Lemons helped me go from meh to Megan-simple

Thanks to hextrovert for uploading this to the Offbeat Home Flickr pool.
Thanks to hextrovert for uploading this to the Offbeat Home Flickr pool.

We all know I can't cook. But I'm getting better! I now make two meals for myself now: this kale salad, and this pasta dish. Plus I have started branching out with smaller snacks.

The biggest thing that changed how I eat is actually a small thing: lemons!

I use them to turn plain spaghetti into something more exciting. I use them to make salad dressing from scratch. And, since I had avocados for my kale salad, I started squirting them on avocados for a mid-day snack. Which makes me feel so super adult-y.

Just keeping these little balls of juice in my arsenal has enabled me to open up to more food-making options that I had previously considered. I know, I know, it's not groundbreaking for most of you, but you know… baby steps. Megan-simple baby steps.

Squeezy garlic? French butter? What small ingredient helps you make meals better… or at all?

    • Yes! I've noticed that my friend Jessica (of Megan cooking challenge menu-making fame) puts goat cheese on stupid-simple salads and they're like INSTANT FANCY PANTS salads.

      • Also putting it in scrambled eggs. Especially with Hotlanta Hot Sauce (which you can't buy online anymore or I'd link it), but any sweet and hot sauce would probably work. Seriously, I don't even bother to make scrambled eggs with out goat cheese anymore

        • One of my favorite guilty pleasures–as far as price–in college was always quesadillas with dollops of goat cheese inside. I can only imagine it with some adultified ingredients now. Ooh, like avocados and roasted red bell peppers… *runs to the grocery store*

    • My favorite "easy-yet-feels-fancy" snack is a piece of flatbread (I usually use Trader Joe's Mediterranean Flatbread) with goat cheese, a big handful of baby spinach, and a tiny drizzle of vinagrette. Fold it in half & eat! Only takes a minute to make, no dishes required, it's fresh & tasty, and I feel good about getting my greens. Perfect afternoon snack, but sometimes I'll just have a couple of them and call it lunch!

    • i put herbed goat cheese on toast and drizzle with raw honey for breakfast. savory/sweet om nom nom and it feels fancy!

  1. Here's another simple recipe with lemons! Cut some broccoli florettes, toss them with a bit of olive oil + salt + pepper, roast them on a baking pan at 450F for 10ish minutes. Squeeze fresh lemon on top and eat!

  2. One of my favorite easy ingredients lately has been the "Better than Bouillon" line. They're basically little jars of concentrated stock that you keep in the fridge. Comes in beef, chicken, and vegetable; the reduced sodium vegetable is the one I keep on hand. I do make my own stock, but not very often, so this stuff is a fantastic alternative for adding extra savoriness. I use it in soup, of course, but I also add it to rice or polenta as they're boiling; I put some in stir fry and caramelized onions and most anything else I make in a skillet; basically as long as it has a little bit of liquid to dissolve in, it works. And you don't need very much (usually I'm putting in less than a teaspoon) so one jar lasts a long time and I don't feel so bad about spending four bucks on such a small jar.

    • These are my favorite stock options! I use it to make stupid easy pasta sauce.

      Cook some chicken in a skillet, maybe throw in some sort of veggies (fresh or frozen both work). Add in like a ladle or two of the water the pasta cooked in and a little bit of better than bouillion and then toss the drained pasta in it. Maybe add some parmesan. Super tasty and easy.

    • Regarding the price…I remember there was an article in one of my Cook's Ilustrated magazines that compared the price of making a quart of broth with Better than Bullion to a quart of pre-made broth such as Swanson Broth. Better than Bullion ended up being a WAY better deal when comparing how much broth you'll get per dollar 🙂 Plus, it keeps practically forever. This stuff is seriously awesome. I add it to my turkey gravy (that I make from a roux) and it really kicks it up!

      • That's good to know! Especially since, in my opinion/experience, BtB tastes better than the pre-made cartons of stock.

    • They have big jars at Costco for like 6 or seven bucks. We bought ours in November and are like, maybe halfway through with it? Absolutely magic.

    • A little chicken Better than Bouillon is great in mashed potatoes. It make them taste rich and creamy without adding too much butter/cream.

  3. I usually keep shallots around and add/sub in one or two for any recipe that calls for onions. They feel fancier, and I think they have more flavor than sweet onions yet they still cook down to give you the sweetness (like if you're caramelizing them).

    My favorite shallot recipe is a pizza. I drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet, lay out pizza dough (homemade or store bought, doesn't matter), drizzle more olive oil over it, then top with shredded mozzarella, coarsely chopped shallots, kalamata olives (I keep a jar of pre-pitted and halved ones in the fridge) and crumbled feta cheese. I usually add a dash of salt and pepper because I luuurve salt, but it's not really necessary with the feta in there. Then I bake it for 12 minutes at 450 degrees. Quick n' delish.

  4. Smoked paprika! I put it in a ton of things (such as soups, on fish that I'm roasting, or, my favorite, scrambled eggs), and it just makes everything taste subtley smoky and delicious.

  5. There are three things that can save your butt while cooking – salt, lemons, and butter.

    If something needs a little "je ne sais quoi" add a pinch of salt and see if that fixes the problem. (Salt "activates" your tastebuds, making food taste more intensely of itself. Rarely should you be adding enough salt to make a dish taste salty)

    If salt didn't fix the "this tastes bleh" issue then try acid. Fresh lemon juice is usually my first go-to (although I use apple cider and balsamic vinegars quite a bit too)

    Veggies need to be fancied up? Add a pat of butter (helps you get those fat soluble vitamins too). Need a quick sauce to go with pan-seared chicken or steaks? Remove meat, add about a cup of liquid and reduce it by half. Then take it off the heat and whisk in one or two tablespoons of butter to make a rich, velvety sauce. Want to elevate a fish fillet? Fry some capers in butter and pour over the fish (with a squeeze of the aforementioned lemon). Want to make an omelette look super-luxe? rub a tiny pat of butter on it.

    Oh, and don't forget umamai rich foods too. They bring a lot to the party. Mushrooms (fresh, dried, or cooked), aged hard cheeses (like Parmesan), tomatoes, anchovies, soy/fish/ Worcestershire sauces – they will all bring an element of savoriness and depth to a dish that goes far beyond the bare taste of the substance.

    (If I were to run down the entire list of "must have on hand at all times" in my kitchen I'd be here all day 🙂 )

    • this is basically how I cook: throw ingredients together, taste, then add one of these types of fixes. my favorite umami additive is nutritional yeast – savory flavor with no added fat, just a lot of B vitamins! nutritional yeast also works some magic if a dish is too salty or too oily/greasy, and adds wonderful richness to soups.

  6. Whenever I feel fancypants, I add coriander and/or sundried tomatoes to the dish I'm cooking. Bam. Instant fancyness.

    Since I moved to Canada, I enjoy liberally sprinkling dried cranberries or pumpkin seeds on top of every salad I can.

  7. Za'atar (the herb blend: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Za%27atar). I buy a salt free version from a local vendor and it is great. I throw it in fish stew, on roasted brussell sprouts, etc. Basically anything where I'm like "This needs more flavor, but I don't know what." Heck, just mix it in olive oil and eat it with some fancy bread and you have an amazing snack.

    • heck yes za'atar! my absolute must-have spice cupboard contains salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, and za'atar. I love it on roasted potatoes! it can be hard to find, but I found that Penzey's Spices (https://www.penzeys.com/) carries it and I've been getting it from them.

  8. One of my VERY favorite easy recipes: chop a few cloves of garlic and sautee in a bit of oil, then pour in a cup of wine and the juice of at LEAST 1/2 a lemon (I like it SUPER lemony), cook it down for 2 or 3 minutes, drop heat to low & toss in a pat of butter and a few spoonfuls of a creamy cheese (I like Boursin garlic & herb but I've used goat cheese, too), pour over pasta and throw some chopped parsley on top. SO GOOD (if a tad calorie-tastic) and it's so easy to tweak – use less cheese or even NO cheese; toss in shrimp (my fave), chicken, broccoli, tomato, etc. The lemon helps balance the thick creaminess of the cheese so it's not too heavy. It feels really decadent and fancy, and yet the longest part of prep is boiling the noodles!

  9. Does the oven count as an ingredient? Because ROASTING.

    Any Vegetable + salt/pepper + olive oil —> 400 degrees and about 15 minutes

    Delicious.

    • YES! Roast all the things!!!

      On Sunday nights I roast a bunch of sweet potatoes and other veggies that keep well like cauliflower and carrots, maybe some squash and keep it in the fridge to add to dragon bowls and salads for the week!

  10. My secret weapon is really good vinegar. When I feel like something is "missing" in a recipe I make, it's usually acid. It brightens up soups, and pasta, a lunch salad, even poached eggs.
    To break into the vinegar world, I recommend starting with balsamic or apple cider vinegars. They both pack a lot of flavor, are a little sweet, yet still give a little acid to my dishes. Apple cider vinegar has the added benefit of being GREAT for your digestive system.

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