I'm going to tell you the secret to great, mind-blowing food. Can you keep a secret? And by keep a secret I mean promise to forward this to everyone you know and thereby drive up the traffic to this site resulting in a fat check of four cents to be auto-deposited to my Swiss bank account from AdWords.
Studies show--I'm sure they exist, if I had an assistant as God intended me to, they would have included a link to a study which would go right here--that it doesn't matter if you follow a recipe exactly or simply heat up a pre-made meal. There is an underlying secret step to phenomenal food:
Have someone else cook the food for you.
Simple as that. It makes EVERY recipe better. Why do you think they put "Serves 3-4 people" at the top of the recipe? Surprisingly, no one on my beloved Food Network or Cooking channel has shared this tip with you. As someone who loves to cook, my culinary creations always seem to taste better to those sharing in the meal than to me. Similarly, my mom's food will always taste better than what I make.
I challenge you and your taste buds to the following showdown.
We (or you and a friend, if you have one) both cook the exact same dish in the exact same kitchen. I would advise the dishes be prepared on different days to remove the process of cooking, which could skew the results. There's something about someone else making you food. Try it with different dishes: cans of soup, sandwiches, pastas, baked chicken, brussels sprouts. Well, maybe not that last one.
Psychologically (see non-existent paper above), knowing that someone cared enough about you to make you something to eat heightens the sensitivity of our taste buds, as long as they aren't trying to poison you. Note: make sure your cooking partner for the challenge doesn't secretly or openly want you dead. In this case your dish may just taste a little different than the one you cook for them. That taste is cyanide or arsenic. You should be calling 911 right now. You are in no condition to drive. Stop questioning the smirk on your former friend's face. GO!
Even that hospital Jell-o tastes better than if you had made it, doesn't it?