Tasty Thursday: What Makes a Successful Recipe?

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After trying so many new dinners week after week, I’ve started to notice a trend in both the recipes I select to try and the ones that are most successful.  Read on for my top tips for a winning recipe.

1. Interesting flavors.

One of the first things I scan for in a potential recipe is its ingredients.  I look for recipes where I can use ingredients I already own, but every now and then I enjoy supplementing my already crowded spice cabinet and pantry.  My latest additions?  Lemon pepper, sesame oil, smoked paprika, and fresh ginger root.  For me, unique flavors make the meal.  Too many times I’ve seen some good potential recipes flop because of lack of seasoning.  Just last night I tried a new recipe, a zucchini, black bean and rice skillet meal. It sounded like a great vegetarian option, but I soon realized that the only real flavor would come from the can of “fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic.”  I added some salt and pepper for good measure (why was it not originally in the recipe?), but I still found the recipe bland.  Not something I would make again.  The lesson here?  Always use salt and pepper, if nothing else!

2. Easy-peasy.

For me, the ease of a recipe goes two ways–time and equipment.  It’s not surprising why Rachel Ray was so successful with her 30 Minute Meals.  Who has time to slave away in the kitchen after a long day?  And, for that matter, who has time to clean up a ton of dishes afterwards?  Marie Schweitzer hit the nail on the head with her Lasagna Soup post earlier this week–one-dish meals are the best for busy families!  What else do I look for in a good recipe?

  • One-skillet meals
  • Crock pot!
  • 30 minutes or less cook time
  • 15 minutes or less prep time
  • Oven roasted meals
  • Stir fries

3. Color counts.

Not only does a lot of color make an eye-catching photograph (which reminds me, I really need to work on my food photography skills!), it also gets your attention on the plate.  Who wouldn’t want to eat a meal that’s as beautiful as a work of art?  But a colorful meal isn’t just a feast for the eyes.  More often than not, more color means more nutrients–bright green spinach, orange-y salmon, cheery red tomatoes, sunshine-yellow squash, jeweled green and red grapes.  Even though salmon with sweet potatoes and carrots would certainly be nutritious, your plate might end up looking a little monochromatic, and quite boring.  Spice things up a bit and get creative with color!

4. Few processed foods.

I look for recipes with as few pre-prepared ingredients as possible.  It’s my belief that quick, easy meals do not have to include a lot of convenience foods.  I was raised on Hamburger Helper and canned vegetables, and as a kid I often wondered, how hard is it to make your own cheese sauce instead of pouring it in powdered form from a packet?  Maybe I was too hard on my parents, not understanding their schedules.  But, while we do keep a box of Hamburger Helper on hand ourselves for when we’re pressed for time or feeling uninspired, I try to live by the philosophy that a healthy, convenient meal doesn’t have to come from a box or a can.  An easy cheese sauce is possible, and likely uses fresher, lower-in-sodium ingredients.  I’ve heard you should do the majority of your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding as much as possible those processed foods in boxes and cans in the middle aisles.  With the exception of some oils, seasonings, and coffee (must have coffee!), my shopping habits closely resemble this strategy.

I hope to bring you recipes that match these tips and are easy to prepare and nutritious, and I will always test a recipe before endorsing it here!

What are your recipe success tips?  Please share!


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