It happens to the best of us. Despite the stacks of dog-eared cooking magazines piled high on our coffee tables, the eclectic cookbook collections that fill our bookshelves, or even our best intentions of whipping up delicious fare for our families, dinnertime can turn into an uninspiring rotation of the same handful of reliable recipes, week after week, month after month.
As a personal chef, I make my living preparing meals for individuals and families alike, but professional experience aside; I’m still a busy working mom who’s often stymied by the age-old question – “What’s for dinner?”
When I get caught in a dinnertime dead zone, I rely on six sure-fire tips that always help get my creative cooking juices flowing.
1. Cabinet Foraging
Remember the electric pasta machine you absolutely had to have? The meat grinder you picked up on a whim? Or the sorbet maker that was so on sale it would’ve been a sin not to buy? If you’re like me, many of these items are lucky to have been used once before assuming their position in the Cabinet of Forgotten Gadgetry, where instead of inspiring your culinary endeavors, they now sit gathering dust. There’s no better way to dig yourself out of a rut and make the most of money already spent than to find the dustiest piece of equipment in your kitchen and put it to use. Odds are the new gear will force you to pull out a new recipe or revisit an old, forgotten favorite.
2. Travel the Globe
No passports or long airport security lines required! Choose a city or country that you love or that you’re curious about and scour your cookbooks or the internet for a recipe or dish that flavorfully represents that locale. Take a stroll through your grocery store’s international food aisle for further inspiration. You’ll be doing double duty as you savor new ingredients and learn about foods from far way (or close at hand) lands.
3. Buy Something You’ve Never Seen Before
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is simple. On your next visit to the produce section, spend a few extra minutes taking in the scene, keeping your eye out for your next great ingredient. You’ll know it when you see it, because you won’t know what it is when you see. Walk right up to that mystery vegetable or other-worldly-looking fruit and pop it right into your reusable shopping bag. Most produce sections have a kiosk or recipe rack featuring info and recipes on how to use various fruits and vegetables. Armed with a free recipe and your mystery produce, your plated adventure can’t be far behind.
4. Face Your Biggest Food Fear
Just the mere mention of the word soufflé can cause fear in the hearts of many home cooks. For others, it’s roasting a whole chicken, making pie crust from scratch or deep-frying anything. I am deathly terrified at the prospect of making Turducken (a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck that’s stuffed with a deboned chicken. Seriously.) However simple or complex, identify the one thing that makes you afraid to step into the kitchen, find a recipe for it and make it. That’s it. Just make it. You’ll likely conquer your food fear and add a new recipe to your repertoire to boot.
5. Take a Cooking Class
One quick internet search or browse of the phone book (remember those?) and no matter where you live, you’re likely to find several places where you can learn to chop, braise and sauté from a pro. Taking a recreational cooking class will give you an opportunity to learn a new skill or two and you’ll go home with several new recipes in hand. Besides the recipes, you’ll also have a chance to bounce your cooking questions off a trained professional. Most cooking schools offer a choice of classes that are hands-on, where you’ll actually get to cook; or demonstration, where you get to sit back and watch the instructor in action. Either way, you’ll leave with some level of familiarity with the recipes, making it more likely that you’ll give them a go at home.
6. Become a Locavore for a Day
Jumpstart your cooking and help save the environment by becoming a locavore for a day. You’ll only be eating foods that are grown or harvested within a 100-mile radius of your hometown, but not to worry, you’ll still have plenty to choose from at your local farmers’ markets and at some higher end grocery stores that make a point of offering locally grown foods. These different, fresher selections may give you a new pool of foods to choose from and fresher food can only breed fresh ideas for how to prepare them.
Keep these tips handy and you’ll be ready to face your next dinner dilemma with ease.