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People Who Love To Cook Are Sharing Their Favorite Ways To Upgrade Seemingly Simple Foods

I can't wait to try the one for chocolate chip cookies...

There are some popular dishes you probably whip up so often that you don't put much thought into them: tried-and-true recipes like mac 'n' cheese, basic grilled chicken, chili, or even boxed brownies. But even these seemingly basic dishes can benefit massively from some simple ingredient upgrades. So I rounded up responses from the subreddit r/cooking. Here are some flavor-boosting hacks that home cooks swear by.

1. "Toasting your oats is the secret to the best oatmeal. Toast them in butter and it adds such a deep flavor. Let them get at least two shades darker and stir frequently. Also, a touch of salt goes a long way, especially for sweet oatmeal. It balances it."

Oatmeal porridge with banana and walnuts

2. "My go-to method for upgrading boxed mac 'n' cheese is adding a spoonful of sour cream. It sounds weird, but it gives the cheese sauce a really rich flavor."

Mac 'n' cheese in a bowl

3. "A few drops of lemon juice in any cream-based soup won't make it taste lemony and it won't curdle, but it will absolutely help the flavor. If you have a cream-based soup and you think it needs something like salt, try some lemon juice instead."

A bowl of creamy mushroom soup

4. "Cook plain rice pilaf-style to give it so much more flavor. What this means is toast the rice in oil before adding the liquid (broth instead of water goes a long way here), and use aromatics and/or spices, which you should sweat a bit before adding to the rice."

Rice in pot being stirred with wooden spoon

5. "Someone once recommended frying or scrambling eggs in chili oil/chili crisp instead of butter or oil. The flavor is so much better this way than just mixing it into the finished dish."

Eggs fried in chili crisp

6. "Roast the tomatoes first before you make tomato soup. This is the answer to the tastiest soup ever. It concentrates the flavor and enhances the sweetness."

Creamy tomato soup with croutons

7. "Add butter and grated Parmesan to the outside of your grilled cheese before toasting the bread. When I learned that I could put cheese on the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich in addition to the inside, it changed this meal for life."

A grilled cheese sandwich cut into triangles

8. "Add a tablespoon of cornstarch to the dry ingredients when baking chocolate chip cookies. It keeps the centers of the cookies perfectly soft and gooey."

A person holding a chocolate chip cookie torn into halves

9. "Instead of soaking French toast in milk, I use full-fat vanilla or plain yogurt in my bathing mixture. It turns out perfectly every time."

French toast on a plate

10. "I use chicken- or beef-flavored ramen seasoning packets to make my homemade gravy. It packs so much flavor."

White gravy jug pouring over roast dinner of turkey, carrot and turnip mash, pigs in blankets, pork meatballs, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, and parsnips

11. "When making waffle batter, I replace a quarter of the flour with cornstarch so the waffles come out extra crispy."

Loading up the hot waffle iron with batter

12. "I take leftover salmon skin and crisp it up under the broiler, then I add it to my tuna salad. It's amazing — think fish chicharrones!"

A tuna salad sandwich on a plate

13. "When making brownies from boxed mix, use butter in place of vegetable oil, and coffee creamer (like hazelnut or peppermint mocha) instead of water. It gives the brownies an amazing texture and just a hint of flavor from the creamer."

Mixing chocolate brownie batter in a bowl by hand

14. "Whenever I make mac 'n' cheese, even from a box, I get a block of cheese (whatever kind you like works). I cut it into cubes and add it to the mac at the same time I add the milk and butter. The cheese cubes soften and mostly melt, but they partially remain as cheese bombs and make the pasta taste incredible."

Cubes of cheese

15. "Try adding miso paste or tomato paste to homemade vegetable broth to make it more savory and give it a deep umami flavor."

A pot of vegetable broth cooking

16. "Add cream cheese to your mashed potatoes. Plain works, but sometimes I'll add a veggie or chive cream cheese for a bit of extra flavor. It's so good!"

A bowl of mashed potatoes

17. "Whenever you're baking cookies, swap regular melted butter for brown butter. This is the key. Once you brown your butter, you will never make cookies without it again."

Chocolate chip cookie dough

18. "Always brine chicken in pickle juice before frying it. It doesn't matter what cut of chicken you're using — whether you're making wings, thighs, or breast, pickle juice gives the meat such a divine flavor, even if you only brine it for 30 minutes. It will make the meat super juicy and add a slightly sweet and tangy flavor."

Homemade crispy chicken wings.

19. "When I'm making chicken salad, I swap out half of the mayo for whatever creamy salad dressing I have on hand. It imparts great flavor and keeps the chicken moist without that distinct too-much-mayo flavor."

Chicken salad sandwich

20. "The key to the best lasagna is letting it rest. People take it out of the oven, slice it up, and serve it. What you get is lasagna soup. It needs to rest for 30 minutes minimum in order to come together. It's better to have perfectly assembled, fully formed warm lasagna than piping-hot lasagna soup."

Close-up of plate of lasagna

21. "If you want to level up your homemade sauces, stir in a few pieces of cold butter right before serving. The butter will slightly thicken the sauce, help emulsify fats, and give it a rich and creamy flavor."

Stirring a pot of cream sauce

22. "I think the key to a good egg salad is separating the yolks from the egg whites. I smash the yolks with a fork and then add my mayo, mustard, and seasonings, then mix all that together well. I chop up the whites and then gently fold them into the yolk mixture."

Egg salad on white bread

23. "For the best fried rice, start with day-old rice that's been stored and covered in the refrigerator overnight. Before frying it, just be sure to break up any clumps."

A spoonful of fried rice

24. "Add cocoa powder to your chili. I just eyeball a tablespoon or so, depending on how much chili I'm making. It gives the chili a nice richness."

Cooking chili at home on the stove top

25. "Before grilling chicken, marinate it in salad dressing (my favorite is Italian dressing). I have a friend whose secret recipe for grilled wings involves marinating them in Italian dressing, and they are the best."

Chicken on the barbecue

26. "I add some anchovies into the pan with my onions and olive oil when I'm beginning a Bolognese sauce. They dissolve almost immediately and you don't taste them. It just adds depth of flavor and natural salt."

Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce

27. "When making meatballs, use a panade (bread soaked in milk) rather than bread crumbs. It keeps the meatballs super tender."

Meatballs frying

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

What's an ingredient you add or a technique you use to make a dish you love taste even better? Tell us in the comments.