Mount Hood

Different meal hacks to dish out

Squeeze the day with these flavorful cooking tips

Allison Vanderzanden | Lifestyle Editor

As someone who is still learning to cook, I know that no matter how closely I follow a recipe, some dishes just turn out bland. Experimenting with cooking can be intimidating, but luckily, there are some easy flavor hacks that can instantly level up mealtime. Here are some quick tips and tricks to make meals less boring and more flavorful.

Always strive to use the highest quality ingredients. This means shopping for in season produce, buying locally ⏤ such as from farmers markets ⏤ and using fresh ingredients. Check expiration dates on dried herbs and spices — though they may still be usable near their expiration date, their flavor will be quite diminished.

A little acid goes a long way; according to, acid such as that from citrus fruits or vinegar helps elevate the flavor of a dish. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto a salad or fish dish, add some citrus zest to dessert or make a marinade with some red or white wine vinegar.

To step up the vegetable game, try roasting them. Toss vegetables of choice in some olive oil, then spread them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle salt, pepper, minced garlic or herbs like thyme and rosemary on top, then cook at 425 ºF until tender. Get creative and toss vegetables in different spices, such as dijon mustard or curry powder.

Looking for more flavor in meats? Try making a homemade marinade or brine. Soaking meat in a delicious, savory sauce infuses the meat with any flavor of choice. Find simple recipes online for sweet, savory or spicy marinades — whatever the mouth desires.

Another tip for improving meats is to brown them; this strategy involves using high heat to lock in naturally occurring juicy flavors. Heat up the pan thoroughly and salt the meat before dropping it in the pan to create a crust on the outside. Finish cooking the meat through in the oven.

Don’t be afraid to get creative — even if mistakes are made, experimenting with different flavors and techniques is the only way to improve one’s cooking skills.

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Super simple slow cooker soups

 Two slow cooker soup recipes for the winter months

Allison Vanderzanden | Lifestyle Editor

Combat the cold weather with a hearty soup recipe, like ham and potato or taco soup. Set it and forget it in a slow cooker for maximum convenience, and freeze some for later to enjoy a hot, easy meal for chilly days to come. 


Start to finish: 8 hours 5 minutes

Servings: 8

3 ½ cups potatoes, peeled and diced

⅓ cup celery, chopped

⅓ cup onion, finely chopped

1 cup ham, diced

3 ¼ cups water

6 chicken bouillon cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

5 tablespoons flour

5 tablespoons butter

2 cups milk

Stir all but flour, butter and milk into a slow cooker. Cook on low for six to eight hours; check the tenderness of the potatoes.

Minutes before serving, melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour then gradually add milk, stirring constantly over medium heat until thick. Stir this mixture into the slow cooker.

Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes more. Serve and top with optional toppings like bacon, green onions, cheese or sour cream.

Recipe from


Start to finish: 7 hours

Servings: 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound lean ground beef

1 ½ cups yellow or red onions, diced

2 to 3 cups chicken or beef broth

One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

One 4-ounce can chopped green chiles

1 ¼ cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen

2 ½ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and onions and cook for two to three minutes, until the beef is browned and the onions look soft around the edges. Use a spatula to break up the ground beef into smaller pieces as it cooks. Remove from heat and drain some grease if desired.

Combine the beef, onions and remaining soup ingredients in a slow cooker and stir. Cook on low for six to seven hours. Upon serving, top with toppings such as crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, cilantro, red onion and lime juice.

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