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Ho-hum in the kitchen

Food For Thought

Can’t think of anything to fix for supper? Tired of the same-old, same-old in the lunch bag? What to take for that family reunion potluck? Having trouble even making out a grocery list? Join the club. After 65 years of keeping house and putting meals on the table, there seems to be nothing new or tempting left to try. And then, a strange thing happens and cooking becomes an adventure once again.
Cooking may be one of the most common creative activities that we as humans indulge in. If food were just a matter of nourishment, we would still be hunters and gatherers and Cordon Bleu would be simply a strip of blue ribbon. There are probably more cookbooks published than any other form of non-fiction that exists today. Yet, every recipe, every variation of every recipe is the result of somebody’s imagination. Whether it started out as a search for new tastes, new ways to use ingredients, a way to satisfy a craving, the necessity of doing something palatable from a limited supply of ingredients, or tempting the general public to flock to your restaurant, each recipe started out as an experiment. Some of us are still experimenting in a sense, when we cook without recipes, making the same basic foods only slightly different each time if for no other reason than we don’t measure everything carefully or are lacking one of the ingredients.
An unusual addition to an old standby can change the whole character of a meal you’ve assembled dozens of times. Take that old standby, the grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup. Comfort food nearly all of us grew up with. Wanting a little more tang to the cheese sandwich, I tried spreading the outside of the bread with mayonnaise rather than butter, which got the same golden brown result when grilled but with a satisfying flavor boost. Another day, I used up a tablespoon of leftover taco seasoning by stirring it into the tomato soup for a real flavor boost. The grandchildren delighted in “catching” the goldfish crackers I floated on top, and I discovered the creamy delight of a big dollop of cultured sour cream on my own serving. I’ve had success with the addition of shredded pepperoni, crumbled crisp bacon, sliced hot dogs, or just a couple tablespoons of ketchup added to the soup; and who says that sandwich has to be made with the same old mild cheddar. Try spicy pepper-jack or creamy Havarti for a change.
Another comfort food we tend to make the same each time is meatloaf. If you don’t commonly add a goodly amount of ketchup to the mix, give it a try. Or, if ketchup is a regular ingredient, take a chance and substitute barbecue sauce. I found sliced Spanish olives add a whole new dimension to my basic meatloaf recipe. And a nice Italian flavor can be achieved by using bulk Italian sausage as one-third of the meat in the mixture. Top this Italian meatloaf with fresh pesto or canned pizza sauce before serving.
Mashed potatoes are mashed potatoes, right? Not much we can do to make them more interesting. Well, look again. You can add eye-appeal by adding color. My favorite way is to cook some carrots with the potatoes, then mash them together and stir in a handful of fresh, chopped parsley or cilantro for even more color. You can zap up the flavor by mashing them with sour cream instead of milk, by adding chopped garlic or onion sauteed in butter, or a couple spoonfuls of dry ranch salad dressing mix.
My sister keeps bags of frozen mixed vegetables in her freezer to add color to foods and make them more attractive. A handful of mixed vegetables adds festive color to a bowl of potato soup. And a bowl of cut sweet corn has a lot more appeal when brightened with bits of red and green pepper or green onions sliced with their tops. Almost any frozen vegetable will work to add color, flavor and nutrition to scalloped potatoes, chicken or tuna casserole, or simple soup mixes.
When I think of some of the foods we have available today– many didn’t exist when I was a child– I am indeed glad people continue to try new combinations and experiment with different ways of cooking the ordinary foods we rely on from day to day. Some, though, are concoctions that have little potential for becoming classics. I wonder, for instance, about that “new” sandwich made with waffles, and haven’t yet had the nerve to try that enormous hamburger enclosed by two grilled cheese sandwiches. And did somebody say, “Put an egg on it?”