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How come my meals are always so bland?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I've been trying to branch out and increase my repertoire of meals. We like things like Indian and Thai (things over rice). All the recipes I've been finding look really great and call for all sorts of spices. I follow the recipes to the "T" and still, the food never wows us. Everything is okay but kind of bland.

What am I doing wrong? Anyone know what I'm talking about?
post #2 of 17
I usually use recipes as loose guidelines. You may want to add more spices here and there to achieve what you want.
post #3 of 17
Yes, I agree. I believe that many recipes are written for people with blander tastes than my family has...so I know to add more of some spices now. The nice thing is that often, you can add a little, taste, and keeping doing that till it has the right level of flavor for your needs.
post #4 of 17
If you are used to eating these kinds of meals at restaurants, then your renditions of them are probably missing the MSG! (And thats a good thing!) You may have to retrain your taste to enjoy foods that aren't laced with these flavor enhancers.
post #5 of 17
Some recipes don't have enough salt for my taste. Salt can really wake up a dish. I have a magazine that I use regularly, Cooking Light, that NEVER uses enough salt. I always have to add more.
post #6 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by lotus.blossom View Post
If you are used to eating these kinds of meals at restaurants, then your renditions of them are probably missing the MSG! (And thats a good thing!) You may have to retrain your taste to enjoy foods that aren't laced with these flavor enhancers.
Yup, my cooking usually comes out blandish, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It allows me to taste additives like MSG, fake sugar, etc. in restaurant foods. That way I know which ones to avoid.

Also, are you using dried spices, fresh spices? It makes a difference which you use because it determines when in the cooking you add them. Fresh spices should be added near the beginning of cooking, because it takes longer for the flavor to come out, as opposed to dried spices, which can be added a little later, or near the beginning if you want superbold flavor. Also make sure your herbs and spices aren't old, or exposed to sunlight or heat (from the stove or near a toaster or coffeemaker).
post #7 of 17
I'd say salt. Salt while you cook, and then adjust the taste with more salt.
post #8 of 17
I always make notes on a recipe that I make and we like, but don't love. Usually, I end up doubling the spices (especially for curries, butter chicken etc).

*Fresh spices are key
post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the replies. I guess I just keep thinking that if it's in the recipe, it must be the "right" way, KWIM? I'm not an intuitive cook at all. Plus, DH can't stand garlic or onions except in certain things in certain ways (i.e., he LOVES Thai food in a restaurant, but if I'm cooking with garlic/onions he feels sick to his stomach). So I'm a little gun shy. But I think I'm going to start adding more salt and upping the spices a little at a time. I really like a lot of the recipes we have...they're just not flavorful enough.
post #10 of 17
Recipes have been my downfall all these years. Just recently, I tossed the recipes and just started winging it, and I am a GOOD COOK now. I season, season, season several times throughout the cooking process.
post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by becoming View Post
Recipes have been my downfall all these years. Just recently, I tossed the recipes and just started winging it, and I am a GOOD COOK now. I season, season, season several times throughout the cooking process.
Maybe I'll have to start doing that.

BTW, I like your style and you have some cute kids!
post #12 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by New Mama View Post
BTW, I like your style and you have some cute kids!
Aw, thank you!

I just glanced at your blog for a sec, and I *love* that first pic of your DS on the Feb. 10 entry. So sweet!
post #13 of 17
With Indian food, often the trick is to cook the spices. Add them to the onion/garlic (if you don't use onion and garlic, no wonder things taste bland! Add them to the meat, then, if you're searing it--whatever goes in the pot first), and cook them for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes they'll start to smell really aromatic and spicy--you'll notice the difference. Just tipping the powder into the bubbling 'wet' mixture later on won't give you the same effect--it's all in the toasting, I tell you!

Also, if anything Indian/casseroleish/stewish I make tastes bland, I tend to add any or all of the following: tomato paste, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, mustard (wholegrain if you can), fresh rosemary, any herbs I can get my hands on, a splash of red wine vinegar, a touch of brown sugar, some sweet chilli sauce, a bit of chicken stock powder or gravy powder, pepper, salt...
post #14 of 17
I wanted to second what someone above mentioned. Make sure that your spices are fairly new, not over a year old. To switch them out cheaply, empty the containers and refill them with herbs from the bulk bins at your local healthfood store or co-op. You can save lots of money doing this (for instance 1/2 an oz of organic dried basil from the bulk bins will fill a standard spice bottle for about 50 cents, compared with about $5.00 or more for a new bottle)! It's a great way to try new spices/recipies cheaply too. Toasting also helps enliven many spices, particularly cumin. Lastly, herbs shrink as they are dried, so if you are using fresh herbs in a recipe that calls for dried, the rule of thumb is to substitute 3 times the amount of fresh herbs for dried.
post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks again. I am using fresh spices, from bulk bins of my natural foods co-op. I think maybe I just need to use MORE.

And I made a curry dish from a recipe someone posted here called something "Curried Anything" and it was DELICIOUS. I thought it tasted restaurant-quality.

It started out with an onion, half a head of garlic and an inch of ginger root grated up in a food processor. I cooked that and then added spices to it, then threw the curry mix in a crockpot with some beef stew meat and chickpeas for a day. I added a bunch of spinach at the end. It was so yummy!

I had been making the chickpea/beef/spinach dish from a recipe and was about to give up on it because the recipe as I followed it was always so bland. But this was amazing!
post #16 of 17
I have a friend who is a chef in Manhattan. Until she cooked for us, in our home, I didn't get it. She uses massive amounts of seasonings. When she goes home, there is nothing left. I mean, half a bottle of olive oil per meal, half a bottle of cumin--things like that. I had eaten at her place before, and when I was babymooning with my third, she cooked for me in my ome and froze food, although I wasn't observing.

What she uses to flavor is amazing. Have you ever watched someone on TV cook and they say 'add a little soy sauce' and they they use a cup? Or sometimes, "One cup wine' and you see them use more than half the bottle? "Pinch of salt" looks like two tablespoons? Goota say this, too, but real chefs in good restaurants do not use MSG! They just use a goodly amount of whatever it is they use. If there is butter in a recipe, you can be sure it's not a tablespoon! If it calls for salt, they actually sprinkle salt. Fresh herbs are more mld than dried ones etc.

I also notice people are afraid of salt and under-salt most everything. Sodium in A BK burger and large fries fi, is not the same as good sea salt in good recipe. Salt makes things come alive. It brings out the sweetness, it enhances. Don't be afraid.
post #17 of 17
It may be wrong, uncrunchy, but I often find prefab good curry paste adds more authentic zingy flavour to my indian and thai dishes then the blends I try to make with spices and herbs.
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