MIXING IT UPPosted: February 22, 2011
This post is dedicated to my kitchen-savvy mama. Today she told me she’d like to “perk up” her menus — even though she’s apparently not hearing any complaints from dad.
I’ve endured my fair share of the February Blahs lately. It’s the time of year when work and snow pile up and the elusive sun just isn’t giving any love. Yesterday I confessed in a tweet that I’m actually so pale I glow in the dark a little.
Luckily, even though it’s freezing outside my kitchen is warm and toasty. I’ve been having so much fun cooking and baking this winter that I thought I would share 10 tips for frost-proofing your kitchen… which just means keeping your meals interesting and your sanity intact. Whether you’ve been noshing on KD straight from the pot or just want to improve your already stellar cookin’ skills, keep reading.
No giant root vegetables required.*
1. Create an occasion. My friend Audrey recently reminded me that when I was in high school I would often make cakes, decorate them with “Happy [Day of the Week]!” and invite people over to chow down. Laugh all you want, but I fondly remember my kitchen being an awesome hub of girl talk and good food.
The take-home lesson from this story is that it shouldn’t take a birthday or an anniversary for you to celebrate something. Food has an amazing way of bringing people together, so throw something on a plate and offer it to someone. And hey, a few sprinkles never hurt.
2. Try cooking with a new vegetable or fruit. As much as I love grocery shopping and good food, I realized about a month ago that a lot of the same foods were making their way into our grocery cart. So I started self-enforcing a “Vegetable of the Week” challenge. Each week I grab a vegetable that I’ve never tried or don’t eat often enough. I take it home, stare it down, and then make it into something tasty.
By eating new foods, not only will you get a new burst of flavour on your palette, you’ll get some new vitamins in your body. As a bonus, new recipes often incorporate other ingredients I don’t often use. I put the parsnips I snagged from the produce aisle last week into a curry that also called for the red lentils I’d relegated to the depths of the pantry. It was, at the risk of sounding overly excited, magical.
3. Make an old recipe new again. It’s easy to make the same meals over and over again, but if they’re so tasty one way they’re bound to be tasty in about 13 other ways. A simple trick to shaking up your favourite dish is to use new herbs and spices. Some quick substitutions can make a Mexican-influenced recipe into an Indian one, or a mild meal into a bold one.
Another possibility if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian is to challenge yourself to make your favourite meal without meat or dairy. I’m not out to convert anyone here, but I’m constantly amazed at how resourceful vegan recipes can be. My favourite recent adventure was making potato and kale enchiladas with roasted chili sauce. They were tasty, inexpensive, and fun to make.
4. Make better snacks. I’m pro-snacking. A good snack keeps your energy up and amuses your tastebuds. While buying granola bars, trail mix or whatever at the grocery store is a viable option, if you find yourself with a bit of extra time it’s nice to change up your routine.
For something savoury that you’re able to eat right away, try slicing vegetables really, really thin and sticking them in the oven with some spices. Daikon and radish are great ideas. Just crank the oven up to 400 and turn the veggies every so often. In under a half hour you’ll have a healthy take on potato chips.
If you have a sweet tooth, try a new muffin recipe. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, break out your blender and get ready for some amazing superfood energy bars.
For snacking emergencies that require more sugar than the average snack, there’s some fine work being done over at eat make read. I think I’m going to try her Sweet and Spicy Chex Mix as soon as my maple syrup supply is replenished.
5. Keep recipe-ready veggies and fruit on hand. Sure, it’s great to have veggies and fruit on hand because they make for quick snacks. But I have to confess something: Sometimes the task of meticulously pruning a head of broccoli for recipe X or Y can seem really daunting, or I just don’t feel like spinning a head of lettuce to make a salad. If you do these things ahead of time when you experience a burst of energy, your meals are more likely to include a wide variety of colours and vitamins. Throw some already-chopped cabbage into that stir-fry? Don’t mind if I do! Roast some red peppers to put on that veggie burger? Sounds great! (Am I getting annoying yet?)
6. Get connected. Buying a new cookbook or joining an online food/nutrition community can fill your head with all sorts of new ideas. When you invest (say, money or time) in something you may feel more accountable to following through with your desire to eat differently. It’s likely you’ll feel a bit guilty if that $20+ cookbook sits gathering dust on your shelf, or if Janice from Missouri asks you about that tofu cheesecake you said you’d be trying soon.
7. Swap recipes with a friend. See if you can make your sister-in-law’s mashed potatoes as well as she can. Then call her to brag about your successes.
8. Make cooking a team effort. If cooking seems like a chore, recruit a buddy. It may seem more like an experience - and your workload will be lighter. Maybe your significant other is harboring secret vegetable-chopping talents. It’d be a shame not to use them!
9. Leave the neighbourhood. Try visiting a different grocery store or specialty food shop. I’m not talking about leaving one Sobey’s for another. I mean, see what’s going on in the Asian grocery downtown or ask the West Indian grocer what she recommends. A farmers market is always a foodie’s haven too. Whether or not you know what you’re doing in these new locales, be sure to strike up a conversation. You may learn something really useful you wouldn’t have found in a cookbook.
10. Make dessert. Ice cream or store-bought cookies have their place in the world, but you’re going to feel so, so good about setting aside a bit of time to prepare something extra-wonderful that you can pull out at the end of a main course. You get bonus points if you break out a Julia Child “Bon Appétit!” as you reveal your handiwork.
Are you hungry yet? I hope I’ve motivated you to hop in the kitchen and make yourself something tasty. Let me know what you’re cooking, okay?
* So… that giant potato photo has little to do with the actual post, but it made you smile didn’t it? Come on, it’s a giant potato!