Pizza's always a crowd-pleaser, and it's hard to dislike macaroni and cheese. But when you're in a food rut, everything tastes bland. Relying on the same dinnertime staples is a trap that even the best home cooks fall into, and it's just as easy a trap to escape. Making minor tweaks to your kitchen routines can result in big new flavors.
Use New Techniques
Instead of broiling chicken breasts to serve alongside rice and vegetables, try brushing the chicken and vegetables with honey mustard sauce and grilling them, or roll thinly pounded chicken breasts around the rice and vegetable mixture and bake them in the oven. Instead of making traditional tacos, layer tortillas, cooked meat, tomatoes and cheese together in a casserole and bake until the cheese turns bubbly. Take the meats and vegetables you typically bake or saute and try stir-frying them in a wok over high heat with a little oil, garlic and ginger.
Use New Ingredients
Swapping out a few of the components in one of your standard meals can change the entire dish. Try using strands of cooked spaghetti squash instead of pasta, or use roasted red peppers instead of tomatoes when making a simple red sauce. Experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients opens your options too. Head to the farmers market or an ethnic grocery store. Look for a vegetable, cut of meat or spice that you haven't used before and ask the farmer or store clerk to recommend ways to cook with it.
Your well-loved cookbooks will always be a useful resource, but it's unlikely you'll find anything new in the pages you've flipped through so many times. Turn to restaurants instead, where chefs are constantly trying new things. Look up the online menus of your favorite restaurants in town, or visit the websites of restaurants owned by chefs you admire or those who are experts in your favorite cuisines. For example, if you love Mexican food, read the menus of the restaurants owned by famed chef Rick Bayless. Using the descriptions of dishes that sound tasty, make your own versions at home.
Invite Outside Opinions
Crowd-sourcing your dinner menu can bring new flavors to your table. When you're stumped for an idea, survey your family members for suggestions. Your spouse or child may request a dish you wouldn't think to make on your own. Planning a cooking party can also expand your range. Invite a few friends to come over on a weekend afternoon armed with a favorite recipe and all its required ingredients. Work together to prepare all your dishes and divide up the leftovers. You'll have a stocked refrigerator and a few new recipes to recreate in the future.
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