Published in the Jamaica Observer

Plan your meals

You already know the P’s: Prior Preparation and Planning Prevent Poor Performance. So how come you’re not applying this code to your cooking? Spending 30 minutes researching a meal strategy for the week will deliver inspiring results. Search issues of Jamaica Observer Cookbook or for meal ideas. Create your meal calendar for the week and make a shopping list. By getting into the routine of meal planning, you’ll be getting out of the habit of meal boredom.

Add one new ingredient

We’re not suggesting kicking all your staple recipes to the kerb. Try playing to your strengths by adding a new ingredient to the dishes you’ve already mastered. Do you make a killer curry chicken? Then add coconut milk to your sauce, or parsley and chopped peanuts to white rice for texture. Add lime juice for unexpected dash in the last few minutes of cooking a favourite stew or add pepper jellies to gravies.

Improve your technique

Refining how you cook is one of the best ways to amp up your meal staples. One golden rule that can turn the average home cook into a star is to avoid overcooking. Let meats rest before slicing. Sear at high temperatures to lock in flavours. Master your marinades. Roast vegetables for mind-blowing taste and to retain nutrients.

Stock the essentials

These are the 12 essential spices every pantry should have.

•Black peppercorns. Buy whole peppercorns and grind them in a mill, as pre-ground black pepper loses its flavour much more quickly.

•Cayenne pepper. A pinch or two of cayenne adds a depth when you don’t want the power heat of fresh picked Scotch bonnet pepper.

•Chilli powder. This mix of cayenne plus dried peppers, cocoa, garlic and onion is an easy fix for roast chicken blahs.

This spice mix starts with cayenne but might also include other dried peppers as well as cocoa, garlic and onion.

•Cinnamon. You know it as a baking spice and as a must-add to porridge, but cinnamon also starts in savoury dishes like roasted pumpkin purée and sweet potato casserole.

•Cloves. This is a strong spice so use judiciously in barbecue sauces.

•Cumin. Toast cumin to awaken the flavour before adding to stews and rubs.

•Curry powder. No self-respecting Jamaican pantry is ever without it.

•Fennel seed. Crack lightly with the back of a knife to release the fragrant oils for sauces, soup and a rub for roasts.

•Garlic powder. Choose plain garlic powder and not garlic salt so you can build your flavours.

•Ground ginger. Great for marinades and rubs.

•Kosher salt. Its neutral flavour makes kosher salt a great kitchen friend. The coarse flakes make it easy to manage how much you add to your dishes without the mistake of over-salting.

•Smoked paprika. Its smoky flavour adds complexity to any dish.

Get reviews

With each addition to your meal routine, take a family poll to determine if you should keep it or skip it. That way, everybody is in on the game. A meal rut can also result in a dinner-time rut in which everyone eats in silence with no connection to each other. Use your new cooking style as a conversation starter; an opportunity to connect with the people who mean the most to you.

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