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Taking Back Dinner: Delicious Takes on Icky Childhood Meals

We all know them. Our parents know them. Our dogs definitely know them. I’m talking about those meals from childhood that made us shudder at their very mention and desperately volunteer to do our chores or catch up on our homework during dinnertime. Whichever your culinary nemesis was, chefs and foodies are fighting to flip our perceptions by putting a fresh, delicious spin on childhood’s most hated foods. Skeptical? I sought out some delicious makeovers of the worst dishes. These fresh takes are truly a public service to eaters everywhere.
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  • Photo: Chiot’s Run on Flickr

    Liver and Onions

    Is there a more universally detested dinner? Just the thought of ingesting this internal organ makes most of us gag. Ever since I was served liver as a child, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind when discussing most-disliked foods: its texture, its flavor—it’s all just wrong. However, foodies are reclaiming liver, touting its high iron, vitamins, and nutrient-rich content. But, making it tasty relies on picking up the most organic calf, veal, or baby beef liver (instead of regular beef, which has a stronger flavor). Then, fry it in a pan with a little butter and onions, says SimplyRecipes, and pour a bit of barbecue sauce on top. Tender, flavorful, and, yes, delicious.


     

  • Photo: Benketaro on Flickr

    Brussels Sprouts

    Those traumatized by years of Brussels sprouts served soggy from the freezer (as was popular practice prior to 2000) will still be tempted by Tyler Florence’s bacon-inspired twist on this cruciferous vegetable. Sauté four slices of bacon in olive oil and thyme. Remove the bacon and then toss in two pints of halved Brussels sprouts, one-half pound of pearl onions, and a pound of halved fingerling potatoes. Once these are browned, add a half-cup of chicken stock and steam for about five minutes. Finish it off with some balsamic vinegar, some parsley, and the cooked bacon. They say everything’s better with bacon, and I say they’re spot on.


     

  • Photo: Nebulux76 on Flickr

    Hamburger Helper

    Ah, hamburger helper. This was the meal-from-a-box that my father would excitedly break out on the few nights my mother was away. Despite his excitement, the powdery, sodium-packed sauce slathered onto slimy noodles and beef just never did it for me (sorry, Dad). However, EatingWell’s suggestion to keep it real by finely processing a few veggies to form a flavorful sauce fixes that texture issue. Mix it with some grass-fed ground beef and nuttier, firmer whole-wheat spirals for a grown-up version of the boxed meal.


     

  • Photo: Gsz on Flickr

    Egg Salad

    You know what I’m talking about—egg salad with not a whole lot of eggs, but a ton of goopy mayonnaise. That’s the egg salad we all grew up with. However, with just a touch of mayo, an egg salad sandwich tastes like—fancy this—eggs. This AllRecipes take on it throws in a little dill, some Dijon, paprika, and onion. And if you’re really over the whole mayonnaise thing, like I am, try hummus instead for a fresh twist.


     

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    Tuna Casserole

    I despised this one so much as a child that my mother eventually gave up and started making me something separate whenever it was on the menu. True, the original version was cheap and easy—mostly soup and other ingredients straight from the can—but using real ingredients brings out flavors of sweet onions, pungent garlic, fresh lemon, and dill. Best Tuna Casseroles even suggests jazzing it up with some salmon, too. Don’t have to ask me twice.


     

  • Photo: Kawanet on Flickr

    Salisbury Steak

    Despite its popular American incarnation, this frozen standby actually originated before TV dinners were around—in the early twentieth century. Frozen or not, this was a steak-like substance at best in its 1980s glory. Despite the dish’s spotty past, this AllRecipes rendition takes it back to its roots—Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, and quality beef. Serve it up with a bunch of mushroomy gravy and mashed potatoes.


     

  • Photo: Andrea 44 on Flickr

    Spinach

    It’s no wonder I despised vegetables as a child; I grew up in the era of canned, creamed, and bland. I don’t believe I saw spinach in its natural, leafy form until my late teens. In addition to being a super-food, spinach is also a bright replacement for iceberg lettuce in salads and makes an earthy addition to eggs. Try a creamy morning scramble by whisking together eight eggs and a pinch of dry tarragon, salt, and pepper. Melt some butter on the stovetop, wilt in three-quarters of a pound of spinach, and then add the eggs and two ounces of cream cheese, scrambling until just set.


     

  • Photo: snowpea&bokchoi on Flickr

    Salad

    The salads of my youth were straight from the sack: shriveled raisins, packaged cheese, and wilted lettuce. Take yours from soggy side dish to star of the potluck with fresh ingredients and homemade dressing, as in AllRecipes’ strawberry and spinach salad. Make a quick dressing by whisking two tablespoons of sesame seeds, one tablespoon of poppy seeds, a half-cup each of sugar and olive oil, one-fourth cup of white vinegar, one-fourth teaspoon each of paprika and Worcestershire sauce, and a tablespoon of minced onion. Toss it with ten ounces of spinach, a quart of strawberries, and one-fourth cup of sliced almonds.


     

  • Photo: Calvert Café & Catering on Flickr

    Fruit

    Slippery, slimy, and overly sugared, canned fruit is nothing like its fresh counterpart, yet many of us grew up with this inferior incarnation in our lunch bags. Luckily, today we can savor whatever is in season. Oprah.com’s Watermelon Salad with Mint and Lime Dressing tastes fruity and fresh. Simply cube a medium-size watermelon and toss it with the juice of two limes and a half-cup each of mint chiffonade and crumbled feta.


     

  • Photo: Ralph and Jenny on Flickr

    Fish

    We all have a fish horror story from our early years (unless, perhaps, you grew up in Japan). Whether it was packed into frozen sticks or scooped from a can and fried, the overarching theme was to disguise the fact that it was fish. However, picking up fish fresh from the seafood counter and preparing it right takes it from gag-worthy to family favorite. Cooking Light’s salmon spice rub gives the salmon an earthy, zestful flavor. Rub the fish with a mixture of one-half teaspoon each salt, cumin, and coriander; one-fourth teaspoon paprika; and one-eighth teaspoon each cinnamon and pepper. Cook it atop some sliced onion in a 400˚F oven for twenty minutes.


     

  • Photo: jwalsh on Flickr

    Meatloaf

    The traumas of meatloaf aren’t just confined to my generation—my father was so traumatized by his childhood experiences with it that he refuses to eat the dish to this day. However, a baked loaf of meat doesn’t have to mean meal anxiety. Follow Alton Brown’s advice and whip up a tasty one with quality beef and a bevy of flavorful herbs and veggies and a homemade glaze.


     

  • Photo: jeffreyw on Flickr

    Frank and Beans

    This American classic is often composed of canned, soggy beans mixed with watery, processed meat. Yum? Not so much. However, the combination isn’t all wrong. Take a cue from Rachael Ray—make your own bean mixture (instead of dumping them straight from a can), mix it with ballpark-style dogs, and cook it up in the oven topped with corn bread.


     

  • Photo: jspatchwork on Flickr

    Cream of Mushroom Soup

    Popularized after World War II for its cheapness and ease, this soup played a starring role in many childhood casseroles and gravies and even as a solo dish. While it’s not terrible, shaking gravy out of a can is less than appetizing. Instead, try sautéing an onion and garlic with some olive oil. Add in a package of mushrooms and sauté until they’re soft. Stir in a little balsamic, Worcestershire, and some chicken stock until it reaches your desired thickness. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Optional: whisk together a cup of milk and one-quarter cup of flour, and add in at the end for a creamier texture.


     

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