October 20, 2011

Tip of the day—What do you do when you are in a cooking rut?

I was talking with a friend about this subject the other night.  For the last week or so, I’ve found myself in a cooking rut.  Perhaps it is because I had a week where I baked and cooked and sautéed like crazy and maybe I used up all of my creative juices, perhaps it is the change of the weather, perhaps it is just something that happens every so often—whatever the reason, I need a change!  In thinking about what to do to spur my creative juices, I reflected on what I’ve done in times past.  Below are some ideas that I’ll be using in the next few days to reboot.  I welcome any ideas, resources, blogs, or tips that you have to share on the subject. 

  • Use unusual ingredients.  While brine shrimp aren’t really that unusual in my family, since I’ve been in East TN they are a delicacy.  My cousin brought my dad a few packs of them from the Gulf recently, and they are waiting in the freezer for some delicious concoction.  My dad talked about making sauce picante or a Thai soup with them this weekend.  Sounds yummy to me!  Sometimes when I’m in a rut, I’ll try to pick up something that is out of the ordinary for me at the grocery or farmers market. 
  • Cook with someone else.  I grew up with my dad cooking all sorts of ethnic and interesting foods.  One night we might have mole sauce and chicken and then next we would have a Vietnamese soup and the next catfish and pinto beans.  His cooking is anything but boring.  I plan to do a little cooking with him in the next few days as a way to get some inspiration.
  • Look to the experts.  I rarely use recipes from cookbooks, but I have a small collection of cookbooks and love thumbing through them.  Not only does this inspire me to cook differently, it reinforces the basic elements of cooking.  What spices go well with what types of foods?  What basic ingredients make up a traditional recipe?  I also enjoy checking out cooking blogs.  Seeing beautiful photographs and reading the bloggers’ stories about cooking inspires me to do the same.  While we try not to watch too much TV, I am a sucker for a good cooking show.  Probably the only thing that I miss about having cable TV is the Food Network.  Luckily, our local PBS station offers a channel called Create where I find many celebrity chefs cooking what look like fantastic dishes. 
  • Shop without a list.  I know, horror upon horrors—a coupon blogger is suggesting you go to the store without a list.  Gasp!  My cousin gave me this idea, saying that she often goes to the store to get inspired to cook instead of going to the store because she has a list and needs to cook.  Yep, you’ll probably forget something you’ll need, and you might pay a little more than normal, but sometimes it is worth it.  Let’s look at it this way if you end up going to a restaurant because you weren’t inspired to cook, you’ll spend more there.  Why not spend a little more at the store and have a home cooked meal?
  • Shop at a different grocery store or farmers market. Our brains become programmed to look for the same foods at grocery stores that we frequent.  I can tell you exactly where the apples are at my local store and chicken and fish and milk.  Can I do the same at a store across town?  No, and for that reason, you’ll be looking at different foods that might get your cooking mojo going.  Don’t forget the value of ethnic foods stores.  Often you can find great buys on fresh ingredients there.  I don’t normally make sushi or pozole, but if I visit an Asian market or tienda I am much more likely to be inspired to do so.
  • Cook seasonal foods.  I’m hungrier for soups and stews and rich, dark flavors as the weather chills.  For some reason, I often think of French and Irish foods this time of the year.  I’ve been to both countries and know that both have fantastic light dishes that are regular staples, but I so enjoy the deep earthly flavors of beef bourguignon and corn beef and cabbage and similar dishes. 
  • Have a recipe swap with friends.  If you’ve had email for any amount of time, you know what I’m talking about.  These recipe swap emails roll around at least once a year, and while a little corny, I usually glean at least one good recipe from the list.  I may not use it exactly as written, but it will give me a new idea for our dinner plates.

What about you?  As I said before, I welcome any ideas you have to help me get out of my cooking rut. 

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