I am famous within my family for being very picky about food. However, it’s not that I don’t like any food you can taste (as I have been accused by my family), I just don’t like foods where the dominant flavors are sugar (most store-bought cookies and a lot of prepared foods), salt (almost all prepared foods, including most canned soups), brine (pickles and relishes), vinegar (most mustards), or overripe tomatoes (ketchup).
Side note: I LOVE fresh tomatoes, just so long as they are ripe or just a but underripe. And I don’t have a problem with oil-and-vinegar salad dressings, but those usually use a red wine vinegar, not white vinegar.
I do truly love herbs, especially those from the mint family (mints, and also oregano, marjoram, basil, and thyme); onions, garlic, and shallots; fresh or slightly underripe tomatoes; the spiciness that comes from pepper, cayenne pepper, or mustard powder; and most spices
Most baked-goods recipes you find in cookbooks or on the backs of product jars are made to balance between appealing to the most people and offending the least. So they are usually a lot sweeter and lot less tasty than I like. For baked goods (like the gingerbread I mentioned in my previous post), I usually halve the sugar and put in half again as much or double the amount of spices (except for the vanilla, I usually leave that as is).
Some salt is needed for most recipes, but not nearly as much as is often called for. 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon in a recipe can usually be reduced to an 1/8 tsp or less with little effect.
For those (like me) who like a bit of texture and chewiness to their baked goods, I have found that “x” amount flour can be switched for “2/3 x” flour and “1/3 x” instant oatmeal, still come out fine, and be a bit more chewy. Oats have a flavor all their own that is stronger and different than wheat flour, so you may want to increase whatever the dominant flavorings are if you are adding in some oat flour or oat meal.
If you like nuts, you’ll find most recipes that use nuts don’t use nearly enough. For cookies, cakes, and brownies, don’t be shy about adding in more nuts than originally called for. Some of the best fudge I’ve ever had wasn’t so much “fudge with nuts” as “nuts held together by a little bit of fudge”.
Many sauce and cookie recipes can have brown sugar substituted for white sugar. White sugar is just plain sweet, while brown sugar (which is white sugar with molasses) will tend to have a deeper flavor. There are places where white sugar is the thing to use (like to balance out the acidity in tomato sauce, or in white cakes), but in a lot of cases just using white sugar can make a recipe sweet but bland. Brown sugar (either light brown or dark brown) can add some depth, and really strong molasses (marked either strong or robust) can actually make things seem LESS sweet.
A lot of recipes call for Dijon mustard as a flavoring. While most mustards are very vinegar-y to me, Dijon seems to be just hot with a little bit of vinegar. It has a hot mustard bite, but is not that great otherwise. For some salad recipes, I’ve found that Beaver Brand sweet hot mustard is the way to go. It is nice a hot, only a little vinegary, and the sweet part has a distinctive flavor that I reall kind of like.