Give Old Favorites a New Twist

Mar 29, 2019

Week-night meal planning can easily get in a rut.  If you are looking to get inspired, instead of scouring cookbooks and Pinterest for new recipes, think about getting creative with the favorite dishes and foods you are already familiar with.  Kick up the flavor by giving them a new twist, substituting ingredients, or use a different cooking method to bring a fresh taste.  Below are some easy ideas to reignite your motivation for cooking and meal planning.

Make a reduction sauce or glaze to add flavor

Reducing cranberry, apple, and pomegranate juice to a thick syrup or glaze can brighten up the flavor of meats, salads, vegetables and an array of other dishes.  They are easy to make and keep in the refrigerator for a month.

  • Drizzle a cranberry glaze over cooked baby carrots or whisk into a vinaigrette for spinach salad.
  • Use reduced apple juice or cider to glaze a pork loin or incorporated into baked squash, sweet potatoes, or stir into a rice or grain dish.
  • Stir pomegranate glaze into hummus, or brush over baked salmon.

To make glaze or reduction sauce, bring 2 cups unsweetened juice and 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar to a simmer in a skillet, stirring and scraping down the sides occasionally until mixture is reduced to about 1/3 cup and is thick and syrupy.  Let cool then transfer to airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Jams and jellies add a sweet appeal

You’ll find an array of interesting and even exotic flavors with all the jams, jellies, and fruit spreads available today.  They are easy to work with and give new personality to your favorite dishes.    

  • Whisk blackberry, cherry, or apricot jam or fruit spread into a pan sauce for a sautéed pork chop or chicken cutlet, it will turn a ho-hum dinner into dinner party special.
  • Spread fig jam on an unbaked pizza crust, topped with mozzarella cheese and prosciutto. After its baked, topped with fresh arugula and a drizzle of balsamic reduction making ordinary pizza gourmet fare.
  • Incorporated orange marmalade and chili paste into your teriyaki sauce and pour over chicken legs, thighs or wings before baking. You’ll have a beautifully caramelize and scrumptious appetizer or main dish.
Nuts can make a dish new

The simple addition of nuts can give a new taste and texture to your recipe.  Salads, vegetables, pilafs, meats, fish, pureed soups and dips can all benefit with nuts as an added ingredient.

  • Press chopped pistachios into a salmon filet or sliced almonds atop a piece of cod or mahi mahi before baking.
  • Grind pecans or cashews in your spice or coffee grinder to crumb size then mix with panko or bread crumbs to form a tasty crust on oven baked chicken thighs. The added bonus is a nice crispness and breading that won’t get soggy.
  • Shrimp stir-fried with sweetened walnuts is an impressive combination.

Toasted nuts have rich toasty taste and a better crunch.  You can toast a large amount of nuts on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes.  To toast a small amount of nuts, heat nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 1 or 2 minutes, turning or tossing occasionally.

  • Add toasted nuts in combination with all kinds of vegetables, fruits, and greens to give extra crunch, protein, and flavor to salads.
  • Toasted walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds sprinkled on brussel sprouts, broccoli, or green beans might turn a vegetable hater into a vegetable lover!
  • Chopped and roasted macadamia nut sprinkled over your favorite dip or stirred into grain side dishes will give an extra buttery taste and crunch.
Try roasting your fruits and veggies

Switch up the cooking method you usually use for vegetables for new flavor and interest.  Don't be shy to experiment with roasting your vegetables, even leafy greens and fruits benefit from roasting. When browsing veggies in the produce department, consider putting together a medley with some new items for the family to try.

Roasting broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and asparagus, gives them a dappled bit of browning that hints to the deepened earthy flavor.  To roast, cut into uniform size pieces and toss with a bit of olive oil and your favorite seasonings then bake at 450-degrees. 

Make a mix of vegetables such as cubed butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, baby red potatoes, and red onion.  Roast on a sheet pan then drizzle with a balsamic or apple cider glaze, this can make them a highlight of the meal.  Adding apple or pear slices to the mix can be a delicious success!

A trio of red, yellow, and green peppers sliced into strips tossed with olive oil then seasoned with Ranch style seasonings such as parsley, garlic, dill, and onion powder before roasting makes a colorful and flavorful side dish.

Make “chips” out of nutritious greens such as kale or bok choy. Wash and tear dried greens into smaller pieces then toss lightly with small bit of olive oil and salt. Bake in 325-degree oven until crisped, watch carefully so they don’t begin to burn, cooking time ranges from 5 minute to 15. Let sit to cool before eating.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety of vegetables and fruit combinations.  Radishes, mushrooms, grapes, onions, fennel, pineapple, beets, small tomatoes, peaches, plums and even strawberries can be roasted to render a delicious sweeter and deeper flavor.

Hopefully these ideas motivate you to cook up something “new!”   Next time you’re cruising the aisles of your local IGA, look for those interesting foods, produce, and products that inspire you to get creative and reimagine your favorite dishes.  Often times, foods unique to your area, such as locally grown preserves, regional favorites, or fresh from the field produce can make a tasty change in your recipes and be all the inspiration you need.

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