What's for Dinner Today, Mom?

By: Chef Ariel Rodriguez Palacios

iStockphoto

It's the million dollar question: How can I prepare a different meal every day? Virtually everyone struggles with avoiding the culinary rut; it's time to cook lunch or dinner, and you don't know what to make anymore.

I will give you several ideas below so you can excel every day and keep your family happy. The secret is to switch-up recipes, try other cooking methods, add different side dishes and sauces, and incorporate new ingredients.

I know, you love cooking but you don't always have the chance to experiment or risk ruining your meal. That's OK. The first step is to fill your pantry with enough ingredients to prepare a delicious dish quickly and easily, anytime you want. Nowadays, practicality must come first.

The first thing is to do some smart shopping. Buy everything on your grocery list, but don't forget to add a few cans of tuna, kernel corn and lentils; cake mix with a distant expiration date; a variety of pre-made gravies and sauces; cartons of vegetable and/or chicken broth; heavy cream; a package of instant polenta. Other ingredients I recommend keeping in your kitchen at all times include: seeds (sesame, sunflower, flax), different types of nuts and dried fruits (walnuts, almonds, raisins, etc.). When you buy your produce, get as many fresh vegetables as you can, and always get onions, red peppers, garlic and carrots, as well as some herbs.

With all this, in addition to the fresh products you usually buy, you'll be able to prepare plenty of different meals that will surprise your family every day.

Avoid a rut with smart grocery items / iStockphoto

Tips for saving leftovers and making new dishes quickly:

-Do you have an extra chicken breast? Dice it into cubes and saute. When the chicken cubes are almost golden brown, add some white rice (I always advise to keep some cooked rice in the refrigerator) and a few almonds and raisins. Add salt and pepper, stir, and serve.

-Leftover steak? Slice it into medallions and cook in a saucepan with onions, peppers, and if possible, a dash of wine. Accompany with mashed potatoes. If you have ground meat, use it to make Bolognese sauce, or as stuffing for baked potatoes.

-Are you in a hurry? Open a can of tuna or lentils, and mix with: hard boiled egg, carrots, mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, brown rice, sesame seeds and one clove of garlic. I can guarantee everyone will love this delicious salad, ideal for spring and summer.

-You have pasta, but not enough sauce? Heat olive oil and some butter in a sauté pan, add green onions, chopped walnuts and stir. Or mix in some heavy cream with the leftover sauce. You can also opt for a ready-to-serve pasta sauce; all you need to do is heat it.

-Do you want a different side dish for a barbecue, instead of the typical fries or mixed greens salad? Mix onions, red and green peppers and sweet kernel corn. You'll have a bright, delicious salad medley.

-Are you ready for polenta? Add polenta to some water, milk and/or vegetable broth and cook. Grate some Parmesan cheese, or any other cheese, and serve with a salad or as a side dish.

-How about a frittata? Just make sure you have ham, cheese, eggs and apples. That's right, apples. Cook ham on a skillet, cut two or three apples into thin slices and put them on top of the ham; add beaten eggs and cheese, and you will surprise your family with this breakfast-to-dinner dish.

If you're organized about your groceries and keep some key items in your pantry, you'll have always have an answer to the question, "What's for dinner today?"

Learn more about Buenos Aires born Chef Ariel Rodríguez Palacios