How To Keep Your Diet Delicious Part 3: Iron Chef in The Making 

 February 25, 2017

By  nick

Last time we learned the importance of seasoning and got started by following the first of 3 steps:

1. Stock your spice cabinet.
2. Learn the basics of flavor.
3. Begin experimenting!

Now that you have your spice cabinet ready to go, let’s dive into the kitchen.

Step 2: Learn The Basics of Flavor

Keep It Simple

Listen, I’m not going to tell you to put 1/4 tsp of this and 3 pinches of that into these seasonings. Nor will I reveal how many parts oil to vinegar to mix.

Is it because I don’t love you? No, in fact it’s because I do.

See, as a self-taught (and self-proclaimed, haw-haw) Iron-Chef, I’ve found cooking to be unnecessarily complicated for beginners.

I’ve found that many recipes are too detailed, too “polished,” and use ingredients that ultimately don’t matter (like a pinch of some exotic spice). After all, Iron-Chefs-in-training likely don’t yet even have a sense for what these things taste like on their own.

Reality check.

Your food doesn’t need to be pretty, and it doesn’t need to impress the neighbors. On day one, it just needs to be edible.

So cook it and throw some flavor on top.

Think of this as functional cooking.

Once you can cook food functionally, then you can make it fancy.

1. Start small: ONE ingredient at a time.

Roast the plain chicken breast in the oven… or boil it! I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter (yet).

Respect its original bland taste. Learn that when cooking chicken breast, this is your blank canvas.

Now cut it in half.
Put salt on one half.
Eat the other half plain.

Take your time to taste it and appreciate the difference.

Do this with all of your foods. Over time you will learn about the different flavors, which are rich and which are bland (and therefore hungrier for a little seasoning).

2. Start adding layers.

Once you figure out what you like with a few individual ingredients, start playing with more, adding one or two at a time.

What flavors does garlic powder add?
What flavors does onion powder add that garlic doesn’t?
What do they add together?

3. Make mistakes!

Put too much salt in.
Accidentally dump the whole bottle of onion powder into the mix in a puff of oniony smoke.
Splash too much vinegar and feel your face scrunch into a ball (or the disappointment of wanting more when it wasn’t quite enough).
Feel the powerful sting of cayenne pepper to ruin a meal when the last shake was one too many.
…until maybe you’ll discover the soft flavor of Jamaican curry powder that only seems to improve with a heavy hand.

(I’ve done all of these.)

Have fun and embrace the mistakes! Every one is a learning opportunity.

Step 3: Be A Flavor Detective

What do you like?

Spicy tacos? Rich, savory meatloaf like mom used to make? What about the special stew that Nana would make for special occasions that was unlike anything you’ve ever had since?

Many of the rich flavors you’ve had before aren’t sorcery.
Some of them are simple and revolve around as little as one key ingredient.

Be a flavor detective!

If there’s a sauce, seasoning blend, or sauce packet you have enjoyed in the past, take note of the ingredients. Ask your Nana what gave that stew its colorful flavor.

See if you can recreate the familiar flavor you’re so fond of.

Seasoning Made Simple

You didn’t think I was going to leave you hanging did you?

Try these simple templates for a quick-start!

Mexican / Southwest

  • onion powder
  • cumin
  • paprika
  • chili powder
  • cayenne pepper (if you like it spicy)

You may recognize cumin as the spice that gives a hot bowl of “beans and meat chili” its signature aroma and flavor. Onion powder offers the sweetness, while cayenne pepper brings the sting.

Suggested Use: Like refried beans? Turn boring old pinto beans into something worth talking about with this mix. Use it to spruce up a slow cooker three-bean chili. Try giving your burgers a bold kick by mixing it right into the meat.

Spicy Asian Mustard (Wasabi/Horseradish)

  • ginger (preferably fresh)
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • Chinese hot mustard powder (just a little)

You’ll recognize the hot mustard as the wasabi-like spice that creeps up the back of your nose, while the fresh ginger brings a cool freshness to the mix.

Suggested Use: Mix all ingredients together and use as a sauce over steak and broccoli. It’s also a fantastic marinade for cuts of lean red meat.

Simple Asian Curry

  • soy sauce
  • red chinese curry powder

Suggested Use: Pour over shrimp and veggies, or stir-fry altogether in the sauce. You can also create a red curry soup just by adding water or stock to the mix.



Indian / Malayasian Coconut Curry

  • coconut oil/milk
  • yellow Jamaican curry powder
  • salt

Suggested Use: Mix all ingredients and pour over a plate of sautéed broccoli, onions, and carrots or prepare as a stir-fry. Also works nicely with a light fish like tilapia over fragrant white jasmine rice.

Roasting Herbs

  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • pepper
  • salt

Suggested Use: Great for roasting lean porkchops or herb-roasted potatoes! (Two of my favorites)

Herb-Roasted Porkchops:
  1. Sprinkle pepper across the roasting pan (before placing the meat in)
  2. Lay down your porkchops in the pan
  3. Sprinkle meat with salt first, then rosemary and/or thyme
  4. Roast meat for about 15-20 minutes at ~375 degrees and savor the smells that start filling your home

Classic Italian Seasoning

  • basil
  • oregano
  • thyme

Suggested Use: Mix with tomatoes either fresh or stewed/boiled in a pot with onions (so much better with onions!), use to accompany plain chicken. Also a nice blend for green beans and pearl onions with some grass-fed butter or olive oil.

Curry Chicken

  • boneless chicken breasts or thighs
  • garlic powder
  • Jamaican curry powder (lots*)
  • salt
How To:
  1. Cut chicken into strips (maximum surface area = maximum flavor)
  2. Practically encrust each strip with salt, pepper, and too-much curry powder
  3. Spray seasoned meat with cooking spray
  4. Roast in the oven, ~375 degrees for 15-20min.
  5. OPTIONAL: To make a crispier crust of seasoning, broil for 2-10min after roasting

*I’ve been on a mission to discover the human toxic dose of curry powder. Day 1,141: still looking.

Simple Salad Dressing A

  • red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • onion powder
  • salt
  • lemon juice*
  • extra virgin olive oil

Just mix together and pour over your salad!


Simple Salad Dressing B

  • red wine vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil or mashed avocado
  • spicy brown mustard

Just mix together and pour over your salad!

Simple Deviled Eggs

  • Old Bay
  • red wine vinegar
  • hard or soft boiled eggs (I prefer soft-boiled infinitely more)
How To:
  1. Boil eggs
  2. Shell eggs
  3. Cut eggs in half long-ways
  4. Add a few drops, up to a capful, of red wine vinegar directly into the yolk
  5. Finish with a dusting of Old Bay
  6. Praise your creator for such deliciousness

What seasoning tricks do you use in your own cooking?

Share them below!


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