We've all been there before. After a long day of work, you come home to cook dinner, excited to fill your belly with whatever glorious bounty you've crafted after taking our 4-week, self-guided culinary school course, but when you sit down to dig into the meal that you've spent precious time and energy preparing it tastes, well, bland...
The first response is usually exasperation, understandably. A sigh, a deep breath, and now what? Do you start over? Do you cook something completely different? What happens if that was the last set of ingredients you had in your fridge and/or pantry before making a grocery run? Do you just cut your losses and order UberEats or DoorDash? (That last one is tempting.) Even as food editors we've experienced this situation.
Don't worry, though, we've got you! Below, you'll find what we as editors use as our tried and true ways to add flavor to any boring, flavorless meal and make it sensational!
Two Words: Chili Crisp
Chili crisp, there’s almost nothing that can’t be improved by a drizzle of that spicy, crunchy goodness. — Meg Scott, Senior Food Editor
Crisp It Up
When it comes to reheating leftovers, I often skip the microwave in favor of a pan on the stove. For so many foods, this adds a crispy layer and some caramelized flavor to the meal. My favorite things to reheat this way are single slices of pizza, any leftover rice dish, and leftover roasted vegetables (bonus tip: crack an egg into the pan once the veggies are heated through!). Cover the pan with a lid while the food reheats so the bottom gets crispy and caramelized while the top warms through. — Emma Christensen, Associate General Manager
Like Emma, I believe in adding texture to soggy situations. To that end, I reheat leftovers in whatever way will give me a good crust. For example, when I have a leftover half of a giant breakfast burrito from my favorite taco cart, I slice it into a few thick rounds and reheat them in a nonstick skillet until they’re brown and crusty on the outside. I also reheat things like leftover meatloaf in a skillet versus a microwave. It’s a little more work but the results are so much more satisfying. — Meg Scott, Senior Food Editor
Top With Hot Sauce
My go-to way to bring some pizzazz to a lackluster meal is by smothering it in hot sauce. From Louisiana-style to gochujang, hot sauce adds a depth of flavor that can really make your meal pop. Plus, with so many varieties of hot sauce, each meal is an opportunity for your palate to explore what it likes. — Victoria Heydt, Editorial Project Manager
Keep It Cold
My favorite way to make a meal I had last night feel new to me the next day is temperature. Roast chicken from last night? Make it into a cold chicken salad. Reheating that lasagna? No thanks, I opt to eat it cold, like a noodle-brick straight from the fridge. It’s not glamorous, but it’s my honest answer. And the only way I will usually even touch a leftover (especially that piece of meatloaf). — Kristin Stangl, Food Editor, Library Content
Make It a Salad
No matter the leftovers, I sometimes warm them up and put them over some cold crisp greens. I add any traditional salad items I might have in the fridge, grate in some cheese, toss with dressing, and finish with copious freshly ground black pepper. Ok, this works better with some leftovers than others, but the hot-cold mix always keeps my palate anticipating the next bite, it's a one-dish meal…and it all goes to the same place anyway. — Kysha Harris, Editor, News & Features
Reach For Your Pantry
While fridge condiments are often used to spruce up a boring meal, I find myself reaching for my pantry more and more lately. Seasoning blends that I always have on hand that I add pizzazz to eggs, noodles, soups, salads, and leftovers with just a few shakes: warming spice from NY Shuk’s Rosey Harissa powder, an uptick in umami from Furikake, Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning, and a citric punch from Tajin. — Kristin Stangl, Food Editor, Library Content
Add Some Acidity
If I taste a soup or anything saucy just before sitting down to eat and it’s a little “meh,” stirring in a squeeze of lemon or a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar usually perks things right up! The acid adds brightness and zest to an otherwise boring dish. — Emma Christensen, Associate General Manager
Doctor It Up
Since I was a kid, I have heard my mother say, “I need to doctor this up” when she was throwing shade at a poorly made dish. What that meant was she would need to pull out her arsenal of spices and condiments and put some stank on it. The methodology for “doctoring up” varies based on the dish, but one of my favorite of her “surgeries” is the controversial potato salad (there have been family wars over potato salad). Boiled potatoes and mayonnaise is just that until Dr. Mom scrubs in with boiled mashed eggs, sweet pickle relish, ketchup, mustard, onion, and celery seed. And any potato salad with raisins is given no life support. Rest in peace. — Kysha Harris, Editor, News & Features