Thursday, February 25, 2010

When the recipe fails

We’ve all had the experience. On paper, a recipe looks good. It uses an appealing variety of ingredients and perhaps it comes from someone whose recipes we admire. When we begin to cook, it even smells good. But in our hands, it doesn’t turn out like anything we would want to serve to company.

That happened to me this week when I tried a new recipe for tuna casserole. It included broccoli and peas so I could use some of my frozen garden produce. It also used a semi-homemade broth instead of the high fat, high sodium canned cream soup. So I gave it a try. The result was bland and somewhat dry. Jim slathered ketchup on his and said that made it good.

So what do we do (other than the ketchup trick) when we try a recipe that uses ingredients we want to eat but doesn’t please the palate? Of course you can totally ditch it and never wander down that path again. Or you can consider ways to add more flavor to the recipe. Here are some things I like to try.

1) Add garlic. Jim and I love its flavor. In just about any recipe that calls for sautéed onions, I throw in a little garlic for more flavor and nutrition.

2) Experiment with herbs. If you have fresh herbs, it’s especially fun because you can smell and taste them before throwing them in. Remember that dried herbs are stronger than fresh, so you need smaller quantities. Keep track of which herbs you and your family most like and which foods they combine with especially well.

3) Add cheese. How can you go wrong with cheese? Again, know the taste before you throw it in. Although cheddar is commonly used in many recipes, it is higher in saturated fat that many. If you choose it, use it sparingly. Try an aged cheese with more flavor and you’ll need less, like parmesan or gruyere. Some cheese, like feta, add a salty bite. Others, like cream cheese or mascarpone, add a creamy texture. Cheese offers many options.

4) Add sun-dried tomatoes. They provide an unexpectedly sweet and tangy flavor.

5) Substitute other vegetables. In the tuna casserole example, I’ll likely try replacing some of the broccoli with our home-canned carrots.

6) Top the dish with toasted seeds, nuts or both. This works especially well on vegetable and rice or pasta dishes and, again, expands the nutritional benefits.

We still have plenty of tuna casserole in the refrigerator waiting for more experimentation.

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