• Amanda Darby, Chef/Owner

Simple Cooking Tips Series for Beginners: Tip 2

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Tip 2: Flavor

Stock your kitchen with citrus (lemon, limes, oranges, grapefruit), fresh garlic, fresh herbs (buy some and curbside pick-up at Home Depot), and purchase some good salt.

You can add citrus to marinate meats, add to meat and veggies after cooking, or to make homemade salad dressings. Fresh herbs can be used to marinate meat, add to roasted veggies, add to stock, or homemade salad dressings.

Fresh garlic tastes way better than jarred and can cause less indigestion (yes, not as gassy) !

And buy 2 types of salt: one for cooking with (sea salt) and finishing salt (Maldon Sea Salt flakes). Adding finishing salt to meat and cooked/raw veggies can give it a bit of crunch and extra salt kick that give food that restaurant quality taste. There is some chatter about iodized vs. non iodized. I prefer to use sea salt, but you do you friend. Finishing salt is different in that texture and taste can vary from brand to brand. I'd recommend getting an affordable cooking salt (probably the salt you already are buying) and buy a fancier finishing salt.

And then add that salt to your food!

Perhaps more than you normally do. Like a lot more. Think about how many servings of your food you have and add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per serving depending on what you are adding it to AND how salty your salt is (yep, they all have different saltiness levels...don't get overwhelmed here, just know that's true and you can explore different salts).

For example, in my classes students tend to under salt salad dressings by A LOT. When you make a dressing you might be making 6-12 servings and students will add 1-2 small pinches and taste it and be like, yeah it's good. Then I came back through and add 1-2 large pinches and they taste it again and they are like, ohhhh yeah that tastes great. You have to think about what the dressing is going on. Probably fresh vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc) and while fresh veggies taste good, they do need a bit of salt to bring out maximum flavor, so when you salt the dressing, you need to also understand your dressing has to be salty enough not just for the dressing, but ALSO the contents of your salad.

Salty things I always keep on hand: ume plum vinegar, miso paste, salt, flakey salt, parmesan cheese, capers, olives, pickled onions, preserved lemons (also a acid)

Acids things I always keep on hand: lemons, limes, white vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, rice wine vinegar

What can you do this week?

1. Buy a good salt AND buy one of the salty things I always keep on hand and explore using it. Yes, you can do that. Add the salty thing to salad or pasta, and see how you like it. And BTW, anytime in cooking you need to open to liking to new things, but that doesn't mean you like them the first time you try it. It's perfectly fine to not like something right-away, but I would encourage you to keep trying.

2. Buy one acid and explore using it and see how it tastes in a salad dressing or if you have feeling adventurous try pickling something with it (1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, and salt until it tastes like the ocean).

Recipe of the week: Tomato Soup

Your challenge: How can you make this recipe even better? Tag me on Insta/Facebook using: #CookingWithDarby so I can see how it turned out. Remember I'm all about imperfect food photos, they are more approachable so share what ya got!

In part 1 we discussed how to walk yourself through a recipe and substitute missing ingredients revisit if needed.

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Creamy Tomato Soup with Basil Oil

This soup can be easily converted to vegan by substituting the cream for ¼ cup cashew cream. Serve with a side of hearty sourdough bread, or add cooked grains to the soup itself to make it a wholesome and filling meal.

Serves 4-6 people

Cook Time: 10-20 minutes

Equipment: Immersion blender, large stock pot, knife, cutting board, strainer, cheesecloth


For the oil:

1 bunch fresh basil leaves

½ cup cold pressed olive oil

For the Soup:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, minced

36 ounces canned whole tomatoes (whole has more flavor than diced)

1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)

⅓ cup heavy cream

1 cup spinach (washed if needed)

Salt to taste


  1. Make basil oil: in blender or food precessor, blend basil leaves and olive oil until smooth. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer

  2. Make the soup:

  3. In a large pot add oil and garlic on medium low heat.

  4. Cook until soft and fragrant (DO NOT BROWN) approximately 1-2 minutes

  5. Add tomatoes and and raise heat to medium high.

  6. Cook for 5 minutes and add cream and spinach

  7. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.

  8. Or remove from heat and in small batches us blender to puree soup.

  9. Taste for salt and adjust.

  10. Serve in individual bowls with basil oil on top.

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