Making Almost Vegetarian food incredibly good-tasting (and not just so he won't miss the meat)

The problem with going vegetarian, even merely Almost Vegetarian, is dragging my husband along.

He comes from a meat-eating family. Heavily meat eating. So I knew I had to make the vegetarian food so good he wouldn't miss the meat. And I have found the secret: Make everything as incredibly flavorful as possible.

I have here, for your approval, tips on how to make your food flavorful. May they serve you as well as they serve me.

The five best tips for really tasty food
1. Use the best ingredients you can lay your hands on
Taste a supermarket tomato. Then taste a tomato from the farmer's market. See the difference? Now throw away the rest of that nasty supermarket tomato.

2. Use flavorful ingredients
Throw away those old bottles of dusty herbs and spices and buy new bottles. Or buy fresh.

Here's what I do. If it tastes best dried, or is easier to work with dried, then I buy it dried. Such as Herbes de Provence (this incredibly aromatic mix of savory, fennel, thyme, rosemary, and lavender is gorgeous on all sorts of veg, especially roasted onions).

And I buy whatever tastes best fresh in the fresh version. Such as rosemary (actually, this is growing on my windowsill) and basil (with mozzarella and tomato in a sandwich and I would swear I was in the Mediterranean.)

As for how often you should replace your bottles of dried herbs, I'd say every six months or so. Or, at least, whenever you can't smell them any more. Or you have to wipe dust off the bottle!

3. Be generous with the flavoring
While I was smart enough to use the wildly delicious Parmegiano Reggaino, for example, I used to limit my use to, perhaps, only a tablespoon or two of grated cheese. Then I saw an Italian cooking show or two. In one, the chef used what was surely 800 pounds of the stuff (okay, yeah, it was probably more like a cup grated). In another, the chef wrenched off a hunk the size of my fist, drowned it in extra virgin olive oil, and just munched away. I started being a tad more liberal. Suddenly, the husband was asking for more. Lesson learned.

4. Up the flavoring whenever you can
Take white sugar. Now, I'm not big on sugar with those empty calories and all, but if it is a special occasion (like, say, a Thursday), and you gotta have a sweet, then I am big on making it yourself (we don't need no stinking preservatives, chemicals, and what have you). However, to minimize the empty calories, I always try to limit the use of sugar. (Recipe calls for 3/4 cup? I am likely to see how it works with just 1/2 cup.)

How do I get away with this without reducing flavor? By upping the intensity of the sugar. And I do this by adding a flavoring. Such as vanilla (makes sugar taste so much sweeter). Or lemon peel. Or cinnamon. (I'll print my recipe for vanilla sugar tomorrow. It is absurdly easy.)

5. Use the best damn salt you can find
It makes a difference. Really.

I use pre-ground table salt (the type you buy at the supermarket) for baking because sea salt is too coarse (you don't want a salty bite in your brownie) and it is a crashing bore to try to grind sea salt into a tiny teaspoon and too dull to muck with wee bits of paper so you can pour the salt and ... bah!

I use sea salt in a grinder to flavor foods where the crunch of unground sea salt is not required, such as salting pasta water.

And here is where the best damn salt part comes in: I use a good sea salt to sprinkle on food just before serving, such as roasted asparagus.

(Concerned about the price of sea salt? Don't be. Good sea salt doesn't have to be expensive and a little goes a long way. For example, these days we are using a Portuguese flor de sal I got from Zingerman's when I was writing an article on gourmet foodstuffs. I've had it, hmmm, many months with many more to go.)

Yum yum!