Help me out of my cooking funk - what is the absolute best thing you have ever made?
I am a pretty good cook but I am SO bored of everything I make. I feel like I stick with things that are safe and never go out of my comfort zone as I am afraid to waste my time and money on something that we might not like. I need some real winner dishes to get me out of this cooking funk. What are your very best dishes?
When I am bored an in a funk, instead of trying to think of real winner dishes, I take the opposite tack. I wonder what is something "disgusting" I could do for dinner tomorrow. It is sort of like our old college game of trying to think up a really weird name for a cocktail and then what would go into it (e.g. Crippled Hippototamus: Rose's lime juice, sauerkraut juice, and white rum). Something would either hit my funny bone or something creative would click. I got a nice stir fry of skirt steak, ginger, onions, garlic, fresh tomato and basil from that approach. It doesn't work every time, but often it will jar my awareness of ingredients I have been avoiding. Another approach is to go to the market, find something that you normally don't cook at a reasonable price, and let it take you where it will. That said, a few weeks ago something similar happened. I was asked to cook dinner for friends and had my menu in mind. I went with a mutual friend to the market. Some superb eggplant (which I hated as a kid) came in. I knew I had to make ratatouille. Never mind that I haven't made it twenty years. (Julia Child to the rescue.) The whole menu morphed around that. My beef entree became a braised pork shoulder with mushrooms, onions, garlic, and herbs. The salad I planned became a citrus salad that with my friend's suggestions became a platter of sliced grapefruit, oranges, avocados, pitted cherries, and oak leaf lettuce. The starch morphed into a rice pilaf with apricots and pine nuts. All because I let my imagination go with the eggplant. The interesting thing about the meal is that only the ratatouille was cooked from a recipe. Everything else was simply the result of playing with ingredients. (And I had the honor of being asked several weeks later for the reipe for the pork--for a 50th annivesrsary party!)
But if you want something possibly outside of your range of experience, but certainly delicious, go on line and pick up one of the many Mexican mole recipes. They usually have a long list of ingredeints but, in fact, are quite simple to prepare if you have a food processor.
One of my family's favorites (and one that a friend's teenager actually asked for again) is Chicken Asparagus Pasta. It's quick and simple. Take boneless chicken breasts and cut into bite-size pieces and trim asparagus to bite size pieces. Boil a large pot of salted water or better yet chicken broth. Cook penne, asparagus and chicken until each is done. I do it the lazy way and cook everything together, but you can cook everything separately. Drain. In a small skillet warm olive oil (about 1/2 cup) and the juice of about one lemon and a couple of cloves of garlic. I use Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic. Toss over pasta, chicken and asparagus. Sprinkle about 1 cup of Italian bread crumbs and toss until the mixture is fairly dry. Serve with grated parmesan if desired.
Another favorite is Lemon Chicken Spinach Pasta soup (sense a theme here?). Here is the recipe from Bon Appetit: http://www.recipesource.com/soups/soups/lemon-chicken1.html
My daughter (9) also makes Rachael Ray's Chicken Catchatory-Ravioli Soup. Very good. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ra...
Hope this helps.
Some ideas for ideas...
Go to the library and check out a few cookbooks. Then play the "pick a number" game, and rotate who picks. Whatever number gets picked is the page of the cookbook for the recipe for dinner. Base the meal around it. You can also do pick a number between X and Y for a main and Z and W for the side...
Take things you already make and adjust the components... i.e. instead of burritos with beans, try making burritos with sweet potatoes and turkey; or breakfast burritos. Instead of hamburgers, try salmon croquettes. Make breakfast for dinner - savory waffles and eggs. Asian flavored quesadillas. Mexican lasagna with tortillas, cheese, beans, chiles, sour cream, etc. Pizza with a new combo of flavors/ethnic sway ie Peking Duck with Hoisin or Greek Pizza with tomatoes, onions, feta, and cucumber sprinkled on after baking. Or do something fun like fondue, appetizers/tapas, or dips and dippers
Rotate cuisines - Mexican Monday, Thai Tuesday, etc. etc.
Go to the market with the kids and/or hubby. Let everyone pick out three ingredients, and figure out how to incorporate them together... like that show Chopped on Food Network....
Think about dishes you like in your favorite restaurants and try to replicate them at home.
And when all else fails, I roast a chicken :)
When I feel like that it's time to start flipping through cookbooks. If you don't have any that particularly appeal to you just now, head to the library or the bookshop and browse. At least that always helps to inspire me.
Also, that fear of wasting time and money on a dish you might not like? You need to get over that. If you cook, occasionally you're going to fail. That's just how it is. If you're lucky you get a good story out of it, and maybe some good takeout.
My current favorite dish for when I have a Sunday afternoon to dedicate to a great meal is Turkish manti. Tiny pinched dumplings are filled with seasoned lamb, baked twice (second time in a cinnamon- and clove-scented chicken broth), and topped with a garlicky yogurt, brown butter, and chile flakes.
For an everyday meal, I like the mahogany beef stew on the epicurious site. With hoisin sauce. I've followed the concensus modifications suggested by the comments to that recipe.
And for a non-everyday thing, the first thing that comes to mind is a vidalia onion pie (made with any kind of sweet onion that is slow roasted) in a caraway yeast crust.
Also a souffled curried squash tart in a cracker crust. Both of these are potluck or dinner party standards for me.
It's fun to think about these things and we all need inspiration.
Oh, great that the young'ns are adventurous. I was thinking...could you make it interesting by involving them somehow? How you do that would depend on their ages, I know, but... for example, could you have a family night every two weeks (or whatever) in which they're in charge of coming up with the menu? (And then you can cook, or have them join you in cooking, or whatever works for your family.)
But, for example, tell them such-and-such a date is going to be Italian or French or Greek or whatever regional night. Do they go online? Tell them each to research a course from Tuscany or Emilia-Romagna, or something that appeals to them from Provence or the Languedoc (or whatever country). Good way to teach them a little bit about geography, foreign culture and food.
Or, if they're still too young to do the menu planning, you could set the menu for International Night and involve them in shopping and prep as appropriate for their ages. Just thought it might help to motivate you if the focus is doing something with the babies, rather than just the nightly chore of coming up with what to serve.
I'm in the same boat you are, and was thinking of posting a thread. I like to cook, but...you know...after cooking for years and years, it's just hard for me to come up with a new idea for dinner every night that's really new and different.
Sometimes when I get in a slump like this I find the best approach to reinvigorate myself is not necessarily to cook something exotic or complicated, but instead to cook something relatively fundamental that I know will turn out well.
The best dish I know for this purpose is James Beard's basic chicken saute. I don't know; it's simple--chicken, dry white wine, parsley and butter, S&P--that's it. But something about the technique he prescribes... the wine and the chicken marry so softly and beautifully. My mother used to make it regularly, and I have friends make it for me, and I've made it often enough, and it always turns out just right. It reminds of me of what a gift simple food prepared well can be, and that often gets me motivated again. It's perfect for Sunday supper in the winter, but with the right accompaniments, it can also be a special occasion meal for guests.
I think it's in The James Beard Cookbook, but I have a copy of it written out my mother, if you'd like the recipe. But if you're looking for something more dramatic or unique, I understand. (Believe me, I do!)
My favorite end of summer dish lately is this goofy casserole-gratiny thing. Skin then cube up 2 big eggplants (or a bunch of Asian eggplants, skin on) and toss them in a hot oven with EVOO to roast. While they roast, saute veggies till brown (the important thing is to make sure you're actually sauteeing, not sweating-- this should take a while to do in batches): sweet peppers (1 yellow, 1 orange, 1 red) and lots of red onion. Brown the best ground spicy italian sausage you can find. Throw in about 5 cloves diced garlic towards the end. Layer all this good stuff (with the eggplant) in a 9x13 pan, making sure to throw in absolute scads of chopped fresh basil. When the pan is full up, put tomato slices on the top. Bake. When nearly done, throw on your favorite blend of pungent, salty cheese. Brown. Inhale and tell yourself the veggie intake outweighs the fat content.
Try delving into your ethnic heritage and see what you can mine there. I've been experimenting with Polish and Hungarian (sorry Grandma, no Russian yet...) and it's kind of fun to try dishes I've never attempted. May I suggest pierogies? So delicious; who wouldn't like potatoes and cheese wrapped in doughy goodness? They are not hard to make and you could get your kids to help you with rolling and cutting the dough. adam
One way to get out of a funk is to make dishes in a completely different way. Start with the base (meat, chicken, veg) and take a different flavor with it and then let it follow through with the sides, etc. Braise, if you normally fry or grill instead of bake or pan roast instead of sauteing. That also allows you to be more creative with different cuts of familiar meat, poultry, etc. and seasonal ingredients to round out your meals.
Most of the best meals I've made had to do with a fond memory of meals growing up like my dad's shish kebab bbqs and my mom's chowder & summer clam bakes. Now I make a grilled leg of lamb, and only do summer clam bakes here when mom's in town, since I live in LA & can't get east coast clams here easily. Anyway, the key is to go with the foods you've always loved.
And other great meals I've made are based on stellar restaurant meals, some going way back. Not like the French Laundry best or molecular science best. But just wonderful flavors that I can recreate into a meal with all the flavors that remind me of that place.
Right now, we grill a lot and I like to braise when I have a free few hours on the weekends. That way I've got reheatable dinners almost all week. And can make fish or a stir fry or taco dinner for the nights in between. And I just try to use what the season is producing at the moment.
I also read a lot of magazines (food) and research a lot of recipes online. That gets me interested in new things to try also! Good luck!
That's interesting - making dishes in a diff way. Riffing on that, a few weeks ago I made corn "chowder" risotto (and I'm not even much of a risotto person). It wasn't really chowder of course, but I made an intensely flavoured corn risotto using the ingreds you'd put in a corn chowder, w mushrooms standing in for the potatoes. Made a corn stock from the cobs, started it off with GOOD bacon. I wanted to make the corniest :-) dish I could. It was pretty corny.
Not sure that I have a single "best" thing I've ever made, but this is a regular favorite of my guests (and I've handed out this recipe numerous times). It actually tastes better the next day. Serve with rice. Makes 4-6 servings.
West African Groundnut (Peanut) Stew
Nketia Fla (en-KEH-tee-ah flaw)
1-1/2 to 2 lbs. skinned chicken parts (I use thighs or leg quarters split into thighs and drumsticks; you can use skinless thighs as well, but not breasts)
-can also use 1-1/2 lbs. chuck or round steak
1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Dried red peppers (crushed) or cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 can stewed tomatoes (plain) or diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1 plantain, chopped
1 sweet potato, chopped
¾ to 1 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
In 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat, brown chicken or beef (need not be completely cooked through). Remove when done. In same pot, add 1 tablespoon oil and onions over medium heat. Cook until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two, being careful not to let garlic burn.
Add tomatoes, ginger, pepper, and salt. Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add water and reserved chicken or beef. Turn heat up to high and add plantain and sweet potato. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer (covered) for 30-40 minutes, until meat is tender. Remove about ¼ to ½ cup of stew liquid and mix it with peanut butter in a bowl. Stir peanut butter mixture back into stew. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring frequently. If needed, add more water to thin stew. Season to taste with more salt and red pepper. Serve over rice.
Oh, I love making a version of that soup! I use browned dark chicken meat, chicken broth, no plantain, probably more PB, more heat, and lots of spinach, just folded in to wilt thoroughly at the end. So good. I've taken it into work before in a crockpot, too, and even picky eaters gave in and enjoyed it.
one of my favorite easy weeknight dinners is Buffalo Chicken Wraps, which I came across in "Cuisine at Home" a couple years ago:
Buffalo Chicken Wraps
1 lb boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite size pieces (I like thighs)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cajun seasoning
1/3 c. lime juice
1/3 c. honey
2-3 T. hot pepper sauce (tabasco, etc) (+/- to taste)
whole butter lettuce leaves
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
1 cucumber, seeds removed, finely diced
blue cheese dressing, homemade or store bought
Mix chicken, salt, and cajun seasoning in a medium bowl. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan, add chicken, and saute until browned and almost cooked through
In a small saucepan combine lime juice, honey, and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Pour oven chicken, then cook for another 2-3 minutes until the sauce has formed a nice glaze on the chicken
Assemble wraps (usually at the table) by spooning some of the chicken mixture onto a lettuce leaf. Top with carrot, celery, cucumber, and a dollop of blue cheese. Enjoy!
I think the tastiest thing I ever made was an hors d'oeuvre at my last 4th of July party. It was a phyllo-wrapped triangle, containing shredded, cooked chicken, pine nuts, ras el hanout seasoning, and salt to taste. Wrap in the phyllo (with copious amounts of butter between each layer!) then bake at 375-400 until crisp and golden. Wish I had a more specific recipe for you, but it was really on the fly. Of course you could also use the same seasonings to do a tagine with couscous, pine nuts, and maybe some dried fruit in there too (raisins, apricots, prunes). But yeah, that combo of flavors is just amazing.