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5 Ways to Turn Ordinary Meals Extraordinary

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When you think fine dining, you often think fancy restaurants, dress codes, and a hefty price tag. Making a night of a great meal is fun for a once-in-a-while treat, but eating extraordinary meals every night isn’t realistic. Right? Fortunately, it’s easier than you think to create a fine dining experience in your own kitchen without hours of prep work or spending big.

Here are 5 simple ways you can take your dining experience to the next level:

1. Marinate

A marinade is a sauce typically made of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs, and marinating your meats and seafood is a simple way to elevate an ordinary meal. The acidic ingredients in a marinade start the breakdown process of cooking, which means the fluids and seasoning are able to enter the meat to boost flavor, maintain moisture and add tenderness.

Typically, two hours of marinating is adequate for the meat to soak up the flavor. However, poultry can marinate up to two days in the refrigerator, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Marinated foods can be baked, sauteed, grilled, or otherwise cooked however you like them. Meats such as chicken breasts and pork loin in particular benefit from the moisture a marinade provides due to their tendency to dry out during cooking.

Marinades are incredibly versatile, and once you understand the concept, you can enjoy experimenting with different flavors, meats, vegetables, and more. For vegetables, try a wine marinade such as a red wine-rosemary. Experiment with citrus marinades for seafood and fish, like lemon-herb. And for meats such as pork and chicken, try a sweet citrus marinade, like a pineapple marinade, for a twist on classic flavors.

2. Slow Cooking

The magic of a slow cooker is that you can put all the ingredients into one pot and go about your day, trusting that when you come back later you’ll have a delicious meal.

Slow cooking is a great way to get the most flavor value out of less expensive cuts of meat. A low heat over an extended period of time lets the meat marinate while cooking and creates a fall-off-the-bone experience. In addition to meats, slow cookers are an indispensable kitchen appliance because of their wide range of uses. For example, they can be used to melt chocolate or cheese for fondue, keep dishes warm for serving, or make party-ready hot drinks like cocoa or cider. They’re also great for hassle-free stews and sauces. With a little creativity and the helpful recipe-sharers on the internet, you can make just about anything in your slow cooker.

There are also different techniques you can apply. One effective technique is flavor layering, in which you arrange the ingredients to maximize the flavor of a dish. For example, you can start by layering crunchy root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and onions beneath any meat. Next, add your spices on top of your meat. Finally, add all other vegetables and any other ingredients. As your meal cooks, all those flavors will permeate each layer down to the bottom for a delicious, fragrant dinner without the work of sautéing and roasting.

3. Add Coconut

Coconut products have gained popularity in recent years, and as a result, there are many coconut products available for you to experiment with. For example, coconut flour, sugar, water, milk, creme, shavings, and oil are all relatively easy to find in your local supermarket or health food store. Used as a substitute for wheat and dairy, coconut products have opened the door for people who suffer from food allergies or intolerances to enjoy many delicious foods that we otherwise take for granted.

Coconut benefits from being a relatively cheap ingredient and easy to apply to any number of recipes. It can be easily be incorporated into all the different courses of a meal. In appetizers, coconut flakes add a hint of sweet as a salad topping, or use coconut oil as the base of a dressing. For a refreshing summertime snack, combine coconut shavings, cilantro, any salad mix, and a splash of lime juice. For a main course, try adding coconut to your seafood. Coconut shrimp is an easy dish to make while being cost-conscious. As for dessert, coconut can be used as a flavor, ingredient substitute, or as a garnish. There are so many different ideas and recipes out there waiting to be discovered.

4. Pan Searing

Pan-searing is a technique where you use an extremely high heat to brown meat, which seals in juices by forming a delicious outer crust. This technique works best with meats, fish, shellfish, and poultry. This method is also used to improve the aesthetics of the meat by creating greater contrast between the edges and center. Pan-searing is a great option if you want a steakhouse flavor from the convenience of your home.

When you pan fry, you need to make sure your pan can take the intense heat--look for stainless steel or cast iron. Then, make sure your pan is extremely hot, otherwise the searing technique won’t work. Use a small amount of oil to thinly coat the pan. This will prevent parts from burning and make sure you have a even browning effect. Lastly, resist the temptation to check the bottom side of the meat. It needs uninterrupted contact to sear properly. For the traditional searing method, you would sear the meat before roasting, baking, or grilling, but you can also try a reverse-sear by cooking the meat to slightly below your desired doneness, then searing to completion. This allows a consistent doneness throughout.

5. Bloom Your Spices

Spices are naturally fragrant, but to reach their full flavor they need a little extra help. Blooming spices is a technique where you gently fry herbs and spices in an oil-coated pan. The oil creates a moist heat, as opposed the dry heat used in toasting. Blooming releases the maximum flavor of your seasoning mix, and has the ability enhance the flavor of your meal significantly.

You have the option of blooming whole or ground spices. Whole spices bloom very quickly, and the result is a sharp flavor. Blooming a paste of ground raw spices can be difficult, as they have a tendency to burn faster.

Spices that are perfect to bloom include cumin, coriander, and fennel. Cumin in particular is an easy-to-use and versatile spice for beginners, and pairs well with mustard seed and coriander. Bloomed spices are ideal for dishes like chili, plain rice, stews, and braises.

If you consider yourself a connoisseur of fine foods, or just looking to spice things up, you’ll find small touches can make a huge difference in your kitchen.There are an endless amount of simple techniques that yield a delicious result. With a little research and experimentation, anyone can create an extravagant meal that’s both time and cost effective, meaning more time to enjoy your creations with family and friends. At Vista Springs, we believe a Full of Life experience includes extraordinary foods, every day. Download our checklist to see the difference that resort-style assisted living can make.

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