Abby Freethy's ravioli with a garlic cream sauce topped with gorgonzola cheese is seen at her Greenville kitchen Wednesday, March 10, 2010. Credit: Bridget Brown / BDN

Many of us are cooking at home more than usual, instead of going to our favorite fancy restaurants for special occasions. But eating at home can be special too if you know how to elevate your home cooking.

Here are 8 ways you can make simple homemade meals a little more gourmet.

Throw out old spices

You may not even know that your spices have passed their prime, but cooking with less-than-fresh spices will make the flavor of your home cooking a bit bland. Figure out whether your spices are past their prime, and trade out your old species with newer counterparts to make your cooking really shine. While you’re at it, you might want to check some other foods that you may not have known can go rancid.

Use fresh herbs

Instead of using dried herbs (which certainly have their time and place), spend a little extra money on groceries to get fresh herbs. Not only will they make your dinner seem fancy, but the fresh flavors are a wonderful flavor boost in recipes and as a garnish. You could also consider setting up a windowsill herb garden, which will make your cooking taste farm-fresh, even in the winter.

Fancify some old favorites

Take some your favorite ingredients and prepare them in a slightly fancier way. For example, replace your baked potatoes with hasselback potatoes or one of these other fun ways to prepare a potato, or check out these creative new ways to prepare sweet potatoes.

Make your own version of canned things

Instead of purchasing canned classics, try your hand at preparing dried beans, or making your own pumpkin puree. The flavor will be much better than the canned alternatives — plus, it’ll be fun.

Start your own vanilla extract

This one will take some advanced planning — it takes about six months for vanilla beans to truly impart their flavor onto their alcohol base — but making your own vanilla extract will help you save money while also bringing a punched-up vanilla flavor to your baked goods (or, if you’re feeling creative, even savory dishes where vanilla can shine).

Get creative with garnishes

Colorful, tasty garnishes can make even the simplest meal seem gourmet. You can save fennel fronds to top your standard soup, or prepare your own pepitas to add a little bit of crunch. Or, use edible flowers to adorn salads and baked goods.

Make compound butter

Compound butter, which is mixed with spices and other additions, is a great way to make a simple dinner seem fancy. You can even make the butter for your base from scratch if you have some heavy cream and elbow grease.

Decorate like you are at a restaurant

Hey, why not, right? Lay down a tablecloth, wrap your utensils in cloth napkins and light a candle to make any home dinner seem a little fancier.

There is no need to go out to restaurants for a gourmet-quality meal. A little extra effort can make a simple homemade meal truly special.

Watch more: