Greta

Sometimes I find myself cooking the same meals over and over and until it starts to get way too repetitive. That is why I like to branch out and try new meals with various levels of success. I love to cook but time constraints make a lot of variety hard.

One of the ways we challenge ourselves in the kitchen is by trying out different cuisines. Last summer, we went on a Greek/Mediterranean kick. This winter we messed around with Indian food. Now we're starting to dabble with Irish and British foods.

We also make up out own chopped challenges when it feels like we have nothing to eat, but in fact have too much food in the house to justify going shopping.

To get you feeling a bit more inspired, though, here are a few ideas that you should try out:

  • shepherd's pie (we made ours with ground turkey)
  • chicken tikka masala
  • tilapia tacos with mango cilantro jalapeño salsa
  • Cuban sandwiches
  • teriyaki chicken stir fry (we used peapods, yellow and red peppers, onion, garlic, and cashews)

I recommend picking a chef and learning recipes from heir cook book, or pick a specific culture and really dive in.

Pay attention to the quality of your ingredients.

A Greek salad made with good tomatoes and real olive oil is infinitely better than iceburg lettuce and store bought dressing . "Cooking" is just as much about paying attention to the source and flavor of ingredients as it is about cooking methods.

As spring rolls around, I recommend challenging yourself by cooking a meal with only locally sourced ingredients to get a feel of a regional dish you could make.

As far as my go-tos?

Korean inspired lettuce wraps work well with Maryland ingredients since we have carrot , lettuce, vinegar, good beef, arugula, etc. gordon ramsay mexican soup is an easy week nighter, as well as his crispy salmon. Frittata is excellent.

Creamy farmers salad with avocado , bacon , homemade mayo dressing (mayo, white vinegar, honey), grapes, lettuce, baby spinach, almonds. Stir fry is a lot of fun if you are good at miss en place or whatever it's called (good prepping with bowls) make sure you have a high smoke point oil.

There's the whole body of paleo cooking that has good vegetable dishes like roasted broccoli with capers and olive oil and roasted garlic. Caiflower mashed potatoes are awesome .

I guess for me. One paradigm is to stop thinking so much in terms of meals and start thinking about what plants and spices you like, and build up from there to make something organic.

Greta

I visit my elderly Mom twice a week, the first visit doubles as a food drop. I cook lots of frozen meals (lunch and supper) which she can easily reheat.

She lives alone and doesn't like cooking for one. Last year I did a number of pot pies which she really enjoyed, I make them for my husband and he takes them to work and heats them up for lunch in the microwave. I did turkey, beef, and fish.

They were all a hit save for the fish.

Photo: eFrog

Both of them agreed that the fish pot pie was the worst. Even though they said that I liked it the best. I had found a nice recipe for it and was enjoying it quite a bit. Though it will be a rare treat that I make for myself. Next time we have a fish fry I will set some aside and make more.

I found it funny since my mother has fairly simple tastes - nothing too fancy, spicy or chewy - while my husband loves fish.

For her any meal that can be microwaved or reheated in the oven seems to work the best. I use disposable freezer containers to keep cleanup easy. Anything with more than just a few steps usually doesn't get used.

Just yesterday I took her a big portion of lasagna squares. I made a big pan of lasagna can be cut up and frozen in individual portions. Soups are easy to freeze- just no noodles since they get soggy, I usually will bag a portion of noodles and include them as a seperate step. That she will do. Chili can be made in the crock pot and frozen in individual servings. There are a bunch of websites dedicated to "once a month" food prep and freezing. Which have been helpful for giving me ideas on things to make.

Some other single portion meals that I have tried with varrying results are:

  • Spaghetti sauce. Noodles should be cooked freshly. Takes 10 minutes or so.
  • Beef stew (Big hit!)
  • Chicken noodle soup, but noodles should be freshly cooked in the broth
  • New England Clam chowder (Big hit!)
  • Beef stroganoff. Sauce can be frozen but noodles should be freshly cooked.
  • Pulled meat sandwiches (pork, beef, chicken) in various BBQ sauces
  • Chicken cacciatore with noodles. Noodles should be freshly cooked.
  • Japanese curry with rice (Total bust, but I wanted to try it!)

I think it is nice and probably healthier than having meals delivered from something like Meals On Wheels. And it gives us a chance to connect. We'll talk about the food and she will make a suggestion or two. It is a moment for us both to share something that we really enjoy.

It was hard for her when my father passed away. They had shared an active cooking life with a lot of dinner parties. My father used to make my grandparents (mother's parents) a spicy lentil soup that was great with bread (since my grandma was vegan due to health restrictions). I found sweet pies and that sort of thing was always appreciated when I make them for my mother.