How to Kick Up Everyday Foods


Do you ever find that the family rolls their eyes when you serve baked chicken for the 5th time in two weeks? Here are some tips to make your food exciting again.

Explore different ways to make delicious cookies. Add a teaspoon or two of espresso powder to chocolate chip or brownie batter, mix well and bake. You’ll enjoy a great dessert with a fabulous hint of espresso — no one will ever guess your ingredient. Instead of plain sugar cookies, sprinkle a sugar-cinnamon mixture over each cookie before baking and sprinkle a tad more after you take the cookies out of the oven. The scent of cinnamon will waft through the house and no one will be able to resist these cookies. Or add a teaspoon of lemon zest to your sugar cookie batch, mix, bake, and you’ll have a surprisingly yummy cookie. You can also top each cookie with a little bit of lemon zest. If lemon isn’t you’re cup of tea, try orange zest instead.

Add different flavors to your butter. Soften a stick of butter and add a few tablespoons of honey and mix if you are serving biscuits or corn bread. If you want something different from garlic bread with your pasta, soften a stick of butter and mix in several tablespoons of chives (dried or fresh), spread over slices of French or Italian bread, and put it back in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. You’ll love this savory treat. Try different herbs to mix in with butter like basil or rosemary. You can even add lemon to butter. This is great with vegetables or on top of steak.

Instead of making mac and cheese from the box, try making it from scratch and baking it in the oven for the ultimate comfort food — it really isn’t too hard. You can find a bunch of great recipes on the Food Network. To make a really special dish, reduce the amount of cheddar cheese you use and add bleu cheese, havarti, jack, and goat cheese. You can also add sauteed mushrooms, diced tomatoes, or minced and seeded jalapenos for some heat.

Don’t just add ice to your beverages to make them fun and exciting. Make a pitcher of lemonade, add a cup of frozen strawberries, add a splash of ginger ale, refrigerate for an hour and you’ve made an invigorating beverage. Instead of strawberries, you can also add frozen raspberries. You can even add a few sprigs of mint. Heat a pitcher of apple cider or juice along with a cup or two of frozen raspberries or strawberries, a little sugar (depends on how sweet you want your drink) and you’ve got a great drink for a cold night.

Salads don’t have to be boring bowls of lettuce. Slice grape tomatoes in half and add to your salad. Sprinkle your favorite shredded cheese or add cubed cheese. A shaving of romano cheese gives you a nutty taste. Add sliced red onions, bell peppers (any color), mushrooms, sliced olives, or alfalfa sprouts. Use leftover meats to add more protein — sliced steak, shredded rotisserie chicken (easy to buy from the grocery store), can of tuna (drained), even a sliced boiled egg will make a more fulfilling meal. Add cooked rotini to make your salad a hearty meal. Salads don’t always have to be about veggies. For a quick Asian salad, toss together lettuce or any other leafy greens you like, mandarin oranges (if you can’t find fresh mandarin oranges use canned), sprinkle with fried noodles (you can buy a bag in the Asian section of most grocery stores), chopped green onions, and some shredded chicken. Don’t be afraid to add fruit to your salad — throw in a few grapes, diced apples, sliced mangoes, and sliced strawberries.

Boring hot dogs be gone! Butter your hot dog buns on the side, lengthwise (where your bun opens), and grill on a pan until each side is light golden brown. Open the bun and spread mustard, onions, and relish; put your hot dog on top of these condiments and sprinkle a little celery salt on top. If you don’t like these condiments, add your favorites, whether it’s ketchup, dijon mustard, or sauerkraut — make hot dog night an event.

Make pizza at home. You don’t have to roll out your own dough. Grab a package of Boboli, pizza sauce, and mozzarella cheese the next time you’re at the store. Top your pizza with pepperoni, sliced or crumbled sausage, Canadian bacon, and pineapple. Vegetables like sliced artichoke hearts and bell peppers make a colorful and tasty pizza. Don’t stop at the usual toppings, and be creative! Top pizza with some angel hair pasta, sliced sun-roasted tomatoes, and basil and you’ve got a filling pizza. For Mexican pizza add sauce, shredded Mexican cheese, crumbled ground beef cooked in taco sauce, sliced avocados, and chopped lettuce.

For cold fall and winter days, nothing beats a bowl of chili or soup. Put a can of chili in a saucepan, throw in diced onions, leftover meat like steak (sliced) or chicken (sliced) and heat. Pour into a bowl, top with some diced green onions and shredded cheese of your choice. No need to chop vegetables and toil in the kitchen all day. Heat canned chicken soup with some diced tomatoes, shredded chicken, some diced onions, and a little bit of garlic. Pour into a bowl and top with avocado slices, cilantro, some Monterrey Jack cheese, a few tortilla chips and you’ve got a great bowl of Tortilla Soup.

You can have gourmet sandwiches at home with some ingredients you may already have lying around. Slice about six inches of Italian bread from a loaf and cut in half, spread some olive tapenade on one slice and place shredded or sliced chicken on the other slice and top with pepper jack cheese or mozzarella. Place the slice of bread with the chicken and cheese under the broiler until the cheese melts. Take it out of the oven and put the slice with the olive tapenade on top. For a quick Cuban sandwich at home, slice six inches of soft bread from a loaf and slice horizontally, but do not cut all the way through. Spread both bread slices with mustard and layer one side with deli slices of ham and pork (or you can use turkey or chicken), top with mozzarella and pickle slices. I like bread and butter pickles since they are both sweet and a little spicy, but you can use dill also. Put the slices together and butter each side of the sandwich and place in a skillet. Press the bottom of a smaller skillet on top of your sandwich and cook until the bottom part of the sandwich side is golden brown. Turn the sandwich over and repeat this process.

Making meals from scratch requires a lot of time and ingredients. Take some shortcuts by purchasing prepared foods at the grocery store like rotisserie chicken and shred it for pizza, salads, and sandwiches. The point is to make quick meals for you and your family that are affordable, easy, and delicious. There are no right or wrong answers. Bon appetit!

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