Yesterday marked the official end of the holiday season, and today we find ourselves attempting to get back into a routine. At least that’s what I find myself doing! A big part of that is returning to balanced eating.
For me, dieting isn’t balanced eating. Instead, my plan is to eat more vegetables, cut back on dessert and focus on creating big flavor with little to no added fat. Here are five of my favorite ways:
1. Feelin’ Zesty
Citrus zest is one of my favorite ingredients—I add it to practically everything! The oil in the rind of citrus fruit is a concentrated essence of their flavor that perks up everything from salad dressing to cooked veggies, rubs for roasted meat to pasta or rice. Use just a little to brighten up flavors or more if you also want a hint of lemon, orange or grapefruit to come through in your dish.
2. Spice it Up
Get to know your spice rack and move beyond salt, pepper and oregano. Dried spices are easy to use and low maintenance (ground spices keep in a dark, cool place for about 6 mos before losing potency, whole spices for more like a year). Have you ever used ground coriander? Mix some with mashed garlic, ground cumin, salt and pepper to make a rub for pork loin. How about turmeric? It works great with fresh ginger and lends a warm, peppery flavor and gorgeous yellow hue often seen in Moroccan, Indian and South East Asian cooking. Go to your favorite food sites (ahem!), type in a spice you’ve never used before and get cooking!
3. Lovin’ in the Oven
Use your oven to prepare food simply with minimal added fat. I love cooking chicken cutlets or fish fillets en papillote (wrapped in pouch made of parchment or aluminum foil) or roasting practically anything! Food cooked en papillote steams, getting a hint of flavor from the cooking liquid which can be anything from wine to broth to citrus juice. Roasting concentrates foods’ natural flavors. All you need is a drizzle of olive oil, spices and zest to make anything from roasted veggies to roasted meat.
4. Get Tarty
Finish your cooking with vinegar. Like with citrus zest, the acidity of vinegar balances and brightens flavor. I add a splash of red wine vinegar to soups, use sherry vinegar to deglaze my roasting or saute pan and drizzle balsamic on simply steamed or roasted vegetables. You can cook vinegar down to create a flavorful reduction with a wonderful sweet and tart flavor that can be used to make vinaigrettes or finishing sauces for meat and bean dishes. If you want to get fancy, experiment with flavored vinegars!
5. Let it Marinate
I’ve been told that marinating takes too long for a lot of family cooks, so the key here is to begin soaking your meat the night before or first thing in the morning. Then, when it’s time to cook dinner, all you have to account for is cooking time. Making marinades is simple: combine an acid, a little bit of oil (you can use a little less when cooking) and flavoring from mashed garlic to spices, hot sauce to miso paste, vinegar to Worcestershire sauce. Whisk together ingredients that create the flavor combo your want, taste (keeping in mind that the straight marinade will have a much more intense flavor than your cooked meat) and submerge meat until you’re ready to cook. Done!