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Creative ways to dress up everyday meals

Karen Leland is the bestselling author of Time Management in an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. She is featured columnist for The Huffington Post Living section. Read her blog and contact her at karenleland.com.

Spice up your meals

These days, "quick and easy" seems to be the mantra that most of us live by. But even the most straightforward of meals can be transported from simple to special with a few light touches. So get ready to break out the crystal and get inspired with these six creative ways to dress up everyday meals.

Elevate the everyday

When New York Times bestselling author Leanne Ely's kids were growing up, she put their OJ in wine glasses, lit candles, threw Vivaldi on the stereo and watched her children eat their morning pancakes as if they were dining with the Queen of England. Ely, the author of the Saving Dinner series of books, believes that these little touches of elegance -- such as cloth napkins, classical music and real crystal -- can elevate any everyday meal to new heights.

Spice things up

Food blogger Ellen Fort (www.ellenfork.com) suggests giving everyday meals some kick by adding strong spices. "An ordinary dish like mac and cheese becomes a lot more interesting when you add madras curry, chili powder or some diced poblano peppers," says Fort. Even the classic ketchup packs a new punch as an accompaniment to fries when you add chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Put some pizazz in your pizza

At Boston's Cambridge restaurant, owner Chris Lutes is a master at grilled pizza with unexpected toppings. While pizza continues to hold its place of honor in the American home as an everyday favorite, Lutes has found ways to make pizza shine with a few special toppings. The next time you make a pie at home, try some of these:

• Maine lobster, corn, scallion, parmigiana cheese and cilantro oil
• Hot cherry peppers, Black Forest ham and manchego cheese
• Potatoes; fontina, parmigiana and Romano cheeses; rosemary and garlic
• Bresaola, arugula, shaved parmigiana cheese, olive oil and lemon

Go for the garnish

Ordinary garnishes that add a touch of color or texture to foods are an easy way to make the everyday special. Susan Adams, a professor of nutrition at La Salle University in Philadelphia, suggests such simple additions as grated lemon peel on fish, a sprinkle of dried parsley on white mashed potatoes, a fancy swirl of ketchup on meatloaf and a sliced egg with paprika on potato salad. "These touches are so small," says Adams, "but they have a big impact on the happiness of the meal."

Snip some herbs

The sight of fresh herbs can make any meal seem as if it came straight from the kitchen of a gourmet chef, says Fort. Some easy ideas include: Coating a chicken breast with fresh chopped rosemary, thyme and sage before baking; adding fresh dill, tarragon or chives to tuna or egg salad; adding fresh mint to fruit salad; and sprinkling fresh basil on an omelet.

Offer a treasure trove of toppings

Teri Tsang Barrett, food editor at Every Day With Rachel Ray, suggests translating the sundae bar concept into savory foods. Try serving up a variety of toppings that work with the main meal, such as a bowl of limes, crumbled bacon, toasted nuts, chopped herbs, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes etc.

More ways to turn every meal into a special occasion:

Poached fruit recipes
How to enjoy that special bottle of wine
Tasmanian Devil Thai Noodles

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