We’ve all been there. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and there are thawed chicken breasts that have been pulled out of the freezer. First of all – AWESOME job remembering to thaw them! There’s no time to run to the store, but the idea of another boring chicken (or pork, or beef, or shrimp) dinner just makes you cringe a little. Have no fear – you can take your taste buds on a trip around the world with only a few stock items in your pantry. Cooking on the fly doesn’t have to mean bland, boring food. Blending a few different herbs, spices and sauces can provide a lot of excitement in your kitchen. Once you identify the flavors you, your family and/or friends prefer, you can explore more adventurous recipes!
First, the shopping list:
- Cooking oil (olive oil is very versatile, but feel free to substitute)
- Soy sauce
- Lime juice
- Lemon juice
- Sriracha sauce (affiliate)
- Dijon mustard
Herbs/spices (in order of versatility):
- Salt and pepper (get fancy if your budget allows – sea salt and black peppercorns – but don’t feel you have to break the bank when you’re stocking the spice cabinet initially)
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Ground cloves
- Cayenne pepper
TIP: Stocking your spice rack doesn’t have to be a huge expense. Many can even be found at dollar stores. And if you’re accustomed to looking in the “spices” area of the grocery store, you might be surprised to know that the spices in the “ethnic foods” section are generally lots less expensive, even for basic salt and pepper!
Here are the spice combinations – most are dry mixtures. Play around a little until you find the quantities you like best. For instance, if you don’t care for oregano, leave it out. If you LOVE garlic, double the garlic. The goal is to add flavor you enjoy.
Cuban – basil, cumin, lime (or sour orange), oregano, black pepper. Make a simple marinade by adding these ingredients to a little oil (about an equal amount to the juice) and coat your meat. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so. Add a splash of soy sauce or some salt, too.
Chinese – Ginger, garlic, cinnamon cloves, soy sauce. Tossing meat with these ingredients will give you a Chinese feel. A marinade can be easily made by adding Dijon mustard to equal amounts of lemon juice and oil. Again, just enough to coat the meat. Allow at least 20 minutes to let the flavor soak in. Serve finished dish with a little sriracha for extra kick.
Mexican/Southwestern – cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt. Toss your meat in this dry mixture before cooking.
Italian – basil, oregano, garlic, salt. Probably the most commonly used flavor. Add some tomato sauce and you’ve got supper!
Greek – oregano, parsley, garlic, dill, salt and pepper – This dry mix can be used as a dry rub. Or, add it to oil and a splash of lemon juice to make a marinade. Great grilled, baked or sauteed.