5 Small Things to Make Good Food Great

Amp up everyday dishes

I have a five-year-old, so I make a lot of pancakes and waffles. And I freeze them, so they’re readily available for a quick toaster oven breakfast. The other day, I left a pancake in there a bit longer than I normally would, and it was so much better than it normally is. Because the edges got super crispy, and the top was a perfect toasty brown. And I thought: How many everyday foods can we eat in more exciting ways with just one tiny change? Well, lucky for you, we made a list.

Jazz Up Your Pancakes and Waffles

So, to elaborate on the above: Put your leftover pancakes or waffles in the freezer. Reheat in the toaster oven at 375°F or so until crisp to your liking (start with seven minutes or so, and then keep checking). If you want to take it further, try sprinkling your vehicle of choice with cheese (pancake rarebits or Welsh Waffles, anyone?), or make a pancake or waffle sandwich (peanut butter and banana, butter or cream cheese and jam, etc.), or cut them into croutons for salad or soup.

Want to get really crazy? Make French pancakes (or waffles): Instead of toasting, soak them in beaten eggs to thaw, then cook in butter as you would French toast. Or make Pancakes Benedict.

Salsa Verde on Everything

Melissa and her partner, Rick, love salsa verde so much that they practically drink it. They usually use it on eggs or black beans, but you can use it on chicken or pork if you’d like. Or really, anything.

Roast about a dozen tomatillos, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a jalapeño or two on a sheet pan at 425°F for about a half-hour, or until you can smell the caramelization. Take them out and let them cool a bit and take off the skins. Pour a quarter cup of neutral oil into a blender or food processor. Add the garlic, the tomatillos, chiles, and a handful of cilantro without the stems, and puree or pulse for a chunkier consistency. (Or you can take Diana Kennedy’s method she learned in Central Mexico: Don’t roast the vegetables and swap the jalapeños for serranos. Boil the tomatillo for 5 minutes. Don’t worry about the skins. Keep the serranos raw. Blend, then before serving, use additional cilantro and finely chopped white onion for garnish.)

Other ways to use this treasure of a sauce:

  • Turn it into soup: Sauté the aromatics first (with or without protein), then thin with water or stock and add root vegetables or greens. (Tortilla soup and posole are a natural fit here.)

  • Use it to poach eggs or silken tofu.

  • Make cornbread with it as some or all of the liquid.

  • Simmer tortilla chips in some for chilaquiles.

  • Use it for some or all of the liquid to cook rice or grains.

  • Add sour cream, cream cheese, or goat cheese to make a creamy dip.

Make Your Own Aioli — and Season How You’d Like

You can flavor aioli any way you like and put it on anything (within reason, but not that much reason). Kerri uses it as a base for creamy chopped salad dressings, drizzles it on simply cooked grains or beans or leftover roasted vegetables, uses it as a dip for crunchy raw veggies or cooked shrimp, and sometimes even swirls it into pasta right before serving to amp up the creaminess factor. (The other night, she made some grits: 80% grated fresh sweet corn and 20 percent cooked cornmeal; she had a few spoonfuls of garlic aioli left in the fridge and figured she’d stir that in at the end instead of adding milk or butter. How bad could it be? It wasn’t.)

Aioli is also one of the greatest entertaining hacks we know: Mark is known to have a picnic with boiled potatoes (among other things) — served with aioli, ta-da! they’re fancy.

Scrambled Eggs as a Topping or Filling

Already, scrambled eggs are like hardboiled eggs, only the yolk and the white aren’t just dating: They moved in together. And since scrambled eggs refrigerate well for a few days, you can store away some of a big batch on the weekend with confidence. Make scrambled egg salad (Kerri does this a lot!); pasta sauce (try making cold sesame noodles and tossing them with bits of scrambled egg); noodle, rice, or soup bowls; tossed in a big salad. Also great for filling fast tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.

Make It Better With Breadcrumbs

Try cutting bread into croutons; oven-dry them on a rimmed baking sheet in a low oven for an hour or so. Fill a jar with some of the croutons and work a meat pounder (I the round flat kind, or use a rolling pin or the bottom of a skillet) through what remains in the pan, crushing them into lovely unevenly coarse crumbs; then you don’t have to clean a blender or food processor or use a plastic bag. Use them to add texture in these ways, and more:

  • Toss them with scrambled or fried eggs. (Again with the eggs!)

  • Toast them in oil with seasonings to scatter on stuff like salads, beans, pasta, or grains — anywhere you want some crunch.

  • Quickly “bread” chicken cutlets, fish fillets, or even vegetable or tofu steaks after cooking.

  • Use them as an ice cream topping.