes. The only additional inconvenience is a dirty bowl or bag. Forgot to plan for a good soak? Even 30 minutes will make your proteins next level.
So what exactly is a marinade and how do you recreate one at home? Glad you asked! I located this excellent article, by Jessica Gavin, all on marinating. Go check it out! You’ll learn so much!
7. Not Layering Flavor
This ties in nicely with the not rushing bit above. Taking 5 mins to sauté an onion in butter before adding chicken broth. Deglazing (adding liquid) a pan after you’ve seared a piece of meat takes 2 minutes and creates a incredible sauce that can be poured over your meal for added flavor. Spending 2 minutes to bloom your spices (allowing the full aroma to open up) in a bit of hot oil before stirring in other ingredients lends an incredible richness to any meal.
Sure. You can totally dump everything in a pot and move about your day. But you can’t then wonder how bland food snuck on to your table again. Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge one pan, on pot meal kinda gal. However, I do take a moment to add ingredients to said pot or pan one at a time. Because building up flavor requires only a few extra minutes of your time. For me. It’s so worth it.
Accidents happen. All the time. You will never get “so good” that you don’t make mistakes in the kitchen. I make them all the time! And not only is it ok, it’s kinda necessary. A part of the process if you will. But I’ve chatted with a lot folks over the years who are so worried about health and safety guidelines that they end up overcooking everything. To the point of inedible at times. Tough, rubbery, dry chicken? Even if you did “all the right things”… a meal can be trash if you overcook it.
My biggest tip for this is grabbing a simple digital thermometer. One that can read temperate in under 5 seconds. My favorite is the ThermoPop from ThermaWorks. It cost me $35 and has never once led me astray. If I’m every in doubt of what the safe temperate chicken, fish, pork need to be at, I Google it. And then I pop in my digital thermometer and pull of the heat 10 degrees before the recommended temp.
Why do I pull it off early? Because the residual heat of said meat will continue to raise the internal temperature as it rests. The juices begin to solidify. And you end up with the most amazing chicken leg, thigh, skirt steak, and pork butt you never thought possible.
You sure this is a thing? Yup. And it’s definitely not just about meat. Why have a bitter Brussel sprouts when you can have a sweet one? Seriously. Undercooking or improperly cooking a sprout yields a bitter, tart taste to the palate. Charring them on high heat until tender yields a sweet yet savory experience. If you had to opt for a sour sprout or a sweet spout, which one would you chose?
There are so many foods that fall into this category. There’s a reason one of the above tips specifically highlighted searing and charring. They aren’t just fancy terms. They describe chemical reactions that occur within the food that allow our taste buds to truly enjoy what we eat. Undercooked food is sure to leave you quite disappointed, thinking that your food is bland, when in reality… it very well could be the way in which it was cooked. In this case, the lack of cooking.
10. Finishing Touches
This is one of the MOST underrated cooking tips out there. I’m convinced. Which is a shame, because the finishing touches of any dish require only seconds and elevate every dish to infinity and beyond. I’m going to drop a few of my personal favorite finishers below:
Thick yogurt, such as Plain Greek. My all time favorite brand is Siggis. I use this to dollop on top curries and thicken sauces all the time.
Citrus. I always have limes and lemons on hand. Whether I’m squeezing for margarita or splashing over fajitas fresh citrus is the way to go. The acid cuts through fat, balancing flavor and providing a well rounded bite every time!
Fresh cracked pepper. Not the pre-ground powdery stuff in a can. From juicy steaks to creamy pasta dishes, a crack or two of fresh pepper pops on the tongue like you wouldn’t believe.
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Which is most certainly different than Parm or the stuff crammed into that green can. Parmigiano has a rich, sharp, nutty flavor that will dance across your checks and leave you wanting more. A small block will hold for months in an air tight container in the fridge because a little goes a loooooong way. Grate with either a microplane or zester or veggie peeler.
One of my Kitchen Basics. Used for grating Parm, zesting lemons, nutmeg dustings during the holidays and SO much more. Did I mention these babes are made in the USA. Arkansas and Texas to be exact?! I've got this exact one in yellow. 4 years of daily use and no signs of dulling down. WIN.
Let Me Know
If you had to pick just 1 of these 10 tips, which one would you choose?! I’m hoping you found this post easy to digest and full of practical tips that will enable you to confidently take action in the kitchen. That you feel more comfortable serving a meal for yourself or your family knowing that it will be FULL of FLAVOR. Anything but bland food!
While you’re at the sharing and commenting, please Save to Pinterest or Share on Facebook. I need all the support I can get to keep on growing this dream of mine. A place where practical beats perfect- and simple, delicious food is a lifestyle. A place where together, we can begin filling homes and tables with joy.
Hugs, because handshakes are awkward~