5 Ways to Instantly Up Your Game in the Kitchen

My whole purpose in life is to post recipes that will make you (or anyone!) feel like a rock star in the kitchen. It feels pretty darn euphoric to create food with your own little hands that tastes as good or better than anything you might pay an arm and a leg for at a restaurant (even better when your family and friends rave about it, too). 

But guess what? You don’t have to have a culinary arts degree or cook everything from scratch or spend money on pricey ingredients to truly kill it in the kitchen. Often it’s just an innocent looking recipe or one crazy simple tip or trick that can make you feel like a total rock star.

Two caramel cheesecake stuffed chocolate chip cookie bars stacked.

Today I want to share five simple ways you can instantly up your game in the kitchen without a whole lot of work. These easy suggestions will have you dancing around your kitchen in no time feeling like you are ready to take on Bobby Flay. If you haven’t embraced any or all of these, here’s my challenge: pick one of the suggestions from the list below, work on it, and report back! I can’t wait to hear all about it! 

Tip #1: Learn How to Brown Butter

Browning butter is one of the fastest ways to get the most intense, amazing flavor into both sweet and savory dishes. For the longest time, I was pretty terrified of even trying to brown butter because everything and everyone warned me that I was probably going to fail and end up with burnt butter. So why even try? Man, when I finally gave it a go and realized how easy it was, I was pretty irritated at all those fearmongers. 

If you’ve never browned butter, it is ridiculously easy. And I promise I’m not just saying that. 

How to Brown Butter + How to Use It

Here’s a super easy tutorial on How to Brown Butter

And once you learn, please brown some butter and use it in the following recipes:

Salted Caramel Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Browned Butter Vanilla Rice Krispie Treats
Banana Bars with Browned Butter Frosting
Butternut Squash Shells with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Browned Butter

Tip #2: Make This No-Knead Rustic Crusty Bread

Maybe you’ve said for years that homemade bread isn’t your thing? Too time consuming. Not worth it. Or maybe you’ve sworn off yeast because of that last cinnamon roll disaster? That’s ok. Shake it off. Because this easy no-knead rustic crusty bread is going to change your life. 

Loaf of rustic crusty bread on parchment paper.

This recipe doesn’t require a special stand mixer or any kneading. The foolproof dough is mixed in a bowl with a wooden spoon and left to rest until bubbly. Then, armed with hands liberally greased in oil or cooking spray, the dough is formed into a freeform loaf, left to rise, and baked until golden brown. It’s a showstopper of a loaf, and I guarantee, no one will even begin to suspect how easy this bread is. 

If you want to feel like a total rock star in the kitchen, homemade bread is where it’s at, and this easy rustic crusty bread is the perfect place to start! The recipe post has in-depth instructions and pictures for a complete tutorial. 

Tip #3: Start using Coarse, Kosher Salt

And then store it in a super cute but ultra functional bamboo salt box {aff link}. 

There’s something about pinching a bit of kosher salt in your fingers and flicking it over that skillet of eggs or vegetables or whatever that elevates your cooking game instantly. Coarse, kosher salt isn’t just trendy, it’s amazing. I use it constantly – and even though some recipes warn against using table salt and coarse, kosher salt interchangeably, I still do it (I know, living life on the edge over here).

Rule of thumb: generally speaking, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of table salt, you’ll want to use about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse, kosher salt since the larger shape of the salt crystals don’t compact into the measuring spoon like the finer granules of table salt. 

I still use table salt for most cookie/cake/brownie recipes, but I dig into my bamboo salt box for the coarse, kosher salt for almost everything else. I mostly use the Diamond Crystal brand of coarse, kosher salt, but sometimes end up with Morton’s (FYI: Diamond Crystal brand is more coarse than Morton’s so use slightly more salt if using Diamond Crystal brand).

Over the last year or so, I’ve started noting on my recipes when I use coarse, kosher salt. If you haven’t converted, now’s the time! A super inexpensive way to feel pretty cool in the kitchen (and have your food taste amazingly and perfectly salted).

Tip #4: Fall in Love with Fresh (Namely Basil, Garlic and Ginger)

I’m a huge fan of dried herbs. I have three shelves full of them and use them daily. So I’m definitely not over here on my high horse judging anyone for using dried basil or granulated garlic. But if you want a huge boost of flavor that will literally transform your dish into something completely revolutionary and new, I highly encourage these three fresh fixes:

-fresh basil: there’s nothing like it. I love fresh basil more than any other herb (except for maybe rosemary but that’s only because of this bread). I have a ton of recipes that call for fresh basil, but you can also use it in recipes that call for dried. Use double or triple the amount of fresh basil. So if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon dried basil, use about a tablespoon fresh basil, or more to taste. Add the fresh basil in toward the end of cooking time (fresh herbs lose their flavor if they are simmered or cooked for a long amount of time).

Skillet vegetable lasagna cooked in stainless skillet with dots of ricotta cheese.

-fresh garlic: getting your hands on a garlic press, particularly one that doesn’t require peeling the garlic first {aff. link}, will make the process of using fresh garlic ridiculously rewarding. Using fresh garlic will literally transform the way your food tastes, I promise! And guess what? You don’t have to commit to using fresh garlic in every recipe for the rest of forever. Just start using it on those dishes that need to really wow, and start noticing the difference fresh garlic makes. And then don’t feel bad when you still pull out the garlic powder now and then. Moderation in all things.

-fresh ginger: I wax poetic about fresh ginger all the time – there is nothing like it! But the homely ingredient can be a little intimidating to work with, I get it! Here’s a brilliant way to deal with fresh ginger.  Simply cut the gnarly, nobby fresh ginger into 1-inch pieces (no need to peel!), toss in a freezer ziploc bag and freeze. When needed, pull out a chunk of ginger and grate it from frozen (again, no need to peel!) on a rasp grater or the small holes of a box grater. I’m also a huge fan of ginger paste. I’m sure food aficionados can tell the difference between fresh ginger and ginger paste, but I can’t, and I use it all the time in recipes that call for fresh ginger. Here are some favorite recipes that call for fresh ginger

Korean beef tacos with slaw and sauce on white platter.

Tip #5: Ditch the Bottled Lemon Juice

No really, it’s time.

I grew up eating lemon bars made from bottled lemon juice, and I don’t think I actually bought a real, live lemon or lime from the grocery store until my mid-20’s. And it took until my late 20’s to actually figure out how to zest one of the citrusy creatures. So yeah, I get being a little late to the game.

Lemon bars on cutting board sprinkled with powdered sugar.

But after using the real thing for the last several decades, it’s especially clear that bottled lemon or lime juice cannot compete with the zesty zing of fresh lemon or lime juice. I still use bottled lemon juice occasionally in home canning recipes, but other than that, fresh lemons or limes are where it’s at. The fragrance and flavor is like nothing else, and using real lemons or limes is such an easy way to elevate your cooking game. Try rubbing fresh lemon zest into granulated sugar for a punchy lemon kick (also be prepared to die at how amazing it smells).

I use this inexpensive citrus juicer for every day cooking/baking and this microplane grater for zesting lemons and limes {aff links}.

Bonus: Get Yourself a Kitchen Torch

It doesn’t even matter if you never use it for anything other than torching marshmallows, you’ll feel like the coolest kid in the kitchen when you fire that thing up. Ok, it’s also pretty fabulous for creme brulee. This is my favorite easy-to-use kitchen torch {aff. link}.

What else? What other quick tips do you have to instantly feel like a rock star in the kitchen? Yes, ordering pizza like a champ totally counts. 🙂

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