Food & Drink

Advice for busy cooks: Be flexible and focus on flavor

Home cooking can improve your diet and save you money. If only it were easier to fit kitchen time into our lives.

Last week, I shared advice from culinary instructor and food writer Sheri Castle and freelance food writer and cookbook author Debbie Moose.

Both women lead busy lives and manage to fix dinner from scratch. Here are a few strategies to make it happen:

Focus on flavor. Moose uses low-sodium soy sauce and adds a drop or two of toasted sesame oil when she makes a stir-fry dish. She also makes liberal use of lemons and limes.

Moose also favors simple salad dressings that she mixes herself at home. The easiest kind is nothing but olive oil and vinegar, with salt and pepper added to taste.

Both Castle and Moose are fans of flavored vinegars and condiments.

Moose recommends using good olive oil when the oil is being used on a salad or on top of a food, such as dipping bread or drizzled over a plate of hummus. Less expensive varieties are fine for cooking.

Have some ideas in mind. Peruse cookbooks to stimulate your imagination. Castle suggests looking for foods that can be steamed, sautéed or roasted – easy skills for most of us.

Make a list of easy meal ideas as you come across them, and stow it away for times when your mind draws a blank.

Be flexible. Moose likes an approach promoted by Sally Schneider, author of “The Improvisational Cook,” (William Morrow, $34.95) and “A New Way to Cook,” (Artisan, $24.95). Schneider encourages readers to understand the basic logic of the recipe but to be creative in adapting or modifying it.

Castle recommends experimenting with recipes, with the exception of baked goods, which require ingredients to be added in precise proportions. Other foods are more forgiving.

“For example, if you want to try oregano in a recipe instead of basil, go for it,” said Castle. “Trust your instinct, and if it doesn't turn out, think of it this way: ‘It's only one dinner.'”

Free your mind, and empower yourself in the kitchen.