The top of food is the part that immediately greets the eater. When that surface is compelling, even the plainest items take on their own little brilliance.
  1. Buttered bread crumbs
    Good bread crumbs that you make yourself from good bread = the best. Toast slices, then crumble to desired degree in food processor. Sauté in melted butter and/or olive oil until golden/fragrant and heap on just about anything.
  2. Cheese crust
    Sprinkle just about any kind of grated cheese onto your vegetables or rice or beans or potatoes, and briefly broil in oven or toaster oven until bubbly and golden-edged. Special! (But you already knew this.)
  3. Balsamic reduction
    Real Italian balsamic is a free-standing elixir that can be drizzled amazingly on many things, sweet or savory. American supermarket balsamic (not authentic, but still fun) is best for same purposes when reduced to a syrup. Just simmer at a low temp (open your windows) until about 1/2 original volume. Dee-lish.
  4. Roasted nut oils
    So good! Not for cooking, but for finishing. A lash of roasted walnut, pecan, almond, or hazelnut oil on top of any cooked vegetable or included in a vinaigrette (or just for dunking fresh bread) leads to transcendence. Not cheap, but a small amount goes far. Refrigerate for long life.
  5. Egg "noodles"
    Noodles in "" because they really aren't. This is just a plain omelet rolled and sliced into thin, canary-yellow noodle-esque strips. Top your anything with them, and you've instantly upped both the cheer and the protein.
  6. Pickled red onions
    Bright pink and eternally crunchy. Thinly slice or mince a large red onion and place a colander in sink. Pour on a kettleful of boiling water. Shake off excess water (ok to leave some) and transfer to solution of 3Tbs vinegar (any), 2 tsp sugar, agave, or honey, and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir to coat, let sit until cool (stir often) then store in fridge in lidded jar. Fork onto everything.
  7. Chewy tortilla strips
    Halfway to chips, but chewy and homemade and more intriguing. Spray both sides of a fresh corn tortilla w nonstick spray and briefly heat on both sides in hot skillet until this side of totally crisp (aka chewy). Cut into strips or random shapes w scissors and throw in a heap on top of your dinner pronto.
  8. Pizza walnuts
    Combine 1 Tbs grated Parmesan w big pinches of rhyme & oregano (rosemary also welcome). Arrange 20 walnut halves on toaster-oven tray, inside surfaces up. Sprinkle w the herb-cheese mixture and broil until cheese melts slightly and tops = golden. This will only take a minute or so; don't walk away or answer your phone. Remove, cool. Toss into any veg salad, top your ratatouille, or just festoon some cooked zucchini.
  9. Garlic-butter almonds
    Sauté chopped almonds w a little crushed garlic in melted butter. Sprinkle on any savory dish, especially plain cooked green beans, for their Transformative moment.
  10. Lightly toasted coconut + lime juice
    Instant sparkle; zero skill required. More compatible w more things than you may think. Cilantro might also apply.