I read all the time various posts, see pictures, get questions….I’m thinking that you people are eating some boring food?
Maybe not you – maybe some other people?
I don’t know.
I think, though, that since it’s Tuesday and there aren’t any short weeks coming up and it’s getting colder that we should discuss at some length why boring food doesn’t have to be so.
IT DOESN’T! Promise. You can make affordable, healthy, regular meals every night of your life, but with a few teensy changes make them not so standard that you feel sad in your heart and end up getting takeout half the time.
REGULAR FAST EASY CHEAP MEALS CAN BE EXCITING is what I’m trying to say. Try a few of these ideas:
- Color. I know it’s overstated on Food Network every five seconds, and for good reason: mashed potatoes with a roll, cauliflower, and chicken breast does not a pretty plate make. Think in your brain a TINY bit when planning what to cook. If you’re making chicken and potatoes (two white foods), make a quick red sauce to go over top. OR POUR ONE OUT OF A JAR. You’ll feel happy about eating food if it looks prettier, I promise. Or, you can do what I did yesterday and toss something green on top of an all-white meal. Cheating kind of, but gets the job done.
- Speaking of green, let’s talk about it! Fresh herbs and scallions are my JAM. Seriously required to be a part of almost all the meals I make at home if I can do it. Basil is great on Italian or Thai, cilantro goes great with any Mexican flavors and most Asian dishes, but sliced green scallions and/or regular old parsley are cheap, last awhile in the fridge, and go with ANYTHING. Seriously. This is especially important with slow cooker meals that can end up soft and dead looking after 8 hours in the heat. Keep ONE fresh thing in the fridge – don’t go nuts with perfect pairings right at first.
- On Italian food, I like options. Coarse salt, good olive oil, crushed red pepper, parmesan, and flat-leaf parsley are ALL good toppings for this particular genre. Even jarred parmesan that is half fillers, if you’re into that kind of thing. Think of it: You use jarred sauce and dried noodles, but if you top them with even two of the above list (I use the entire list because I like condiments more than food, but you don’t have to be so Jihad about it) the flavors will be really pronounced and you’ll feel fancy and proud of your cooking.
- Texture. Another overstated foodie thing, isn’t it? Soups, slow cooked meals, casseroles….they all get kind of nursing-home-ish, don’t they? Maybe…the reason why almost every casserole in the history of time has some kind of crunchy topping? Don’t skip that part! If you’re needing some toppings for soup, think about croutons (bagged are fine!), chopped onions, or some chopped raw veggies that appear in the soup (chopped raw bell pepper in chili that already contains them, etc). Slow cooked meals can benefit from toasted chopped nuts or a bread crumb topping – if you have teeth, use them. Soft food can get old super duper fast. If NOTHING else, a piece of toast with olive oil or butter adds a nice contrast to a mushy meal.
- Temperature. Apparently, my dad’s mother always insisted on “something cool” with a meal. Now, I’m not obsessive about that 100% of my life, but it’s kind of a legit thing – super duper hot chili topped with sour cream. Grilled chicken + green beans + sliced tomatoes. The “something cool” rule basically negates the need for a salad if it doesn’t fit with a meal. Asian-style noodles with marinated cucumber on the side. The temperature thing goes PERFECTLY with our last jazzer – upper…
- Different flavors. Spicy, bitter, salty, vinegary, sweet – you can have lots of different flavors in a meal! Don’t be afraid! Food doesn’t need to match – it’s more like wearing two patterns at once. If they complement each other, it totally works. In the same way that sprinkling some sugar in marinara offsets the acidity of the tomatoes, meals can be built with a few flavors appearing to balance out a meal. Crunchy salty chicken with peppery greens and briny capers, for example – three very distinct themes that work well in a whole meal.
THESE ARE NOT HARD THINGS. I promise. They’re tiny little adjustments that I bet you could make on the meal you have planned for tonight using random things already in your house.
Pick one of the above ideas. Try it. Then change it up 1,000 times to keep cooking at home fun, not a chore. No one likes chores.