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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Good Eats: 4 Easy Steps to Tackle "What's For Dinner"

Those who know me, know that I love food and love feeding people. My grandmother always said, a way to a person's heart is through their stomach.

My beloved Grandma Dee left the biggest impact on my kitchen skills and introduced me to a worldly pallet at a young age. She had an old school foundation, but as she aged she garnered a passion for chef like skills and embraced her zeal for gourmet preparations and ingredients. It was in the latter of her life, where I was a wee little one, and she welcomed me into her kitchen as she eagerly prepared multi course meals. I was so fortunate to be exposed to the art of making master sauces and trying new foods, which spurred me to always try new things, keep learning about flavors and foods, and always cook delicious home made meals.

But meals don't have to be gourmet or multi coursed to be delicious and healthy. As well, you don't need to be a chef to answer the question each hungry person faces EVERY single evening.

 Here are some quick tips to build up your culinary foundation, and how to systematically tackle what to feed your hungry bellies for dinner as you stare into your refrigerator.

Step 1. Pick Your Protein
The only thing you should be pulling out of the freezer is your protein to thaw. (Ditch those prepared meals, fast and with fury. They offer zero nutrition and are full of sugar, preservatives and artificial flavors.)

I frequent Costco for my meats and fish. Their pork tenderloins come 4 in a package, and I'll separate them and put them individually in freezer zip blocs. The salmon comes in a large slab, whereby I'll cut them into portions, put them into zip blocs and into the freezer. Same thing with pork chops and stew meat, you get the drill. By having a freezer full of portioned out proteins, it makes it easy to grab one out of the rotation of meats, de-thaw and proceed to step two.

Step 2. Find Your Inspiration Ingredient
This is the moment where you find the ingredient in your fridge or pantry that gives you inspiration. Is there a veggie that needs to be eaten soon, or an ingredient like ricotta cheese or capers, that you purchased and haven't used yet. I usually see one thing in my fridge that says, " Yup, it's my turn, I'm your inspiration ingredient" and then my dinner direction starts to form into a meal.

Step 3. Pick Your Flavor Destination
Think about the part of the world that the inspiration ingredient is from, and start to build your flavor profile for the menu.  Or is it cold outside and time for soup? Is the family in need of some comfort food? Once you have a flavor destination in mind, start pulling out complimentary ingredients. You still need help figuring out a direction? Utilize Pinterest search bar and enter your protein and inspiration ingredient, then see what images pop up that appeal to you.

Flavor combos ideas:
Italian: Tomato sauces, basil, oregano, Parmesan cheese
Mexican: Cumin, oregano, beans, jalapenos, crumbling cheeses 
American: whole roast chickens, bouillon, onions, garlic, rosemary
Asian: fresh ginger, avocado, coconut aminos (in lieu of soy sauce), rice wine vinegar
Thai: curry, cumin, coconut milk, pumpkin, basil
Greek: feta, lemon, oregano, mint, cucumbers, tomatoes
Seafood: lemons, capers, citrus, herbs, garlic
Korean: Pickled red onions, sesame oil, mirin, sake, fish sauce
Cold weather or comfort food: soups, stews & chili

Check out my Pinterest Board for Protein Ideas: 

 Seafood Ideas: 
 Soup Ideas: 

Step 4. Veggies & Sides
Veggies and sides round out your meal. My latest favorite side is riced cauliflower (which you can get at Trader Joes), and just bake it in a dish with butter and salt, and when it's tender (but not mushy) pull it out and add some chopped cashews. The cashews add a rich buttery crunch, and the cauliflower has a true rice consistency. Other ideas of veggies and sides that may pair with your flavor destination:

Italian: zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli, spinach, pasta
Mexican: Corn, tortillas, peppers, rice
American: potatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, onions
Asian: broccoli, cabbage, green beans, bok choy, pumpkin, rice

 Veggie Ideas:

 Sides Ideas:

Quick Bonus Tip: Utilize the Pinterest search bar and try entering a few of the ingredients you have on hand, and see what pops up in your search results. Don't get caught up in fancy recipes or ones that have a ton of ingredients you have to go out and buy. Get creative or have a plan in advance. You can always make something out nothing, by keeping it simple; salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs go a long way on a baking pan with any protein and veggie.

Shopping Tip: Now knowing this 4 step technique to tackling dinner, when you go to the grocery store, buy new interesting ingredients, that you can take inspiration from for future meals. For instance, I recently bought some fermented kimchi which lead me to make a Korean Bibimbap bowl with shredded pork complete with a fried egg, pictured above, and it all started with my inspiration ingredient.

You Got This! Enjoy your Good Eats!!

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