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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
10. "I use chicken- or beef-flavored ramen seasoning packets to make my homemade gravy. It packs so much flavor."
11. "When making waffle batter, I replace a quarter of the flour with cornstarch so the waffles come out extra crispy."
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!"
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."
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."
15. "Try adding miso paste or tomato paste to homemade vegetable broth to make it more savory and give it a deep umami flavor."
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!"
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
27. "When making meatballs, use a panade (bread soaked in milk) rather than bread crumbs. It keeps the meatballs super tender."
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.