I’ve always enjoyed the art of combining flavors and taste-sensations cooking. There’s something beautiful to be said about a flavor combination that seems impossible on paper but somehow works when placed on the tongue. The easiest way to experiment with this is to take an extremely savory or sweet food and add spice: for example, dark chocolate with chili powder or Granny Smith apples with bleu cheese. Have you ever had peanut butter on a hamburger? It works. There will be epic failures. Tabasco sauce on a banana is about as disgusting as it sounds. But, sometimes, you can find flavors that will go with just about anything. Here are some of my favorite ingredients I keep on hand to go crazy with in the kitchen.
What are your secret flavor weapons in the kitchen?
The yeoman of my kitchen, Sriracha sauce not only goes with just about everything imaginable, but it also enhances all of those things. Commonly referred to as “rooster sauce” or “cock sauce,” Sriracha has a tangy flavor with a sneaky amount of heat. I use this stuff in everything from mashed potatoes to canned tuna. It also serves as the spice in my home concoction of a Bloody Mary. However, the best use of Sriracha I’ve found is with chicken, especially fried chicken. The sauce also works as a topping to grilled salmon and does wonders for cocktail shrimp. When you’re at Mojo Burrito, make sure you have them drizzle some Sriracha on the inside of your burrito or tacos. Yes, please.
You either loves bleu cheese, or you hate it. There’s rarely a middle ground. My girlfriend can’t stand how it tastes or smells. She compares the taste of bleu cheese to the way feet smell, which is fair because this stuff is pungent—not to mention that much of the flavor of bleu cheese exists because of the presence of harmless mold. My view of the bleu (unintentional rhyme) is that if a food is good, bleu cheese will make it better. Hot wings, hamburgers, pasta will all benefit from some crumbles of the bleu. My martinis aren’t complete without an olive stuffed with bleu cheese. Have you ever tried au gratin potatoes with bleu cheese? What about a grilled turkey sandwich with bleu cheese? Keep some bleu cheese crumbles on hand to make an arugula salad with bacon bits and fresh strawberries. Top it with a balsamic vinaigrette. Heaven. For a quick treat, bake some whole wheat bread wedges, and melt a little bleu cheese on top. Sprinkle that with honey. Mmmm ...
The seasoning of our household and possibly our lives is the glorious lemon pepper. Traditionally, this is just granulated lemon peel and black peppercorns. Whoever invented this flavor combination is a damned genius. We use lemon pepper on everything. Chicken, pasta and steamed vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower) all shine when sprinkled with lemon pepper. Speaking of chicken, if you haven’t tried lemon pepper wings, you’re missing out on one of life’s most delicious foods. Mix lemon pepper with a little bit of olive oil, and you have a wonderful and cheap homemade salad dressing. My favorite way to use this seasoning, though, is on cast-iron steaks. Get a cast-iron skillet, and heat it up in the oven on 500 degrees until it’s literally smoking hot. Prepare the steaks by seasoning them with olive oil, a little salt and lemon pepper seasoning. Remove the skillet; place it on the stove on medium-high heat. Depending on the size of the steak, sear it for two to four minutes on each side. Add a pat of butter to the steak, and return it to the oven to finish cooking. Let them rest in foil for about 10 minutes and serve. This is the easiest and best-tasting steak you’ll ever have.
Something about the winter makes my body crave cinnamon in everything, which makes perfect sense. In the chilly weather, I prefer my foods to be savory and sweet, and that’s exactly what cinnamon is at the core—both savory and sweet. Of course, I make a metric ton of cinnamon toast (butter, sugar and cinnamon on toast) during the winter, but I also use cinnamon on a variety of other food items. Cinnamon does wonders to a pot of chili. It adds an undercurrent of sweetness that is barely detectable but there. For breakfast, I’ll eat plain Greek yogurt with cinnamon and nutmeg mixed in. I could make an entire meal out of baked sweet potatoes with butter and cinnamon. This spice was born to be used in hot drinks. Sometimes, I’ll make my own chai tea hot cinnamon coffee for the extra caffeine boost and flavor. My girlfriend makes killer snickerdoodle cookies during the holidays. You can even take the cinnamon challenge and try to swallow an entire spoonful of the stuff. Note: You will fail.
Have you all ever had flavored sugar? I hadn’t either, until a trip to Asheville, N.C., and a visit to a wonderful little store called The Spice and Tea Exchange. Basically, the store sells bulk exotic spices and loose-leaf gourmet teas. We purchased some blended garlic/lemon pepper seasoning and, on a whim, some lime sugar. My thought process was, “I like limes and I like sugar. I’ll probably like lime sugar.” And holy Lord, I did! This stuff is like granulated rock candy. I could lick my finger and eat it like Fun Dip. This wasn’t attractive, so I decided to see how I could use lime sugar in everyday foods. Obviously, this stuff is a wonderful substitute for the salt on the rim of your margarita. Surprisingly, it also does wonders to a slice of watermelon. I’ve tried it on tacos, in green tea, and on both chicken and fish with much success. I’ve heard this stuff works well in homemade guacamole, too.
What should I try next? Any secrets you use?