“Dinner’s ready!” I yell to my roommates as I place down a homemade platter of fried chicken, buttered corn, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
After stuffing our faces full, Peter and Will glanced at one another and then turned to me. “Logan, we talked about this and we think we’re going to go on a diet.”
My heart sank into my chest. I felt like I had just been broken up with. I associate diets with no more sweets, no more carbs, no more fats, and definitely no more fried chicken. Eating always comforts me. Being able to eat whatever I want feels so liberating; to take those feelings of freedom away just felt cruel.
To free up time, my apartment serves family-style meals where each roommate cooks at least one dinner a week. I suddenly worried that our pasta dinners, stir fry nights, and Taco Tuesdays would disappear, replaced with flavorless meals of chicken and two sides. Grilled chicken can only be eaten so many times before it becomes outrageously boring. Nonetheless, maybe I needed a change.
“We only want to add more vegetables to our meals and cook with less oil. That’s all,” my roommates clarified.
I was skeptical at first, but I begrudgingly agreed to try it out. Rather than view these guidelines as limitations, I took them as a challenge. From now on, I would use these suggestions as motivation and turn these bland dishes into something flavorful and tasty.
After decent meals of butternut squash soup and vegetarian Mapo Tofu, Friday night came around and it was my turn to cook dinner. While I was craving breaded pork chops and rice pilaf, I scrapped that idea for a more ‘roommate friendly’ meal. I opened the fridge to see what we had: chicken breasts, spinach, mushrooms, and some old pizza. I shuddered. I had a flashback to my middle school cafeteria lunches of dry chicken, spinach slop, and frozen mushroom stew. Bringing myself back to reality, I knew I could do better. I chucked the pizza slices in the trash, grabbed my ingredients, and got to work.
I sliced the chicken into pieces and coated them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder before browning in a pan. We had no heavy cream to make a creamy sauce, so I had to improvise. The chicken was replaced with butter and garlic and I worked on the sauce. I sweated out the mushrooms and added some chicken broth. I added in my spinach and threw my chicken back in, letting it simmer until the sauce thickened and the flavors melded together. I added salt and pepper to taste, and as a final touch, I grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano all over the meal.
Photo Courtesy of The Kitchn.
I did it. I not only cooked according to my roommates’ standards, but I also finished in record time. I am notorious for underestimating how long my meals take to cook—an estimated 7 p.m. dinner often turns into an 8:30 p.m. supper. I turned a meal I despised into something filling and flavorful.
I realize now that I limited my opportunities for food excellence by ignoring multiple food groups. I challenged myself to make a bland meal taste better, and mushrooms, spinach, and even grilled chicken can be delicious if cooked correctly. Although I prepare dinner each week, I only cooked to my tastes. This process made me broaden my culinary range and adapt my meals for my roommates’ taste buds. Pushing these boundaries led me out of my comfort zone and took my culinary skills to a new level.
Setting down the platter of creamy spinach and mushroom chicken, I yell, “Dinner’s ready!”
Cover Photo Courtesy of Salt and Lavender.