Tori Story: How to Take Your Cooking Game to the Next Level (On a Budget)

June 1, 2023

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn't cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don't personally use or believe in.

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

Cooking at home is an easy way to cut down on one of the biggest budget busters –– dining out

We are NOT anti-restaurant or fast food –– in fact, we are pro-spending money on the things you love. 

But, so many come to us and share that dining out is one of their hardest budget categories because they feel frustrated or overwhelmed cooking meals at home. 

Today, Tori shares her tried and true tricks for cooking meals you’ll love, without spending a million dollars on fancy ingredients, cooking supplies, or having any sort of background in food.
Like this format? Let us know!

Ps. save money AND the planet with Imperfect Foods!


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 One of the things that I love most is cooking and good food. This is something I’ve wanted to share with you for a really long time because, wow, I was a kitchen nightmare for a very long time. And I learned a lot about cooking and I feel like I have a lot that I can pass on to you that I wish I knew sooner.

Almost every person I have dated in the last five years either worked in a professional kitchen or is an incredible home cook. So that plus watching so much food network and eating at some of the world’s best restaurants, has turned me into a pretty good home cook. As someone who used to think that throwing chicken tenders on a sheet pan in the oven was a little too complicated, I’m going to teach you some quick fixes that can immediately make your food better. So let’s do this. First, we’re going to stock some staples. You should always have garlic, onion, lemon, lime, rice, chicken slash veggie stock, spices like paprika, cumin, ginger, red, yellow, orange peppers, canned chickpeas, parmesan cheese, tomato paste, pasta, white wine vinegar, olive oil, and capers in your kitchen.

And if you just heard me list off all of those ingredients, and you’re like, I hate those, and I’ll never use them, then don’t buy them. No worries. These are all like pantry staples that when I’m out, I know to go to the store and buy because I use them all of the time in a lot of different meals and in a lot of different ways.

I also really love having fresh herbs, cilantro. For me, it’s a little soapy. The fun fact, that’s a genetic thing, by the way, if you think cilantro soapy, it’s not your fault. Parsley, dill, and mint are all good starters. Not only do they add like a really bright, fresh element, but they just look so good on a plate.

If you’ve ever watched Food Network, you know the quote, you know, eating with your eyes, right? And part of what makes good food good is the experience of eating it and how it visually looks. I also love having noncauliflower Pour peanut butter and unsalted nuts stocked like almonds or walnuts. All of these are extremely versatile.

So that’s our first thing. Stock some staples, even when you are coming home from traveling or even if you don’t know what to cook. These are a great place to start because you’ll always have them in your kitchen. All right. Number two, salt, fat. acid heat. This culinary way of life became famous for a reason.

If you have not seen Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, the incredible Netflix documentary, if you have not read the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I highly recommend it. When composing a dish, you need a little bit of everything but not too much of one thing. So let me give you an example. Hamburger and fries. Right? Okay.

Quintessential. I literally had a burger and fries last night because it’s so good. You got a bun, your meat patty, a tomato and onion lettuce, and then some sort of like sauce, right? Like a spicy aioli or a mayonnaise or some something to go on the bun, right? And then typically like a starchy potato of choice, right?

For your fries. Okay. Where does our salt come from in this dish? You’ve probably salted the patty. You should be salting your patty. And then there’s a probably a little bit of salt in that mayo, but you get the most concentration of salty flavor from the French fries. A quick aside, guys, salt your goddamn food.

I grew up in a family that thought salt was bad for you. No, you know what’s bad for you? Food that is undersalted. Why are potato chips so addicting? It’s the salt. Now, we’re not going to put that much salt into our food all the time, but you get the idea, right? Here’s the tip that changed my life. When you have salt, do not put it in a salt shaker.

You want to use a salt well. Which is like putting salt in a cute little bowl and then pinching it instead, like your salt bae, right? This not only gives you more control on how much you’re putting in, but it also allows you this like more intimate sensory experience of cooking, which is what I argue the best part of cooking.

And my favorite like elevate your food quickly tip by flaky salt. You know, that’s the kind you get on like a really good cookie. That’s a little flaky salt on the top. This salt is going to immediately elevate any dish. So you want like two kinds of salt. You want regular salt for seasoning in a salt well, and then you want flaky salt for garnish.

You want to put it on completed salads or fish or veggies. Literally, you can put it on anything and it immediately makes your food taste so much better and it also, again, looks fantastic. Okay, so that’s our salt component of this like hypothetical french fry burger combo, right? You’ve salted the bun, little salt in the mayo, and then salt is really coming from the french fries.

Okay, how about fat? The meat patty is the highest concentration of fat, right? Same goes if this was a veggie patty. So the fat is coming largely from the patty. The acid is coming in with the tomato and the onion. Tomatoes are acidic, onions are acidic, and then the lettuce is there to kind of temper the acidity so it’s not just like super, super powerful.

And then finally, heat. refers to like how you cook things, right? Char, or you can even refer to spice. You might be getting a little bit of spice from the mayo or the aioli, right? But a bun, a good bun, also has some sort of char, right? It’s what makes a really good hamburger is that crunchy, crispy bun where you can see the char on it.

This is why something like a hamburger and fries can be so good. And why it also can be blah, right? It can either be fantastic because you’ve got all the elements, you’ve got salt, fat, acid, and heat in perfect relation to each other, or you’re either missing elements or there’s too much of the elements, right?

Oh, that’s too salty. Or, oh, the, the bun is completely burned, right? When you’re making food, Even if it’s just like sh
eet pan veggies with some chicken at home, always ask yourself like, what component am I missing?

So last fall, I bought some short ribs and potatoes from the farmer’s market. I had never made short ribs before, so I asked the butcher how to cook them. He said low and slow in the oven, about 45 minutes at 375, 375 degrees. The only thing I planned for this dish was like, I’m going to put rosemary and salt and pepper on the ribs and the potatoes, and I’m going to put some olive oil on it and I’ll throw them in the oven.

And that would have tasted great, especially for a weeknight. But then I remembered salt, fat, acid, heat. Okay. So I had the fat from the meat and potatoes. And I knew I was going to put some flaky salt on them when they were on the plate, because I’m a flaky salt little bitch. And I also wanted to cut up a lemon for my acid component, and I was going to squeeze the lemon juice on everything.

But it needed something more to really elevate it, and I wanted to add a sweet element to the dish. So, with about 20 minutes left in the oven, While the potatoes and the ribs were cooking, I thought of my mom cooking pork chops and applesauce when I was a kid. I don’t know where she gets this from. She would always go, pork chops and applesauce.

And she’s quoting something, but I don’t know what. I’m going to text her after this. So I knew that the acid and the sweetness of an apple would pair well with the fat of the meat. So I made an apple slaw. I chopped up the apple, I added some lemon juice, and then I had some dill, because I keep dill on hand, and that went into the bowl itself.

So that was my slaw. And then I had a complete and total epiphany that I was very proud of. The plate needed honey. I took some fresh honey from the farmer’s market, and I took it and just drizzled it on the ribs. And with this little, like, sprinkle of some red pepper flakes, it was done. Oh my god. Slow roasted short ribs.

Hold on. I’m going to present it. Chefs today for you. I have slow roasted short ribs with smashed rosemary, garlic potatoes, and an apple dill slaw. Eat your fucking heart out, Guy Fieri. It would have every component, salt, fat, acid, heat. It was like deep and savory flavors with a little bit of sweetness. Um, it was so good.

So always ask yourself, what component am I missing in the dish? What can I add? What can I take away that’s going to elevate your food and also just make food and cooking more enjoyable. All right. Number three, if you can afford to. Shop at the farmer’s market. Fresh produce, other goods. They’re divine.

And they also support your local community. Hell fucking yes. This is where you want to get your supplies, especially the fresh stuff like greens and fruit. And with cold weather rolling in, I know that my farmer’s market down the street no longer is open. They’re only open I think it’s like May to October.

I love Imperfect Produce. This is not sponsored. We’ll link them down below. They take visually ugly produce and they give it to you for a discount. and they deliver it for free. It’s fantastic. All right, number four, work with what you already have. This becomes a lot easier if you have those pantry staples I was talking about, but if you don’t know what to cook, start with the thing that’s about to go bad, right?

Oh, I bought that cauliflower a week ago and it’s looking a little rough. It is time to make cauliflower tacos or maybe some non wraps with the cauliflower or maybe some cauliflower cheddar soup. That sounds really, I’m really hungry. This is like both making me hungry and reaffirming how hungry I am.

And speaking of things that are about to go bad, if it is vegetables, if you’ve been tuning me out, here’s, here’s the time to come back. You ready for this? If you are hopeless in the kitchen, you don’t know what to cook, but you’re like, I need to eat a vegetable every now and again, cause I want to poop.

Here’s the thing. Easiest way to use them soup or a stir fry you just it does not matter as long as you follow your salt fat acid heat you can just chuck a bunch of vegetables in a soup or chuck a bunch of vegetables in a stir fry and just douse it in soy sauce put it on some rice it’s gonna taste great it is easy it is delicious almost started quoting michael scott it is easy it’s delicious it’s the best way to start the day this morning i woke up i stepped down on the grill and it clamped down on my foot i i don’t understand what so i had to leave a lot of that you remember you When Michael grows his foot.

Anyway, it’s delicious. It’s healthy. There’s no time needed. Work with what you already have. Okay, rapid fire. This is going to be some of my favorite recipes for dinner. Yes, we will link them down below. These are my favorite recipes for dinner that will impress people. You got a person coming over, you met them on a dating app.

You’re like, okay, I know you’re not a murderer. So it’s time to come over, cook this for them. Oh, you’re hosting a dinner party. Time to cook for them. Oh, my parents are coming over and I need to show them that I have my shit together. Time to cook. Here we go. This is a list of recipes that even you can’t fuck up.

And yes, it will be a list dominated by my queen, Alison Roman. First thing. We will link all of these down below. You can also just Google them and you’ll find them. Spiked chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric. This one, especially, you cannot fuck this up. It is the stew, Alice in Romans, the stew. It’s fantastic.

I have made this dozens of times. Cauliflower tacos with cashew crema. This one fucking slaps. I sub peanut butter for the cashew butter because I don’t have time to buy a separate thing of butter just for this one recipe. Spicy peanut butter ramen. Oh my god. It’s really easy to make and it’s also, you can add vegetables to make it healthier.

I love this one. Kale pesto with pasta. Oh my God. So good. And finally, buttered salmon with red onion capers and dill. Multiple people have told me when I made this that it’s the best salmon they’ve ever had. Just do not overcook it. I did that last time. I left it in the oven for too long. It made me want to die.

Overcooked salmon. I’m like, literally just pluck out my eyelashes first. That’s fine. That’s less painful than serving somebody overcooked salmon. We’ll link all of these down below in the show notes.

Okay, finally. You are gonna fuck up in the kitchen. That’s okay. That’s why Domino’s exists. I still learn something new about food every single day, all the time. I am by no means the best cook, but wow, I’m way better than I used to be. I am so proud at how far I’ve come and that took years of practice. If you have someone in your life who is a good cook, watch them, offer to help, ask them to explain what they’re doing while they’re doing it.

That’s what I did. And ultimately, again, like learning anything new, offer yourself a lot of grace and understanding and keep practicing. I was joking with a friend the other day that I remember the first time I ever tried to make soup. It was like a tomato soup, and I took the hot soup and put it in a blender, and I blended it, and then I opened it, not realizing, of course, that the soup was, like, piping hot, and would cause a reaction, and I opene
d the blender and, like, took the pressure off the blender, and tomato soup went everywhere.

It went up the walls, it went all over my body, it looked like a murder scene. And, you know what I did? I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed because there was nothing I could do then. There was no point in getting frustrated. It was like, cool. I have learned. Will I do this again? Hell no. Have I learned for next time?

Yes. We open things that are hot very slowly. And that’s the thing is it’s like, sometimes you’re going to fuck up and that’s okay. But couple things to remember have some pantry staples. Think about salt, fat, acid, heat shop at the farmer’s market or use imperfect produce. If you can and can afford to do so.

Uh, frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh vegetables, especially if you’re making some sort of soup. So don’t worry about that. Those are great. You want to work with what you already have, right? And also. Use the recipes. We linked a bunch in the show notes down below for you. This is something new we’re trying at Financial Feminist.

If you liked this Tori story, we have more coming up about how to navigate and deal with grief when shit feels awful. We’re going to talk about how to stop killing every plant you buy. If any and all of those things seem interesting to you, please let us know. Tag us at Financial Feminist Podcast. If you loved this new concept, let us know.

If you’d rather we didn’t, also let us know. And if you would like this in written form, make sure to subscribe to our email list. You’re going to get the Tori stories first before anybody else. Thank you for going on this little vulnerable ride with me. I hope it was helpful. I have to start with food first because it’s my fucking favorite thing.

And I just love you all. And I hope you love yourself. Have a great day and I’ll catch you later. Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist a Her first a hundred K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields Marketing and Administration by Karina Patel, Cherise Wade, a Elena Heller, Paulina Isaac, Sophia Cohen, Valerie Esco, Jack Coing.

Kahlil Dumas, Elizabeth McCumber, Beth Bowen, and Amanda LaFew. Research by Ariel Johnson, Audio Engineering by Austin Fields, Promotional Graphics by Mary Stratton, Photography by Sarah Wolf, and Theme Music by Jonah Cohen Sound. A huge thanks to the entire Her First 100K team and community for supporting the show.

For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First 100K, our guests, and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast. com or follow us on Instagram at financialfeministpodcast.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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