Say gourmet cooking and most think of expensive ingredients from a specialty shop. But it definitely has nothing to do with how much you paid for the ingredients, it’s how you are using them. Cooking gourmet can be done within a reasonable budget and, quite often, with the ingredients you already have on hand. Let’s take a look at five simple ingredients that are probably in your pantry right now and gourmet it up:
Not only is cinnamon easily accessible and inexpensive, but its flavor enhances a wide variety of foods and beverages. Many of the most pungent dishes served in fine restaurants, from French toast to bread pudding to acorn squash soup to braised short ribs to coffee, most likely will have cinnamon as one of the key ingredients.
Offering a unique taste to any dish, cinnamon gives you the “what’s that wonderful flavor?” moment. Not only does cinnamon offer a warm flavor that lingers behind the scenes, but it has health benefits, as well. Cinnamon is believed to boost metabolism, which may be reason enough to add this simple seasoning to your list of gourmet ingredients.
While crepes aren’t considered a solitary ingredient, they should be thought of as a gourmet item for the simple reason that they make an ordinary gathering of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and the like into something special. Using typical ingredients you have on hand already to fill simple crepes. Cream cheese, strawberries, raisins and dried cranberries, give you a beautiful plate suitable for any fancy restaurant. There are literally hundreds of ways to make crepes. Dress up a crepe with caramelized plantains, a chocolate hazelnut spread, or spinach, goat cheese, and toasted pine nuts. Don’t forget to sprinkle with some of that cinnamon on top of sweeter combinations. Even the crepe itself can be made sweet or savory with interesting new ingredients. Anytime you think of making pancakes, waffles, or even a wrap or sandwich, think again, and make crepes instead for that gourmet touch.
Roasted garlic mashed potatoes sound like something straight from that fancy restaurant right? If you think roasted garlic is a delicacy, only available at upscale restaurants you are about to be amazed. I’m not talking about the stuff you buy in the jars, but true gourmet-style roasted garlic right from your oven. This is an incredibly easy gourmet treat that is easy to do and yields great results in both the aroma you add to your kitchen and the beautiful presentation and taste. Simply cut the entire top of a head of garlic off, so the cloves are exposed, place on tin foil, drizzle olive oil over the exposed garlic cloves. Seal the foil, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 45 minutes. When done, let cool and squeeze the garlic bulb; the cloves will pop right out. Mash and use for wonderful garlicky dips or in your mashed potatoes. Any dish where a bit of the gourmet flare is desired.
Orange, lime, or lemon zest is a great way to add a gourmet touch to your everyday dishes. A little added citrus zest will change the flavor profile of the most basic dish. There are many ways to use citrus zest. Take orange zest and add it to a simple syrup to serve atop vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Lime zest is the key ingredient that turns an ordinary Mexican or Thai dish into a gourmet treat. Lemon zest brightens up fish and chicken and is often used as the secret ingredient in marinades. And, don’t forget your vegetables. You can just add salt, pepper, and butter to roasted broccoli, but why not add a sprinkling of lemon zest for that “Wow” factor. Be sure when you zest your citrus that you remove only the bright peel, and not the white fiber underneath, as this has a bitter taste in all citrus. Also, you can dry citrus zest so you don’t have to waste any. Just zest the whole fruit, use what you want fresh, and set the rest out on a plate to let dry. Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator for best results.
Toasted Nuts and Seeds
Toasting nuts and seeds brings out the natural oils and enhances the flavor. Once toasted, these aromatic powerhouse ingredients can be added to many basic dishes to give them a gourmet boost. One favorite is toasted pine nuts, which can be used in so many ways. A simple dish is just tossing toasted pine nuts with goat cheese, fresh asparagus, and pasta to create a flavor profile you will want to experience again. Another nut that is versatile is the toasted almond. Not only can you toss them with salads, pasta, and vegetables, but you can also crush them and use as you would normally use flour or bread crumbs for coating chicken, fish, or even beef. They are wonderful sprinkled on green beans. The next time you see a variety of nuts or seeds in the grocery store, think about how they would toast up, and add a gourmet twist to your recipes.
Gourmet cooking doesn’t have to be difficult or filled with wacky ingredients you’ve never heard of before, or can’t get in your regular grocery store. A fresh new outlook on your everyday ingredients can make a huge difference in taste and quality. Cooking gourmet may be easier than you ever imagined when you start rethinking what you have in your very own pantry.
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