Tacos are already pretty good, but they’re even better when you make your own hard, crunchy shells. It’s so easy to do, too, and it gives you a sense of pride knowing that you did something not a lot of people do. ;)
Now you can stuff them with whatever you want, beef, fish, pork, whatever floats your boat. Try this fun technique out and I promise you’ll never go back to the store-bought shells!
As you can probably tell, I really love food. When it’s done right, and each ingredient is used to it’s full potential, a dish can be magical. Here, I’m going to share with you a few tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your ingredients, and reach that “magical” stage. :)
Flour- Whenever I’m baking or using flour to cook, I always “lighten” it before I use it. This is how I do it:
…then scoop up what you just dropped!
It really makes the cake or cookies or whatever you’re making lighter and fluffier. Whether you’re using all-purpose flour, self-rising flour, cake flour, almond flour, whole-wheat flour, buckwheat flour…I could go on and on, but the point is, always be sure to lighten it!
Nuts- Whenever I use nuts, I always toast them first. You can throw them in a dry skillet and toast them over medium heat or on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees. You kow they’re done when you can smell them, and as soon as you do, pull them off the heat! Toasting the nuts really just brings out all their essential oils and makes them taste so much more fresh and flavorful.
Seeds and Spices- Coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cardamom seeds, red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, white peppercorns, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, and many other spices are so much more flavorful when they are toasted in a dry skillet, just until you can smell them, and ground up with either a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder dedicated just to seeds and spices!
Pasta- When boiling pasta, always be sure to salt the water ABUNDANTLY and add some really good olive oil. It makes the pasta taste so much better and keeps the noodles from sticking together.
Vegetables- Whenever I blanch vegetables, I always make sure to salt my water ABUNDANTLY and only cook them for 3-5 minutes. Then, I put them in an ice bath, consisting of a bowl filled with water and ice, that has been salted ABUNDANTLY. Again, it just makes the veggies taste good! Plus, the ice bath stops the cooking process and makes sure that the green color of the veggies is still there.
Herbs- Never use dried ones. Always go with the real deal.
Produce- Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to produce. I, personally, don’t go with the organic produce just because it tends to be a little more exprensive. If you are an organic-produce-eater, then that’s great! I love it! But for those of you like me, you can still eat the best of the best without it being labeled “organic.” Try looking at your local farmer’s market or raod-side produce stand; they will usually have the best (and cheapest) options. But if all you have is your grocery store, then just make sure that the produce is really fresh, smells like what it is, and isn’t too mushy or too hard!
Citrus- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, etc.) are such a great ingredient to use! You can use the zest and the juice. The zest is the outside colored part of the fruit, and you can remove it a few different ways. A hand-held grater, box grater, vegetable peeler, or a citrus zester (you’ll have to chop the zest up after you use this, though) are all ways to get the zest off the citrus fruit. Just remember that you only need the colored part of the zest, the white part is bitter. And if you’re juicing citrus, either roll the fruit on the cutting board a few times while applying pressure, or stick it in the microwave for 5 seconds. This just helps loosen up all the juices inside.
I hope these help you make your dishes magical!
(Picture at the top of page URL: http://www.theluxuryspot.com/2009/07/10/nyc-restaurant-week/ I didn’t really make that! :))
Fresh herbs add a great punctuation of flavor and color to any dish. They are very easy to grow in your garden or your windowsill and can be found in most grocery stores nowadays, so there’s no excuse not to use them! Just try not to use dried herbs, fresh ones add SO much more flavor!
From left to right, I have parsley, basil, mint, oregano, thyme, and rosemary growing in my backyard, and these are definitely the most common herbs and flavors used on my blog. Herbs can be a little tricky sometimes, though, and you might not know where to throw them in. This is why I’m going to take you through each and every herb and explain what it’s best paired with and how it can be used to its full potential. First up…….Parsley.
Parsley- Parsley is a very easy herb to grow and can be added to so many different dishes. It has a sort of lemony, fresh, mild flavor and is most often used as a garnish. To chop it up, just pluck the leaves from the stems, roll them into a tight ball, and chop it right up. (The stems are very soft, so it’s okay if you don’t remove all of them.) Parsley is great in salads, pastas, and marinades, and you will often see it paired with basil or other herbs. Another great use for it is to throw some on braised chicken, pork, beef, veal, or any other meat that you’ve cooked for a long period of time, just to freshen it up a bit. It is a staple in the Italian kitchen, and mine, too! (Just pick any flowers that may grow from your plant off.)
Basil- We see basil all throughout Italian cooking. It has a great sweet and mild anise flavor that will spruce up any pasta dish. To chop it, pick the leaves from the stem, stack them up, roll them like you’re rolling a cigar, and chop it from right to left. (Or left to right if you’re left-handed. :) Basil goes beautifully with any pasta, but is also fabulous in pesto, marinades, and marinara sauces. Caprese salad is one of my favorite spots to use basil, you just combine it with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. This herb is absolutely one of my favorites! (If your plant starts to flower, pick the flowers and any surrounding basil off. It means that those basil leaves have gotten bitter!)
Mint- Mint is….minty! It is a classic in Greek cooking and pairs beautifully with lamb. It can be used in a Greek yogurt sauce, called tzatziki, or to garnish a lovely dessert. To chop it, you just use the same method as the basil. My grandmother used to put mint leaves in her simple syrup (1 c sugar, 1 c water boiled together), and add it to her iced tea, making mint iced tea. It’s great in cocktails or “mocktails” and, for some reason, it’s really good with peas. If you’re going to grow mint, though, make sure to put it in a pot, otherwise it’ll take over!
Oregano- Oregano is a very Mediterranean herb, being a staple in both the Italian and Greek kitchen. It has a very pungent, lemony taste, and a little bit goes a long way! To chop it, I just pick the little leaves off the stems and chop it in much of the same way as parsley. I use it most often on pizzas and in pasta salads, but it’s also great with lamb, veal, or vegetables. It’s ideal for marinades and marinara sauces, and adds a great punch of flavor to any dish! (Your plant may flower, and when that happens, just pick them off.)
Thyme- Thyme is a wonderful lemony, woodsy herb that is one of my personal favorites. When I use it, I either just pull the leaves off the stems and give them a quick chop, or I tie together a bunch of stems with kitchen twine and throw it into a soup or stew. This is also great in pasta salads, but I use it most often when I’m braising chicken, pork, or beef. I just use the “tie together” method from above and throw it into the pot, then I remove it later. Thyme is great with pork chops, chicken, and hearty soups and stews. I think you’ll love this herb just as much as I do! (If your plant grows tiny flowers, then just remove them from the stems.)
Rosemary- Rosemary is SUPER easy to grow and take care of, and it tastes great! It has that lemony, woodsy flavor like thyme, but also has a little piny-ness. I just grab the bottom of the stem and run my fingers upwards to take the leaves off. Then I chop it up super fine, because if you get a big leaf, it sorta tastes like a pine needle! Rosemary pairs so well with pork, beef, chicken, and tomatoes. It can usually be found in marinades for pork or lamb, and is almost always paired with garlic. It is that perfect punctuation of flavor in almost every dinner.
Chives- Chives are those skinny, long, green tube-looking things that have a very mild oniony flavor. Just pick them from the plant and line them up side-by-side, then run your knife across the chives so that you have little circles. Chives are perfect with salmon and are also a great addition to dips and appetizers. They can also be used, like parsley, to spruce up any braised meats. Of course, they’re good on baked potatoes as well, and I think you’ll find that they add a great depthness of flavor to many dishes. (If your plant grows big, purple flowers, then just pick them off!)
Dill- Dill tastes like pickles. :) It’s not one of my favorites, just because it’s so strong and potent, but it’s still tasty. Another staple in the Greek kitchen, this herb goes really well with salmon, lamb, and is great in that tzatziki sauce! To chop it up, just remove the fronds from the stems and give ‘em a chop! This herb is also great for pickling (duh!), and can often be found in salad dressings, marinades, and various sauces. This is another one of those herbs that will take over your garden, so be sure to plant it in a pot!
Cilantro- We’ve come to my favorite herb! Did you know that this was voted the most controversial food ever? Apparently, you’re either a lover or a hater……..I’m a LOVER!!!!!!!!!!! (Let me know what you are!) Cilantro has such a bright, clean flavor, and is a staple in the Mexican, Asian, and Indian kitchen. Just treat this herb exactly like parsley when chopping it up. My Aunt Amy makes an awesome corn and black bean salsa with TONS of cilantro…………..it’s heaven! However good it may be in salsa and as a garnish, though, it’s even better in salads and tacos. It goes perfectly with fish, corn, and chicken, and I just can’t get enough of it! Did you know that you could even use the seeds of the cilantro plant, coriander? It just gets better and better! :)
Sage- Sage is another one of those real potent, strong-flavored herbs that I rarely use. When you smell it, you’ll probably think of Thanksgiving. That’s because Thanksgiving’s one of the few places it’s used. I always julienne the sage leaves by just plucking them from the stems, rolling them up, and giving them a quick slice. Sage goes really well with chicken and turkey, but also with gamier meats, like pheasant, or wild boar, or venison. Stuffings and dressings are also great places to throw this herb in. Just remember that a little goes a long way!
Terragon- I seldom use terragon, but it’s still a great herb! It has a sweet, licorice flavor similar to basil and is mainly used in béarnaise sauce. Just pull the leaves off the stem and chop them up finely. Steak and chicken are great places to use this herb and marinades are also a good spot. It’s exotic, fun, and something that you have to try for yourself!
Chervil- Chervil is closely related to parsley and is very mild in flavor. You chop and use it in the same way as parsley and is used in a lot of French cooking. Omelets, soups, salads, poultry, seafood, and vegetables are what it works best in and it has a faint taste of sweet licorice. Next time you’re at your local farmer’s market or produce stand, look and see if they have it! It’s a fantastic herb.
Marjoram- This is a citrusy, piney herb that can sometimes be used in place of basil. It’s a relatively new herb in my kitchen, and I haven’t cooked with it much. Just strip the leaves off the stem and mince them when using it. It’s usually used in Mediterranean dishes and is similar in flavor to oregano. It’s also used in Middle Eastern and French cooking. This is something that you can experiment with and let me know what you come up with!
Scallions- Sometimes called green or spring onions, these are pretty self-explanatory. They’re very similar to chives, and when using them, chop off the roots and the very tops. Then, just slice everything in between. They are interchangeable with chives and add a lovely, mild onion flavor to salads, soup garnishes, and pastas.
Bay leaves- These are the only dried herbs I use because fresh ones are hard to find in North Texas. I just throw them whole into soups, stews, braising liquids, and water I use to cook rice in, and then pull them out later on. They really do make a huge difference in the flavor of whatever it is you’re cooking!
See, herbs aren’t that intimidating! They’re very easy to use and I know that’ll you love them in every dish you put them in! Just remember, catnip is not an herb that you want to eat! It’s only good for cats! :) Happy Cooking!
Double boilers are called for in lots of recipes, but if you don’t own one, it’s a pain to go find one, plus they can be very expensive! So I’m going to teach how to make your own! Start by putting some water in the bottom of a saucepan.
Bring the water to a boil and place your bowl on top. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water!
When your water is simmering, add whatever it is you’re melting.
Here, I’m melting cheese. But this is also great for melting chocolate, or marshmellows, I even make lemon curd in a this double boiler. Hope this helps you in the kitchen!
We do not own an actual fancy, professional pastry bag, but why go out and buy one when you can make one right in your very own kitchen! Just take your frosting and put it in a re-sealable plastic bag (like below).
Push all the frosting to one corner of the bag and twist the bag so that you have an easy handhold.
You can also fit a coupler and tip in the plastic bag to create a “real” pastry bag.