Seven ways to learn to try foods you think you hate

foodSo I hate a lot of food.

While it’s completely true that I’m a picky asshole, a lot of the foods I hate are a stomach-turning aversion rather than a “I don’t liiiiiiIIIIiiIIIIIIke that” whine.

They also tend to be “healthy” or “clean” foods. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of “junk” foods I hate just as much, but those don’t tend to pop up every time I Google “what the hell should I eat for dinner”. Because the list of meals that are convenient to make and my-mouth approved is pretty short.

I’m trying to learn to like some different foods. Here are my techniques for dipping my toes in. Maybe they’ll help you?

  1. Rely on friends – If your friends show up one Saturday afternoon bearing a spread of cheeses and dried fruits, you have no choice but to give at least most of it a try (though I did avoid the blueberry-covered goat cheese.) Let friends steer you towards new foods. If they’re familiar with your particular food nitpicks, they can often help guide you towards choices you will probably like. And you love your friends, so you won’t hate them when they drag you into an Indian restaurant for the first time in your life.
  2. Give yourself an out – When you try something new, have a backup. Order pasta with a new sauce, but ask for it on the side. Try a new block of cheese, but grab your standby and crackers you know you love. Go with your friends to that hot gastropub, but ask for a little extra bread on the side. Or order a dish with one element you’re not sure about that’s entirely avoidable, like a side or topping that you can scrape off. You avoid getting hangry and you still get to eat, even if you hate what you just tried.
  3. Go slowly – Unless you’re in a particularly adventurous mood, trying multiple new foods in a row will just leave you feeling cranky.
  4. Google – I’ve discovered that a lot of foods I thought I hated were actually misfires–as in, they were cooked incorrectly. Some foods take on bitter or sulfury notes when improperly cooked. If there’s a food you don’t necessarily mind the taste of but hate the texture, there’s almost certainly a different preparation that will offer a different mouthfeel.
  5. Know why you’re doing it – Keeping your eyes on the prize will help you feel more motivated to keep trying. Maybe you want to add more vegetables into your diet, maybe you’re combatting a medical condition or maybe you just want to feel more adventurous. Whatever the reason, keep it in mind with every bite.
  6. Know when to cut your losses – If you’re making yourself miserable to try and eat something, it’s probably time to give up. If you’re coating a food in sugar or hiding it behind a hundred other ingredients, the benefits are probably heavily outweighed.
  7. Be kind to yourself (and others)  – Forgive yourself for having food aversions. When you try a new food and you don’t like it, breathe deeply. Shrug, say “At least I tried” and move on. Try not to dwell, try not to be angry, try not to feel like a failure.

The Valentine’s Dream Dinner

The Serious Eats Dream Valentine’s Dinners at Home

I was looking over this list, and it’s a pretty tempting roster of meals.  Delicious homemade pasta, beautiful meats and more.  It’s a pretty seductive gathering of dishes.

I’m staunchly against dining out on Valentine’s Day.  The surest way to ensure that a dinner out is not romantic at all is to dine with everyone else one Earth.  Not only will you almost certainly not get perfect service, you’re apt to face a wait no matter how clever you were to reserve a table.  And queuing is the least sexy activity of all.  I know people out there have experienced lovely VD’s out, but sitting in a crowded restaurant sets me on edge.  I prefer languid dining experiences where I feel unhurried and free to make awful noises and faces as I devour my plate.  And I hate the whole focus on romance on Valentine’s Day.  If I’m dining out, I’m romancing my food.  Forget my lover–there’s time for him later.

Anyway, I’d have to say that if I got the opportunity to dream wildly for a Valentine’s Day dinner, it would most certainly be at home.  While I’m tempted to blurt that I’d want so, so much steak and scallops–and I do want those–my dream dinner would probably be little sampling dishes of just about everything.  A perfect bite of fried ravioli with handmade red sauce, a perfectly seared scallop, a little chicken pot hand pie, a piece of pork with mango salsa, a little frothy shot of matcha, a tiny bite of flourless chocolate cake.  Not terribly practical, but it’s a dream, right?  (Maybe it could be like a very un-adventurous elBulli experience.  I love the creativity of modern cuisine, but my palette is very… particular.)

What’s your dream Valentine’s dinner at home?

Regional Differences

Recently, we were discussing regional food differences.

I was born and raised in Kentucky.  While the South isn’t sure they claim us and the North doesn’t want us, we self-identify as Southern.  And who would argue?  There’s a distinct Kentucky drawl and some very Southern cookin’ going on.  We have some regional dishes–the hot brown is a notable one.

My boyfriend is from Connecticut.  While he’s not from the CT vacation home by way of New York, he’s definitely a New Englander.  Gravies of all sorts were foreign fare for him.  He’d never really had good biscuits.  His food experience included a heck of a lot more seafood than mine.  He’s used to having access to plenty of breads from all meals.  He’s a lot more familiar with spice.  He’s a hot dog snob.  CT is also the birthplace of steamed hamburgers, which he’s made for me a time or two.  Nevermind all the fast food he never had access to in his teeny tiny state (seven Connecticuts would fit in one Kentucky.)

I forget that there are people who’ve never had biscuits (and I’m not talkin’ cookies here.)  I forget that some people don’t know the so-so-bad-for-you joy of sausage gravy.  Hoecakes?  Grits?  Fried apples?  And that’s just breakfast!  Nevermind burgoo, beer cheese and Derby Pie.

Trader Joe’s Review: Saag Paneer, Lamb Vindaloo, Lava Cakes, Chicken Enchiladas

First, let me start by saying… freezer food makes me sad.  I don’t like eating out of a freezer.  It makes me feel like some sort of sad latchkey kid.  I think that’s the echoes of my college days, scrounging together microwaved soy patties and mustard for lunch.

And usually, the results are even more depressing.  Smelly, mushy, unevenly-heated… don’t even get me started on the vague pickled sensation my tongue gets after loads of sodium like that.

But lately, the chef of the house has had a horrific case of eczema that’s put his hands outta commission   So freezer food has been an awesome convenience.

And Trader Joe’s freezer food doesn’t feel as sad.  It’s got a brightness to it that you just don’t find in most stuff.  We gravitate toward exotic stuff we can’t find in our regular grocer’s freezers.  Things that are supposed to be crispy end up crispy.  That’s like a miracle.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s makes me feel kind of bougie.  Because, c’mon, it’s Yuppietown.  But I just can’t deny the delish, so I carry on.

$6-ish Saag Paneer: This was a bit less saucy than I’ve seen at Indian restaurants, but I think I like the lack of gravy.  The spinach was finely chopped and it gave it a really nice, thick texture that was great for scooping up on the garlic naan we’d previously gotten at TJ’s (which are a definite buy if, like me, you can’t keep fresh naan.  It bakes up a bit more crispy than I like, though.)  There weren’t a lot of chunks of paneer, but the overall flavor and spice level was great.  The overall portion was comparable to what I’ve seen at Indian restaurants, but much smaller and fewer chunks of paneer.

$6-ish Lamb Vindaloo: This came in a tray with a bit of basmati rice.  The rice was very flavorful and wonderful for a baked frozen entree–I got very few pieces that were hard.  There weren’t a lot of pieces of lamb, but it was very tender; I didn’t detect any gristle.  The curry was delicious with a nice bit of heat.  There was a slight funkiness to the sauce, but I really enjoyed this dish.  The portion was a lot smaller than I’m used to getting at Indian restaurants, but plenty for a meal without ending up overfull and sleepy (which is how I ALWAYS feel after an Indian restaurant meal.)   Also significantly less pricey than an Indian restaurant meal around here.

$2-ish Chocolate Lava Cakes: OMG awesome.  Two per package.  These might seem a little on the small side, like a brownie hockey puck in a darling black plastic cup.  They’re the perfect size; anything larger would be unfinishable.  The cake is like a rich, dense, moist, cakey brownie.  There wasn’t a ton of lava in my cake, but again, anything more probably would’ve been hard to finish.  With a scoop of ice cream, one cake would be an amazing dessert for two.  It made me want a cup of coffee.  For a little over a dollar apiece, I honestly don’t know how these could be better.

$2-ish Chicken Enchiladas: I haven’t tried these yet, but my boyfriend reports that they’re awesome.  He says the texture of the chicken is wonderful and it reminds him of something that was handmade.  I’ve had bad experiences with frozen enchiladas before, so I didn’t have high hopes.  Two in a package.

Other things we’ve had that I don’t believe I’ve mentioned?

Pork Gyoza: These are great!  A lovely taste and texture from the freezer to the stove/microwave (full disclosure: my skillet was too small, so I browned them a bit in my skillet then nuked ’em.  STILL an awesome texture.)  They did need a sauce.  We used…

Orange Chicken: This came as a bag of fried chicken to bake and a little packet of sauce to nuke.  The chicken baked up nicely and had a great texture and smell that reminded me of takeout.  The sauce was good, but not as orangey or sweet as some I’ve had.  On the chicken, it was lovely.  The sauce never quite penetrated the chicken the way takeout does, but it was still tasty.  The quantity was like two takeout containers and much cheaper than that.

Trader Joe’s Review: Pumpkin Macarons

Holy wuuuuuuut.

Trader Joe’s pumpkin macarons are incredible.  They’re only at Trader Joe’s for a limited time, so snatch them up and hoard them like some sort of pastry dragon.

The shells have the perfect balance of crust and meringue.  The filling is a fluffy, whipped cream that’s heavy with pumpkin spice.  They’re pretty much everything I wish pumpkin pie was–no dry crust, no weird gelatinous texture.  (I love pumpkin pie, but if you REALLY think about it, the texture is pretty weird.)

Anyway, go grab ’em.  They’re significantly better than the chocolate and vanilla ones.  Still $4.99 a dozen here.

Banana Bread

Banana bread is something of a staple at my parents’ house.  It’s not hot and ready every day, but it’s so common, there’s probably miniature loaves stashed away in their deep freeze somewhere.  Of course, they’ll stay there forever because thawed and baked banana bread will never compare to fresh from the oven for the first time banana bread.  And it’s so relatively inexpensive to make, why wouldn’t you just make a fresh batch when you want some?

Banana Bread

Here’s how we make it.

Ingredients:

3 bananas, mashed to the appearance of chunky baby food (if your grocery frequently has overripe, nearing rotten bananas that they throw out, capitalize on it.  Those bananas make superior bread!)

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar (sometimes, we use halfsies on brown sugar)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda (slightly less if the flour is self-rising, which my mom’s always is.)

1/2 c chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a loaf pan or buncha mini loaf pans (how we do it.)  Mix eggs and bananas in large bowl.  Mix in flour, sugar, salt and baking soda.  Add pecans.  Spoon batter into pans (if you’re using a big loaf pan, fill about 3/4 full.  For mini loaf pans, fill to slightly better than half full.)  Bake (for loaf pan, 1 hour.  For mini loaf pans, adjust time randomly–for the pans we have, it took about 20 minutes.)  Eat while still warm if at all possible.  Otherwise, when cool, store in an airtight container.

Sliced!