(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
When eating out, you probably already ask your waiter for more water, coffee or napkins, but, if you direct that same inquisitiveness toward your meals, you just may find yourself with an inventory of easy, economical new ideas.
Sometimes condiments or other dashes of flavor you love but don't recognize when eating a restaurant meal may be the key to quickly perking up your own homemade dishes. Your waiter is your guide to these riches.
Following are some tasty questions I asked recently and how I applied them at home. All ingredients are to taste.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
- MUSTARD MYSTERY SOLVED
"What is the condiment with the tiny bulbs?" My warm ham and gruyere cheese croissant sandwich at a casual French-style cafe came with a tiny side of three swirled condiments. I loved the slightly sweet/slightly spicy flavor of the one with the little bulbs. In addition to the tapenade and Dijon mustard, the waiter clued me in that this third condiment I enjoyed was whole grain mustard. Each miniscule seed seemed to pop with flavor. The waiter gave me a small side of it to take home with the half of my sandwich I was going to eat later. At home I needed to save only a fraction of the whole grain mustard for the leftover sandwich. While adding the item to my shopping list (online I learned it's not as common as stone ground or regular mustard, but available in specialty aisles of some supermarkets or in gourmet stores), I immediately prepared a fantastic side salad for that evening simply by slicing some large, organic white mushrooms I had and gently mixing them with balsamic vinegar and the whole-grain mustard my waiter had given me and letting it marinate covered in the refrigerator for a few hours.
- THIS IDEA DIDN'T COST A MINT
"What is giving this drink such a zing?" I've had many blended fresh greens juices that could have gone by the same "Super Greens" moniker as the one about which I addressed my waiter. The answer was some muddled fresh mint they added just before serving. I now do the same to my cucumber-celery-honeydew-based beverages, like that one was (and I have found in all instances involving mint that a delectable zing also arises from ripping open the pure peppermint teabags I always have on hand and adding the contents of one to the mix). I also include it as a topping over cold salads, hot vegetables and even vanilla or chocolate ice cream or frozen yogurt.
- MISO IS SO GOOD
"What makes this dressing so creamy and tangy?" Although good, it wasn't the spice in the "Spicy Chicken Bowl" that kept me coming back to the casual Asian restaurant I've visited many times. It's the dressing they have in a vat chilling for self-scooping. It literally draws me back to the restaurant and makes that rice-based hot bowl a favorite of mine. The server at the ordering counter told me it is a miso-based dressing to which they have added peeled, shaved fresh ginger. This combination is memorable and I've since prepared my own version as well as buying creamy miso salad dressing (available in many supermarket ethnic aisles) and gently stirring in some peeled, shaved fresh ginger. I've also coated tilapia with it before broiling and tossed the dressing with cooked steamed vegetables.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: If there's any place that a laugh or two is needed it's in the popular genre of detox and cleanse books. It's hard enough to give up everything but juice or soup without letting your sense of humor starve as well. Beth Behrs has come to the rescue. Her 'The Total ME-Tox: How to Ditch Your Diet, Move Your Body, & Love Your Life' is full of lighthearted humor, much like the author, who is one of the stars of the hit situation comedy "2 Broke Girls." It's part memoir of her pre-celebrity dieting life and part commonsense tips for lightening up body and mind. Behrs was a nanny while pursuing acting and also defines herself as a couch potato, who survived on donuts and other low-nutrition foods with results like poor skin and skyrocketing stress. The comic actress cleaned herself up slowly and learned to laugh a lot more along the way. Some of her favorite dishes are included as well, such as Sort-of-Sherbet Smoothie and Baked (Not Fried) Falafel with Spicy Yogurt Dip.
Lisa Messinger at Creators Syndicate is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet(Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.