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March 11th, 2020

Breaking Out Of A Dinner Rut

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes snap out of what feels like a dinner daze and realize I’ve been making the exact same meals over and over again out of habit or convenience, not challenging myself to include more variety or try any new techniques or recipes.

When I was single, it was more often than not an egg on toast or a bowl of cereal (umm and maybe leftover takeout eaten hovering over the sink…) As a parent to young children, I find myself eating buttered noodles with peas more often than I’d like. 

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with having standby meals. I like knowing I can toss a chicken into the oven for an hour and a half with some root veggies, throw together a salad and have dinner– plus chicken for sandwiches, and the beginnings of a soup stock. It’s comforting to throw together my “rustic” soup of pancetta, canned beans, tomatoes and chicken broth with mostly pantry ingredients and in less than half an hour. 

One New Ingredient

Although, when I want to mix it up, sometimes it’s just about reaching for one new element that I don’t normally cook. 

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Photo via New York Times Cooking

This week, that element was starch. In my house, we lean on rice or sweet potatoes to go along with dinners more often than not. Grabbing a bag of grits (coarse hominy cornmeal) is all it took to shake me out of my pattern, and I was able to quickly pull together this pot of cheesy grits that I ladled into bowls with saucy black beans and topped with creamy avocado slices and crisp radish. 

This could have worked in any number of ways. I could swap out my go-to chicken breasts for thighs (more tender and less expensive, score!) or try a vibrant citrus salad instead of my usual green leaf lettuce variety. What about a new spice used in an old recipe? Or a new look at old favourites – enchiladas instead of tacos!

I’d love to know – what do you do when you need to break free of your cooking patterns?

Emily

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