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Feb 2, 2011 10:08 PM

My Dinners Are Going Downhill, Help!

I am really struggling with dinner these days. I know I am a decent cook and I have all the tools but lately my food just isn't coming out the way it used to. I find myself struggling for inspiration.

I think it started when I bought a certain TV chef's book (we'll call him tf) and made a few recipes all of which came out horribly. I embarrassed myself and a good friend with a nasty salty meatball rendition for his birthday and made another dish which my husband passed on for a ham sandwich. Yikes! Normally I am known for my good cooking but these were disastrous. Ever since then I feel like I am losing my edge.

The food I want to cook I would call upscale comfort food or maybe bistro. I like cookbooks but I have a hard time finding books on the food I want to cook. I also have a one year old son so not a lot of time for cooking classes. We do eat a variety of things although I never really developed those "go-to recipes" but i am not afraid to try things. We enjoy Japanese, Italian, American and the occasional Mexican or Thai restaurant.

I should also say that I feel like my food is always better in the summer. Roast chicken with smashed potatoes and a corn and nectarine or caprese salad is heaven for me. I just want to make good comforting food that my husband looks forward to each night and brags about at work the next day.

Any tips, recipes, ideas or cookbooks that can help get me out of this slump? Has anyone else gone through something similar? Is it too much to want to make restaurant comfort food without cooking school?

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  1. I don't mean to sound simplistic...but did you try some of the recipes here? There is a thread for everything!!! Really, most are very "tried and true". There is even a thread for favorite Epicurious recipes.

    Two food network people that I like for everyday inspiration and comfort food are Rachel Ray and Giada Everyday Italian. Both have plenty of Bistro style pasta, soups, sandwiches, salads & sides that are easy to add your own spin to- even when tired after work. I consider them "no brainer" weekday inspirations. I rarely follow the recipe exactly, but I think.." oh, yeah, a simple artichoke parm pasta with a salad sounds good tonight"..." I'll add that leftover chicken"... etc.
    Maybe save the Julia Child ( and "ultimate" ) recipes until you get your mojo back?

    Edit: if anyone scoffs at RR for bistro food, I highly recommend her saltimbocca veal burgers, Lamb Patties on Fattoush salad or Scotch Salmon with Farfalle...all very bistro, easy and quick.

    1. Don't worry about having a "off" period. I've been through it to, and the best way to get through it is start simple and don't think too much about it. I agree with the above post - there are lots of recipes here. But here are a few of my weeknight, easy, comforty staples that I do: (I'm cooking for 2)

      Pasta and Brussel Sprouts (on epicurious, but I improvise)
      slice a container of brussel sprouts, saute in oil, cook a half box fettuccini, toss with brussel sprouts, butter and parm cheese.

      Pasta and Cauliflower
      Boil short pasta (like penne). Saute a little pancetta till crispy, remove. Saute 1 head of cauliflower chopped in pancetta rendering (and oil if needed), till browned. Drain pasta reserving some water. Mix with cauliflower, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, bread crumbs, pancetta and parmesean.

      Chicken cutlets (I don't know why, but for years I refused to make these, then I got back into the habit) breaded and sauteed.
      Kale Salad - caramelize a red onion, toss over torn kale, add goat cheese crumbles, drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

      Chicken and artichokes (on another thread, and I realized how much I liked it)
      Saute chunks of chicken with garlic, add canned or frozen artichokes, squeeze a lemon over and add oregano and fresh parsley. Make sure artichokes are warmed through. Serve with rice or couscous.

      Lucy's Pasta
      Cook spaghetti/linguine. Carmelize 2 onions. Mix onions with 1 egg, 1/2 cup grated cheese and 1/2 cup parsley. Toss over pasta and let the heat of the pasta cook the egg.

      Hope one of them works for you.

      1. The Barefoot Contessa Recipes would be a good place too

        1. Amanda,
          Feel your pain-sort of... Much easier to get into a winter slump here in Pittsburgh than California! Besides cookbooks I've got 12 binders of recipes I've collected over the years. I consider this on "my" best. I'ts K Paul original shrimp creole recipe. Defiantly not a weeknight dish homemade shrimp or fish stock a must and a long cooking process but magic.


          1. There are lots of times when I can't be bothered to give dinner much thought and those are days that I'll come here for inspiration. The What's For Dinner threads always has brilliant ideas and the helpful additions from posters can get your creative juices flowing as you think about the ways you might tweak a recipe to fit your upscale comfort food style.

            4 Replies
            1. re: JungMann

              Jung your the man how bout throwing us one of your best :)


              1. re: don515

                I think a poster here, linguafood, was far more inspiring this past year when one was in need of inspiration. In fact a couple of experiments I had earlier were very much inspired by some of what I read posted in WFD.

                1. re: JungMann

                  The JMann is right - go to the Home Cooking board and type in "What's For Dinner" in the search, and you'll find 71 threads with 200+ posts each filled with people sharing their dinner ideas and getting inspired by each other. It's a great resource. And tho he's absolutely right about linguafood and her delicious meals, JungMann has himself been an inspiration many a time. Don't despair, and good luck!

                  1. re: JungMann

                    aww. that just made my day :-D. thanx, young man. of course, for every inspiration, i have a failed dinner to show for, too! trial & error, and the occasional good eats...