How to Get Out of Your Food Comfort Zone
What Are You Having for Dinner Tonight?
Do you often find yourself spending longer deciding what to have for dinner than cooking dinner? Are you constantly frustrated by trying to come up with original recipe ideas to feed your family at nights and the grumbled comments of, "Not again!" when you lay the plates on the table? Do you get the impression at dinner each night that you are caught up in a time warp with no visible means of escape, or respite from the monotony?
If you answered yes to any of these questions - or if they even sound familiar - you may simply have become stuck in a form of culinary comfort zone, perfectly proficient or better as a cook but unable just to find that route to new and innovative recipe ideas. This means that you may be in need of a little help when it comes to creating your family's ongoing dinner menus.
On this page, you will find six original dinner recipes to help you get started. You will find one in each instance for fish, poultry, red meat, vegetarian and white meat, arranged in alphabetical order by category, concluding with an extra one thrown in under the magical title that is, "Miscellaneous."
Fish: Poached Salmon Fillet with Buttered New Potatoes and Broccoli
There is an old saying that vegetables which grow above the ground should be started cooking in boiling water, while vegetables which grow below the ground should be started off in cold water. This definitely seems to be good advice and is more than worth remembering.
This is an incredibly easy recipe to start off with. Although not the quickest in the overall length of time it takes to prepare, there is very little actual hands on cooking required.
1 salmon fillet (skin on)
5 to 7 new potatoes (as desired)
½ head of broccoli
Salt and white pepper
Place the salmon fillet(s) in a pot large enough that you can lay them out flat. Season with salt, white pepper and a generous sprinkling of dried (or fresh) dill leaves. Pour in enough cold water to comfortably cover the salmon and place the pot on to a high heat. When the water boils, simply turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave the salmon to cook in the residual heat as the water cools. This is likely to take a couple of hours.
Wash but don't peel the potatoes and add them to a pot of cold, slightly salted water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for around twenty-five minutes until soft. Drain the potatoes through a colander and return them to the empty pot. Add a little bit of butter and some more dried dill and gently swirl the potatoes around to achieve even coating.
One of the biggest mistakes made when cooking broccoli is cooking it for too long. Around eight minutes is the optimum time for blanching broccoli. Bring a large pot of slightly salted water to a rolling boil before carefully adding the broccoli. Drain well and serve with the hot potatoes and cooled, beautifully moist salmon, the flesh from which should slide easily and completely off the skin at the touch of your fork.
Think Ingredients - not Recipes - when Contemplating Dinner
There is a fabulous way of using the medium you are viewing right now - the Internet - to find an almost infinite amount of new, tasty dinner ideas to suit all tastes and all the family. In order to use this system most effectively, however, it is best to think of the basic ingredients you wish to include in your dinner, rather than specific recipes. Let the wonders of the Web come up with the recipe for you and don't limit your choices by searching for an actual preconceived recipe idea.
In order to use this incredibly simple system, all you have to do is think of some key words you are going to input to Google. These key words should take the form of basic food types, such as chicken, onions, potatoes, etc, as well as perhaps some qualifying words such as quick and easy. Including the word recipe is also a good idea in your searches.
The table below gives a better idea of how you should form your searches. Simply take one word from each column to form a search, along with the word, recipe.
As an example, I searched for each of the top three words above, along with the word recipe. Google returned almost 8 million results for "quick chicken broccoli recipe."
Experiment with this system and refine your own search terms and key words. It is likely to pay huge dividends in the long term.
Top Tip! When you get a chance, browse your local supermarket, notepad and pen in hand, and note down some ingredients which are available and which you are likely to want to include in your searches. This will not only help provide inspiration but confirm that you do have access to those ingredients which you may wish to eat.
Poultry: Turkey Schnitzel with Homemade French Fries and Trimmed Green Beans
It is not necessary to prepare the French fries the way they are prepared here if you are short of time. Where time permits, however, you will find the effort more than worthwhile.
1 large, floury potato
6oz turkey breast fillet
2oz trimmed green beans
2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
1 small egg
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for shallow frying
Peel the potato and slice and chop it in to the shape of French fries. The first step is to parboil the potato fingers and it is a good idea to incorporate them in a deep frier's wire basket. This makes them far easier to drain and less likely to break. Add the basket to a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat setting to simmer for five minutes only. Lift the basket from the pot at the sink. Empty the pot, fill with cold water and place the basket back inside for five minutes to cool the potatoes. Transfer the potatoes to a plastic dish with a lid and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Lay a clean tea towel out on a dry surface. Remove the chilled potatoes from the refrigerator and lay them in a single layer on half the towel. Fold the towel over and gently pat the potatoes dry. Deep fry at medium heat for five minutes. Drain on kitchen paper, allow to cool and return them to the dried plastic dish and the refrigerator for at least a further half hour.
Beat the egg in a flat-bottomed bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly on a dinner plate. Dip the turkey steak firstly in the egg, ensuring it is coated on both sides, then pat on both sides in the breadcrumbs. Repeat this process, taking your time to ensure that the turkey has a thick and even coating of breadcrumbs all over.
Add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to a non-stick frying pan and bring it up to a medium heat. Gently fry the breaded turkey on that medium heat for seven or eight minutes each side, until the breadcrumbs are beautifully crisp and golden.
When the turkey is almost ready, put the fries back in to the deep frier for a further five to seven minutes, to crisp them up and turn them golden. Add the beans to a pot of boiling, salted water and blanche for two to three minutes only, before draining through a colander.
Drain the French fries on kitchen paper. Plate the turkey steak and the beans before laying your beautifully crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside fries alongside and serving.
Note that although this is a recipe for any time of year, a small spoonful of cranberry sauce or jelly would give this dish the perfect seasonal touch and a little bit of extra taste appeal.
Two, Tasty, 30 Minute or Less Dinner Ideas
Red Meat: Quick and Easy Beef Chilli
Beef chilli forms a delicious meal but when prepared to a great many recipes, it can take quite a while to cook. This is a version of beef chilli which, although recognisably authentic, is on the table within around half an hour of starting its preparation, perfect for those nights when the family are hungry but time is relatively short. The quantities listed here are for two people.
½ lb minced/ground beef
1 14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 8oz can red kidney beans in water
½ small white onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 small red chilli pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 mini naan breads
2 sprigs of basil for garnish
Put the beef in to a large pot and on to a medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to evenly brown the meat. This should take three to four minutes.
Finely slice the half onion and the peeled garlic cloves. Add them to the beef for a further couple of minutes' cooking time. Finely chop the chilli and add it also to the pot. Removing the seeds is optional but be aware that they will add extra heat to the finished dish. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water after handling the chilli.
Put the red kidney beans in to a colander and wash them under running cold water. Tip them in to the pot along with the tomatoes. Add the cumin and season with salt and pepper. STir very well and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for twenty minutes.
Heat the mini naan breads according to the instructions on the packet. This usually only takes a couple of minutes. Spoon the chilli in to serving bowls, garnish with the sprigs of basil and serve immediately with the heated naan breads.
Vegetarian: Mixed Cheeses with Bruschetta and Side Salad
This is an incredibly quick and easy dish to prepare, with the only significant cooking required being the boiling of the egg. Although this dish is completely vegetarian, it is clearly not suitable for vegans. The cheeses available in different locales will of course vary but be inventive and adventurous. Take the time to check what's available in your supermarket or deli and push the boat out a bit for some variety and variation in flavours.
Ingredients per Serving
3 slices of edam
3 slices of camembert
3 slices of applewood smoked cheese
3 slices of bread stick
2 tbsp canned red kidney beans
2 wedges of granny Smith apple
Torn basil leaves to garnish
1 clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Place the egg in a small pot or saucepan and add enough cold water to comfortably cover it. Bring the water to the boil and reduce the heat to simmer for seven minutes. Take the pot to the sink and run cold water in to it until the egg is cool enough to handle. Crack the shell and peel under a trickle of running cold water. Submerge the egg in cold water to cool quickly while you prepare the remainder of the dish.
Thinly slice the cheeses, tomato and cucumber. Add the red kidney beans to a colander and rinse under running cold water. Put the slices of bread under an overhead grill to toast to golden on both sides.
Lay the cheeses on the main serving plate with the slices of apple. Arrange the tomato and cucumber alternately in the side salad bowl. Quarter the egg lengthwise and prop each quarter up in the bowl by adding the red kidney beans. Scatter torn basil leaves over the side salad.
Peel and lightly crush the garlic clove. Rub it over the top of the hot toast slices. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper and plate for immediate service.
Immediately below is another great vegetarian dinner idea, suitable also for vegans by simply eliminating the little amount of parmesan cheese which is added prior to service.
Vegan Dinner Recipe - Tomato and Mango Pasta
White Meat: Spicy Pork and Pineapple Stew with Pan Roasted Potatoes
This is another recipe which does not require a great deal of hands on cooking time and can largely be allowed to gently cook away while you take care of other business.
Ingredients per Serving
6oz shoulder of pork
Baby new potatoes (quantity as desired)
2 rings of pineapple (canned in own juice)
½ medium white onion
1 small red chilli pepper
1 pint fresh chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Basil leaves to garnish
Cut the pork in to approximately one inch pieces. Drizzle a very small amount of olive oil in to a large stew pot and brown and seal the pork over a medium heat. Roughly chop the onion and pineapple and add them to the pot along with the preheated stock. Chop and deseed the chilli pepper before adding it to the pot, remembering to wash your hands thoroughly immediately afterwards. Bring the liquid to the boil and reduce the heat to simmer very gently for an hour and a half, until the pork is tender. Stir occasionally and top up the liquid with a little boiling water if required.
Wash the potatoes and add them - skins intact - to a large pot of cold, slightly salted water. Put the pot on to a high heat until the water boils and reduce to simmer for twenty minutes. Drain the potatoes and submerge in cold water. This will cool them quickly and the extreme temperature variance will help to loosen the skins. Drain again and the skins should easily be removable by rubbing the potatoes with the ball of your thumb.
The peeled potatoes should be deep fried in hot oil for five or six minutes until beautifully crisp and golden on the outside. Drain them well on kitchen paper. Spoon the pork stew on to a plate, lay the potatoes alongside and garnish with some freshly torn leaves of basil or sage.
Miscellaneous: Mixed Grill with Real Chips
What could be more worthy of the term miscellaneous than a mixed grill? Even the names it is known by are extremely varied, from mixed grill, to fry up, to all day breakfast and more. It can be prepared on an outdoor grill, indoor grill, or even in frying pans and made to suit just about any and all varying tastes. This is a simple idea for preparing a mixed grill using a combination of frying pans and an indoor, overhead grill.
Ingredients per Mixed Grill
1 large, floury potato
Pork loin steak
2 beef sausages
2 rashers of bacon
2 closed cup mushrooms
1 medium tomato
½ small onion
1 slice of bread
Salt and pepper
Vegetable or sunflower oil for frying
This mixed grill is served with large, British style chips. The chips are prepared exactly the same way as the French fries in the poultry/turkey recipe further up this page, except that they are cut larger. Scroll back up if you need to revisit the instructions. Only when your chips have been cooled and returned to the refrigerator following their first frying should you begin to prepare the remainder of your meal.
Add some oil to a large, non-stick frying pan. Add the sausages and seasoned pork fillet. Fry for ten minutes on a low to medium heat.
Half the tomato and remove the stalks from the mushrooms. Roughly slice the onion. When the pork and sausages have been frying for ten minutes, turn the pork and add the tomatoes (flesh side down), mushrooms (open cups upward ) and onion to the pan.
Use an egg cup to cut a hole in the centre of your bread. Add some oil to a small frying pan and bring up to a fairly high heat before adding the bread. Break the egg firstly in to a cup and pour it carefully on to the bread, so that the yolk falls in to the hole. Fry for three minutes, while you start your chips on their final frying.
Very carefully, turn the eggy bread and fry for a further three minutes on the second side. Turn the mushrooms cup side down for the final minute or so of frying. Grill the bacon for two minutes each side.
Remove your chips from the deep frier to drain on kitchen paper. Plate the eggy bread and lay the bacon on top, followed by the pork steak. Assemble the remainder of your ingredients, serve with your condiments of choice and enjoy your thoroughly miscellaneous dinner idea to the full.
What Are you Having for Dinner Tonight Now?
Has your dinner menu for tonight changed since you started reading this page? Have you found these recipes and ideas helpful, or likely to be so in future? Hopefully, this page will have given you some food for thought and that its basic principles will help you out at some point.
Thank you for visiting the page and taking the time to read through it. Any comments or feedback which you have may be left in the space below.