Every meal can be a feast!
Monday's dinner plate looked like this:
A random concoction of bits from the fridge that needed eating: some leftover Sunday roast, a bunch of overripe avocados from the shop, and a squash that had been hanging around for ages and needed either cooking or chucking. Plus a bit of purple sauerkraut because we always have some with our meals. I'm pretty sure this plate it wouldn't win any Master Chef awards nor a prize in food styling.
But slamming my food because it isn't 'proper' or pretty is just one way of looking at this plate. I could also frame it in a completely different way: as a feast of leftovers!
Today's Chef's Special: slow cooked home-bred lamb with caramelised onions and sweet & sour spiced roast squash, with a side of summer avocado salsa and juicy ruby kraut.
Peppering the way you describe your food with special attributes (implying characteristics of locality, season, taste or cooking method) can make a big difference in how we perceive and subsequently taste our food.
Seasoning with words is actually a thing (and has been studied by both neuroscientists and marketeers)
Our brain is constantly trying to predict things, based on experiences and information we have already stored. As a result, food will usually taste like you are expecting it to taste.
We all have our favourites - the foods we like, linked in our brains with pleasure or comfort, and 'red flag' foods, those we dislike with a passion, indelibly linked to unpleasant memories or feelings. It may be 'Brussels sprouts' or 'celery' or a certain texture, or simply the notion that something is 'healthy' (expected to taste horrible).
The primary reason people do or do not like a certain food is familiarity. Regardless of how a food tastes, if you grew up with it you probably like it (or stubbornly dislike it) and if you didn’t, then you are likely to think of it as something 'weird', or even 'gross'. Repeatedly trying even one bite of a new food will make a big difference in the long run because the more exposure you have to a food, the more familiar it becomes and the more likely you are to enjoy it.
Use this to your advantage, especially if you have picky eaters. But how do you get a picky eater to try 'just one bite'?
Psychology tells us that you can never change someone’s mind by telling them they are wrong. Instead start with showing understanding, then re-frame the situation in a less threatening light, suggesting that this experience may be different than the one they expect.
Say you try to convince a Brussels sprouts hater (that would have been me a few years ago!) to give them another chance. After all, not all Brussels sprouts are the same squishy boiled stinky things I have stored in my memory: You could point out a new cooking method (roasted not steamed), additional ingredients (bacon, spices), or a new context (new recipe by Nigel Slater). For the record, I was convinced!
OK, so maybe I'm easily convinced by delicious food, and not everyone will be prepared to eat a plateful of something 'yucky'. But trying just one bite given a new context is usually a compromise that most people, and even kids, can agree to. Mission accomplished. Just make sure 'just one bite' becomes a rule at every meal on your table. And after a few of those single bites, you might just decide that it doesn't taste so bad after all.
By the way, this is what I did with my leftovers:
We eat our own home-bred meat at home. The wild type Soay breed is very slow growing so the meat is technically mutton, never lamb, and needs long and slow cooking. In this case long and slow with wine and onions and a spice rub for the Sunday, the leftovers on the Monday.
The avocados were so ripe they were mushy so a guacamole-style salsa was the only option. Mixed in chopped tomato, mustard, lemon juice and a crushed clove of garlic. Should have put in some herbs, but forgot.
That butternut squash had been sitting there for several weeks... it would have been a bit juicier if it hadn't, but still... can't go wrong roasting it. Cut in half (no need to peel), scooped out the seeds, and smothered with flavour: spices, garlic, pomegranate molasses (my favourite sweet-sour shortcut) and some tomato paste (not enough tomatoes to hand). And olive oil, of course. Roasted until soft.
The sauerkraut (purple version with red cabbage and beetroot) came from a jar. Fermented, unpasteurised and very alive (not the same as the vinegary versions you ususally find on supermarket shelves). We have a dab of it at every meal. Still, somehow I never get around to making my own even though it's easy to do.