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Recipe Guide: 5 Random (but Essential) Flavorings

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My style of cooking is usually the type that leaves the kitchen in shambles, yields way too much food, and always needs more salt.  But, if any of you have tried my recipes, hopefully you agree that they’re well-seasoned.  I have an arsenal of herbs, spices, sauces and condiments at home – most of which I rarely use.

Commonly used dried herbs (i.e. rosemary, oregano) or spices (i.e. cinnamon, paprika) give great flavor to home cooked meals, but they can get a little boring.  If you add basil and oregano to every Italian dish you make, they’re all going to start tasting dangerously similar.  It’s dangerous because you’ll get bored.  When you get bored, you’re more likely to order out and select a dish that you “can’t make at home”.  But, yes, you can make it at home!

It takes a little practice and willingness to experiment, but every once in a while you should try using a new herb, spice or flavoring.  Eventually, the addition of seasonings will multiply (exponentially) the flavor profiles you can create.


Here are 5 to get you started:

  • Liquid Smoke – it’s exactly what it sounds like: the taste of smoke captured in water.  Basically, wood is burned, producing tiny smoke particles in water vapor.  When cooled, the vapor turns to a liquid, which is aged in oak barrels (similar to wine) to deepen the flavor.
    • Use: only a few drops in any dish you want to taste smokey*
  • Rose Water – Also a literal translation, rose water is extracted from roses.  It’s used a lot in ethnic cuisines (particularly in desserts and drinks) of the Middle East, India and North Africa.  It adds a very nice, floral flavor.
    • Use: replace vanilla with rose water or add it to iced tea (or lemonade for some depth)
  • Arrowroot – If it looks like cornstarch and acts like cornstarch, [but your gel looks clear] then it’s probably arrowroot.  Cornstarch is used as a thickener in sauces, pie fillings, glazes, puddings, and gravies.  Arrowroot has the most neutral flavor, works at a lower temperature and can stand up to acid more than any other starch thickener.
    • Use: 2 teaspoons arrowroot = ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • Saffron – Saffron is an expensive spice, so it should be used sparingly, but, in my opinion, it’s worth the splurge! It’s expensive because only 3 threads can be harvested from each flower – and one ounce is about 14,000 threads.  So, yes, it’s expensive.  Good quality Spanish saffron will have a very deep red color to it; and don’t bother wasting your money on anything yellow-ish looking.  Also, don’t buy the powder as it’s often cut with something else (i.e. turmeric).
    • Use:  add a pinch of saffron per 4-6 servings.  And don’t use wooden utensils when cooking with saffron, as they can absorb the color and flavor from your dish
  • Anchovy Paste – I hate anchovies.  HATE.  They’re a weird texture, kinda slimy and hairy.  Ew.  However, I like anchovy paste – and you probably do too.  Have you ever had a good Caesar salad?  Maybe at a steak house or other nice restaurant?  A key ingredient in homemade Caesar dressing is anchovies.  It’s a salty paste of ground anchovies, vinegar, oil, and sugar; it’s fishy and strong, so a little goes a long way (and the tube will last in your fridge for months).
    • Use: sparingly.  Seriously though, use it in sauces, stews, chili, spreads or tapenades but only use a small amount at a time.

*Or, you could just make your own indoor smoker and create a real smoke flavor.

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