The Daily Beet

06 May Adventures with Ami: Try Again

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Thanks so much for all of the lovely birthday wishes – you all really made my day! We spent the weekend out of town, celebrating my birthday.  It wasn’t really a weekend for relaxing – we did a lot of sightseeing and driving.  By the time we got in last night, we were pretty exhausted.  Just thinking about the alarm going off at 5am was enough to get out the crock pot to make a batch of overnight oats.  I do this often and they turn out great.  My crock pot has a timer – I set it for 5 hours on low – and then it switches to warm for 3 hours. Just add steel cut oats and water, a little cinnamon maybe.  I also knew I had a blog to write (this one) and thought I would make a new recipe to share today.  I got a little creative and thought the combo of steel cut oats, red rice and rough cut corn meal would make a great breakfast porridge.  I measured equal amounts of the grains and twice as much water. Added cinnamon and cubed some pink lady apples I had. Gave it a stir, set the timer and went to bed.

Up at 5, made a bowl for Bill, added some blueberries for him and a splash of almond milk.  How is it? I asked. ….I love you, but….he said. Oh.  Not good? Well…

Fail.  A little about my husband…he’s not picky and will eat just about anything I make. So it must have been pretty bad.

So I taste test my creation…and  I have a big crock pot full of porridge that is very bland.  The apples are even flavorless.  As you find your way in the plant strong world, ‘bland and flavorless’ meals are apt to come up.  You might make something from scratch or convert a recipe that you love and find it just doesn’t have that ‘zest’.  So what to do? Work on it! In the absence of salt, oil and sugar you often have to pump up the flavor by adding more to it.

When it came to my oatmeal, I added more fruit.  What makes a good ‘eating’ apple and a good ‘baking’ apple are usually different varieties.  Granny Smith’s make good baking apples. They hold their flavor really well.  I used the pink lady apples I had on hand. Not as good for baking.  I also should have added more apples. After all, it is a bowl of oatmeal – not a cake, so I am not going to mess up the moisture content or anything by adding more fruit.  I also added more cinnamon.

Taste test number two…not as bad. So I stirred in some vanilla extract, added some blueberries to the bowl and had a bowl of ‘better’ breakfast.  The lesson is: don’t be afraid to experiment or just plain make stuff up!  I was not about to google a recipe or pull out a cookbook last night. I was too tired.  If it doesn’t turn out, doctor it up a little bit.  Add more spices or more fruit/vegetables, a little more water or vegetable broth maybe would do the trick?  In all of my ‘recipe lab’ experiments, I’ve only epically failed a couple of times.  Most things can be salvaged just by playing with the ratios.  So don’t toss that bland dish just yet.  Work on it! A squeeze of citrus fruit livens up most any recipe. So does fresh grated ginger, herbs, garlic and spicy peppers.

So make your kitchen a recipe lab! Save that recipe by trying again and helping it along.  I am not sharing the recipe with you just yet…it still needs some work 🙂


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Ami Mackey for Engine 2
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is the Curator of Creative Content at Engine 2. She is also a food coach at Engine 2 and has been plant-strong since 2011. When she isn't attending to all things Engine 2, she is the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She has earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • just me
    Posted at 10:18h, 06 May

    This is funny. My husband and children are always game to try a new creation, even when they are sometimes blech. Why!? My hit and miss usually falls on the hit side. Sounds like your cooking is usually a hit as well.

  • michelle P
    Posted at 13:08h, 06 May

    I love to just throw things together and see what I get. My usual method of saving is with spices. Though I over do it sometimes with the hot spices as I did trying to save some bland soup recently. I made it so hot, even I could barely eat one bowl. It got even hotter the next day, phew.

    • Jmac
      Posted at 13:12h, 06 May

      Sometime it works, and sometime not. I love my plants

  • Kristen Herrera
    Posted at 13:10h, 06 May

    I’m not the best cook to start with…so for this reason I’ve started beefing up (yes I giggled at that) my spice and herb collection. I keep a drawer full of seasonings and spices next to the stove with salt free locally sourced taco seasoning mix, cinnamon, garlic and onion powders, plus many others.

    I think the blandest thing I made was a huge batch of cauliflower soup that tasted like starchy water. Eventually I got creative enough with all my savory seasonings it actually had a nice smokey taste to it 🙂

  • ssandy45
    Posted at 13:12h, 06 May

    So it’s not just me. At least I’ve learned what to never add or never do again. Plus learing how to fix these little problems has led to some pretty good new favs. My best fix is salsa, it will fix almost anything. Not sure about oatmeal 🙂

  • Kim
    Posted at 13:13h, 06 May

    This is soooo true! It is OK to play with your food no matter what your mother told you! If we all left our tries and called them failures we would have less of everything to be grateful for, even a simply good recipe that was revisited!

  • Becky
    Posted at 13:13h, 06 May

    I cook everything from scratch, and I love “inventing” new things. Since I used to live in Mexico and I’m married to a Texan, adding spice to things makes lots of things better ….. cilantro, jalapenos, chili peppers rate high in my “add ons” to recipes.

  • Karrie Leib
    Posted at 13:17h, 06 May

    My go to fix-it item is no-salt curry powder. It has perked up split pea soup and roasted sweet potatoes. I am glad you made your oats/grains work. I absolutely have to have fruit and cinnamon with my oats, or they taste very bland. The more cinnamon, the better.

  • Catbert
    Posted at 13:19h, 06 May

    Made a bean gravy the other day that was seriously thick and seriously bland. I just started adding almond milk and more spices until we were happy. Sounds simple, but we’re new to this plant strong world so it was a salvage sucess for us! 🙂

  • Rebecca White
    Posted at 13:25h, 06 May

    Looking forward to seeing the final recipe. I don’t know a lot about what to do with grains. I’ve neglected them as a holdover from another diet (you know which one) and now I’m trying to shake that off.

  • Jimmy Rustick
    Posted at 13:27h, 06 May

    Maybe I should take note. My family hasn’t quite embraced the Plant Strong diet as I have. If it doesn’t contain meat, they don’t want it. That is what they say. But maybe it IS what I make after all?

  • Wendy Barnes Hudson
    Posted at 13:34h, 06 May

    I love kale just about any way imagineable but my family, well that’s another story. This weekend I bought a huge bag at the farmer’s market and was determined to fix it so these whole family would enjoy it! I came up with a concoction that I call stewed Kale. I cooked the Kale in veggie broth with sliced onions and garlic along with cayenne pepper, sea salt, and lemon juice drizzled on top. Amazing flavors AND the best part….the WHOLE family loved it. I will definitely be repeating this! There’s nothing like standing back and saying to yourself….I came up with this all by myself and it tastes amazing!!

  • Shontae Alston
    Posted at 13:37h, 06 May

    I made my quinoa too bland one time so I sautéed some veggies with veggie broth, onion/garlic powder and some salt/pepper and fresh garlic. Turned my forgetfulness into yumminess!

  • Karen Landon
    Posted at 13:50h, 06 May

    Yep, this happens to me a lot. I have a cupboard full of spices, so I add till it is fixed or sometimes you just have to toss it & hopefully I have E2 hummus & cracker bread on hand, lol.

  • Elaine Kean
    Posted at 13:57h, 06 May

    when you are creating a dinner salad ..big and filled with every color of the rainbow ..messing up the dressing is a problem!! Luckily I tasted it first …yuck..something missing…out came the fresh lemon juice ..nutritional yeast and a few more spices …with a splash of maple syrup ..now MUCH better ! salad rescued!

  • Terri Jones Cole
    Posted at 14:03h, 06 May

    Last summer, shortly after adopting a vegan diet, I tried making my potato soup recipe without butter & milk. It was REALLY bland. The next day it got turned into a mega-creamy & delicious corn chowder. I blended some soaked cashews with soy milk until smooth, added it plus corn, chopped red pepper and some smoked paprika. One of the best soups I’ve ever made came out of that failure!

  • Rileen
    Posted at 14:16h, 06 May

    Blueberries make everything better 🙂

    Ok, many things.

  • EllenRebekah Altman
    Posted at 14:32h, 06 May

    I found a recipe for spaghetti-corn salad in an old Better Homes and Gardens. I tried it out and it was okay, but the dressing (from which I had left out the oil) was bland. Otherwise it was pretty good with whole wheat pasta and lots of chopped veggies. I just added tomato sauce.

  • Sally D.
    Posted at 14:32h, 06 May

    Lol! I find that most meals taste better with a bit more hot sauce! Lol!

  • Maggie
    Posted at 14:34h, 06 May

    Every time I try to make veggie burgers I fail. I still haven’t figured out a good combo but I keep trying!

  • Diana Craig
    Posted at 14:59h, 06 May

    It’s funny that Sally D. would suggest more hot sauce. I just had to doctor up my veggie chili because I added too much hot sauce. It certainly isn’t lacking flavour and if I needed to empty my sinuses, it would have been great. I ended up adding another can of low salt beans and served it on a ginormous bed of romaine lettuce. As a final cooling touch, I finished off my lunch with some fresh pineapple.

  • Regina McAloon
    Posted at 15:08h, 06 May

    Just about every plant-based meal I tried in the first two weeks. ;(

  • Yvonne Gaskin
    Posted at 15:16h, 06 May

    I made a lentil stew once that was very bland… just added tomatoes and some extra spices and waallllaa – good as new

  • Edith
    Posted at 15:27h, 06 May

    It looks great in the picture! Have you tried adding a little orange or lemon zest? or pumpkin pie spice or something exotic like cardamom? ‘just thought of that…

  • Dustin Rolofson
    Posted at 15:47h, 06 May

    I often find that is my 2nd or 3rd attempt that ends up being the winner.

  • Shelby Kuenzi
    Posted at 16:00h, 06 May

    I’ve had enough failures that last night’s dinner of black beans over polenta with mango salsa (FOK recipe) “sounds like suicide over sadness” to my omnivore DH. But, it turned out well enough that he went back for seconds!

  • Michael
    Posted at 16:13h, 06 May

    Any meal I make that turns out bland, which is rare as I follow Jeff
    Novick’s recipe suggestions in most cases, can be easily rescued by
    adding some salt-free spices.

  • Chelsea
    Posted at 16:21h, 06 May

    thanks for posting! I’ve definitely had a few bland experiments and recipes. Thanks for the tips about adding flavors to rescue them without salt or sugar!

  • Melody
    Posted at 16:27h, 06 May

    At this point, it seems that my taste buds have adjusted to where plain
    starches, fruits, vegetables, and legumes don’t usually need rescuing.
    Increasing the variety tends to kick up any meal that needs a boost.

  • Angie Soffronas Morfogen
    Posted at 16:35h, 06 May

    thanks for posting about the bland porridge and how you rescued it.

  • Bob
    Posted at 16:40h, 06 May

    The satisfaction I get in knowing that the meals I eat now are rescuing
    my health manages to keep me coming back for more. No-salt spices also
    go a long way in making any last-minute flavor changes. Adding another
    type of food, such as carrots and broccoli instead of just broccoli,
    seems to enhance any meal.

  • Margot Tobias
    Posted at 16:46h, 06 May

    I was taught a long time ago to just keep at it. Tweak the ingredients, spices or temp. It will make you a better cook. Transfers into a life lesson!

  • Susan Fisher
    Posted at 16:47h, 06 May

    I have found anything salad – based can usually be pepped up with lemon juice and fresh parsley.

  • Tami
    Posted at 16:54h, 06 May

    What is the brand of your crockpot, the timer sounds nice. I’m lucky to have an unpicky husband too.

  • Melissa
    Posted at 17:16h, 06 May

    Once my tastes changed to accommodate healthy food, I find that I do not
    really need to rescue meals. If I’m hungry, healthy food usually
    tastes great. It has been quite some time since I have had to rescue
    anything, but thanks so much for the suggestions.

  • Ginnie F
    Posted at 17:18h, 06 May

    I like your message that not everything you try is perfectly to your taste the first time around. This is very true. My rule of thumb is the first try of a new recipe, I follow exactly (well, usually!). Then I start the tweaking! Don’t give up!

  • Linda
    Posted at 17:20h, 06 May

    I had guests for lunch today and made a tomato sauce. It seemed to be super tomato-ie and the spices didn’t calm the flavor down. I decided to sauté onions, celery and carrots and add them to the sauce to provide a sweetness. It worked beautifully and the sauce was rescued 🙂

  • Laura
    Posted at 17:41h, 06 May

    I did a stir fry with bok choy, mushrooms and fresh green beans. Added the brown Chinese sauce from Prevent and Reverse. No taste at all, very bland. Thanks for the inspiration, should have added more spices.

  • Tim
    Posted at 17:51h, 06 May

    Increasing the variety of foods in a meal is all that I usually need to do for a rescue. “Variety is the spice of life,” seems to ring true for healthy food.

  • BH
    Posted at 18:58h, 06 May

    Oh birthday girl, at least it looks good, and as the Sat. Night Live character, Fernando (of Fernando’s Hideaway) says, “It is better to looook good, that to feeeel good!” Or in the case of your porridge, “look good than to taste good”. The blueberries must’ve helped it along nicely. I love plump, popping bluebs. Anyway, you’re right about citrus. I am fortunate to have two Meyer lemon trees in my yard, and although I wish one were an orange tree, I feel so decadent when making something that calls for lemon and I just saunter out into my yard and pick an ingredient! You’re right. I love to pour the juice of a lemon on my beans and grains dishes (or most anything) to unbland something. Thanks for sharing so honestly. Looks good to me though.

  • chrysanthe
    Posted at 19:11h, 06 May

    Like many people here are saying, I usually fix with more spices and condiments. However, I learn an important lesson when I bake failed sweets. The easiest way to recover from a bland/badly textured cookie or muffin is to dip it in jam, maple syrup, or cover it in icing or something like that. In other words, add more sugar to it. This makes me realize that in the non-plant strong world, many many foods served would be bland and bad tasting if they weren’t always so masked in copious amounts of salt, sugar, and fat. Occasional plant-strong mishaps remind me of that and make me thankful for beautiful, tasty, natural, healthy meals.

  • Navavon Randall
    Posted at 19:47h, 06 May

    I think some maple syrup would do the trick 🙂

  • Kristina Finnegan
    Posted at 20:08h, 06 May

    I made a pasta sauce once with cauliflower, onion, nutritional yeast, peppers, and all sorts of good things, but when it was done… ugh. I didn’t like it. Hot sauce to the rescue! After a squeeze of sauce on top and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs for some crunch we finished the pot!

  • Lela Kessler
    Posted at 20:21h, 06 May

    I made crock pit lentil vegetable soup just today and had to “save” it with some hot sauce. Hot sauce is my go to savory meal saver!

  • Robin
    Posted at 20:52h, 06 May

    Well if my husband or son doesn’t really care for something they both use hot sauce. They do tell me not to make it again if it is really bad. Still trying to work with spices

  • Simona Faro
    Posted at 22:39h, 06 May

    Green chili seasoning is my meal saver!

  • Cindy
    Posted at 05:30h, 07 May

    I made a spaghetti sauce dish with kale and a few other veggies & used an healthy bottle of sauce. Too bland for me! My ah ha moment came when I realized I haven’t bought bottled sauce for years…I make my Italian grandma’s sauce. Why not make a healthy version of it? It saved the day….and the recipe. Yum! Now I use her sauce to throw in any plant & use healthy pasta, too!

  • Marcus Thompson
    Posted at 07:58h, 07 May

    I actually had that same problem last night. I was making a dish that called for curry. However, when I tasted the sauce, it was very dull to say the least. My solution was to add a bit more curry and some Dijon mustard. Those minor tweaks made a huge difference in the overall flavor and aroma of the meal.

    Having the right combination of spices can go further to adding flavor to your meals than salt and sugar ever will.

  • Carrie Kleyn
    Posted at 11:02h, 07 May

    Yes, your dish did look tasty! I find that no matter what I make I usually tweek with more spices, lemon juice and hot sauces until the dish meets my expectations. No sufferin here 🙂

  • Karen
    Posted at 18:15h, 07 May

    Yes, this is a different form of “kitchen rescue”! Had many of these. When I overcook something and the texture turns out to be mush, I just turn it into something where that is an asset. Mushy veggies become soups or sauces. Flavorless oatmeal becomes cookies or goes into waffle batter. We like oatmeal waffles so much I don’t even have time to pre-cook the oats, but it’s a great way to use up flakes or steel cut.

  • Hillary
    Posted at 21:45h, 10 May

    Since starting my plant-based cooking journey a little over a month ago, I’ve had mostly success in the kitchen. One fail involved some heathy, low fat cookies that I added too much non dairy milk accidentally, so I doubled the recipe but wasn’t able to rescue it entirely. I find the key to vegan cooking is often to make sure baked items are cooked long enough to get some “crisp” to them!! Also, I’m never worried that I can eat something that might be undercooked like batter – without the eggs and oil, there’s nothing harmful!!!!! Yay! Such a better way to bake!!

  • Jennifer
    Posted at 16:21h, 13 May

    As I’m adjusting and learning I have been excited to play around and just throw things together. One night I thought I’d make smashed cauliflower, but without butter or cream I added some fresh herbs, nutrional yeast for a “cheesy” flavor. Where I messed up was, that the consistancy just didn’t feel right so I thought I’d add a splash of whatever plant-based milk I had on hand. It happened to be almond milk. (It’s my favorite in my cereal in the morning.) So I added a splash or two and served it up. It just didn’t taste right. Figured out that I had accidently bought the vanilla almond milk instead of the unsweetened kind I normally get. I will not go shopping when I’m exhausted again! Lesson learned: Vanilla does not go well with garlic and dill.

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