Prisco’s Family Market

1108 Prairie Street, Aurora, IL 60506 | 630-264-9400

Hours: Monday - Friday, 7 am to 8:30 pm | Saturday, 7 am to 8 pm | Sunday, 8 am to 7 pm

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Sometimes stepping out of the box when cooking can have its rewards

Cooking is, of course, a learned skill. For most of us who do the cooking in our family, we learned the basics by helping our moms or grandmas, or perhaps our dads and grandpas. From there, we hone our skills from recipes we try and eventually most of us get brave enough to experiment with foods that aren’t tied to a recipe. Yes, it can be a bit scary, but when successful the rewards of a delicious, self-created dish are really worthwhile.

For those of you with a spirit of adventure and willingness to try something other than the same old way we have always done it, here are a couple of ideas to experiment with.

  • Mix in a high-flavor ingredient - If you want folks to sit up and take notice of a dish, this is a great way to enhance the flavor of many somewhat bland foods like vegetables, rice or potatoes. Add just a small amount of what I’d call a "strong flavor enhancer". Two that I like to incorporate are capers and bacon.

    Think of capers as kernel-sized flavorizers with a hint of lemon. Their salty-briney taste makes them ideal in creamy dishes in which their tang helps cut richness. Being Italian, of course capers were a staple in our home as they added character and an acidic flavor to pasta sauce and classic dishes.

    Bacon is another prime example of a flavorful ingredient. Cook up a couple of pieces and crumble onto salads or soups to give them a little bit of “wow.” Or chop and fry bacon, then add it to pasta and veggies for a delicious pasta carbonara. Bacon can make even green or baked beans extra tasty.

  • Change up an old staple - Potatoes are such a staple in our country that we often take them for granted. “How do you want your potatoes, baked, mashed or fried?” Let’s try something altogether different.

    Start with a bunch of new potatoes. Once scrubbed, cook your potatoes in simmering water, but just for 15 minutes, until they're soft enough that, once they've cooled a bit, you can smash them slightly with the bottom of your fist or the back of a serving spoon. Toss them in a roasting pan with a coating of olive oil and salt; then roast at 400 degrees until the smashed edges of the potatoes begin to brown and crisp. Toss with minced garlic and whatever chopped herbs you'd like (mint, basil, rosemary, thyme); serve. You’ll love the different taste of good old spuds.

  • Turn Cauliflower into Steak - Cauliflower is a vegetable that has really come into its own recently with many people serving it mashed as a potato substitute or as a gluten-free pizza crust, and all kinds of other creative ideas. Here’s one I picked up from an Oprah Winfrey blog:

    First you sear it then bake it like you would a juicy ribeye steak. This makes the exterior crisp and the inside soft. It’s simple to do, just cut the entire head of cauliflower into inch-thick slices, forming cauliflower "steaks". Season with salt and pepper and brown in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil until golden, about three minutes per side. Finish in a 350-degree oven, baking for 10 minutes or until tender. Easy to do and yet a whole new taste experience.

Have some fun experimenting with cooking. The rewards and fun are well worth it.