9 Ways to Make Meals Interesting Without Spending A Million Hours Cooking

by Lindsay E. Mack

Do cooking shows make you feel worse about your own meals? After watching a few too many episodes of the Food Network, I suddenly want bust out the double boilers, ice baths, and ramekins, and go crazy. And although it’s fun to go all out for a dinner party or holiday, such time-intensive recipes aren’t always great if it’s just a Tuesday evening and dinner time is fast approaching. Fortunately, there are easy ways to make your meal more interesting without spending forever putting it together. 

The little tweaks will help you serve up dinners that are rich in flavor, easy to prepare, and also pretty dang impressive. It’s just enough to take your dishes from bland to bam in no time. After all, who says good cooking requires a dozen ingredients and hours of kitchen prep? Use these easy tips to make addictive eggplant parm, super-spiced chicken, and even the most fun taco salad you’ll ever eat. And when your dinner guests ask about your culinary secrets, you can just pretend it’s some special ingredient that only top chefs know about. They’ll never guess it’s just chicken broth or fresh basil. Read on to perfect these excellent cooking shortcuts. 


Kick Up Your Chicken

Chicken breasts are a handy staple food, but if you’re using the same recipe over and over, they can get a little uninspired. To spice up your basic chicken, consider adding a mushroom sage sauce, Greek marinade, or cayenne rub


Make Your Own Marinara

Canned stuff is fine in a pinch, but if you want some next-level spaghetti, try this classic marinara sauce recipe from the New York Times. In about 20 minutes you can create your own sauce and impress anyone lucky enough to share dinner with you. 


Swap Out Your Meat

If your turkey or chicken chili comes out a little bland, Real Simple suggests adding some dark meat, as it imparts a lot of flavor and creamy texture. Don’t be shy about adding in extra spices, either. 


Create Grown-Up Ramen

If the mention of ramen brings up memories of sad styrofoam cups in a dorm room, take heart. Damn Delicious's clean-out-the-fridge miso ramen is a flavorful, veggie-filled meal that only takes about 15 minutes to throw together. It’s a great standby recipe for busy nights, and the miso gives it a real flavor boost.  


Use Broth For Sides

Domestic Fits recommends cooking quinoa or brown rice in chicken broth instead of water for a rich and flavorful result. Bonus: the broth packs in a ton of flavor for almost no calories. Vegetable or beef broth are also great options.


Roast Your Eggplant

Lick My Spoon’s baked eggplant parm is one of those game-changer recipes that is likely to become a household staple. Unlike the traditional version, which uses fried eggplant, this recipe calls for crisp roasted eggplant. This technique is a little healthier, and still absolutely delicious. 


Make Semi-DIY Pad Thai

Pad Thai is one of the most addictive dishes around, but making it from scratch is pretty time-consuming. Thankfully, Steamy Kitchen's easy Pad Thai recipe calls for a store-bought sauce to make the cooking process easier, but you still get to throw in fresh ingredients like shrimp and snow peas. Now you can have tasty Pad Thai in about 20 minutes. 


Level Up Your Taco Salad

For a new twist on Taco Tuesday, try whipping up a homemade tortilla bowls courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod. This super easy recipe makes eating tacos about 100 times more fun. 


Serve Up Savory Salmon

What’s Cooking Good Looking offers a perfectly baked salmon recipe that is both easy and fancy. Cooking the salmon inside parchment paper with lemon slices and basil leaves creates a delectable entree that will impress all of your dining guests. 

Images: Courtesy of Steamy KitchenSteve Johnson; Bill Holsinger-RobinsonSteve Johnson;  Joel Kramer/Flickr; Damn Delicious; Lick My Spoon; Steamy Kitchen; Two Peas & Their PodWhat’s Cooking Good Looking