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Best sources of inspiration - what do you do when you run out of ideas?

The past few months have been a delight for me in the kitchen as I have developed a more solid foundation as a cook. I seem to have hit a goldmine of creativity and inspiration which has resulted in pretty yummy food and allowed me to branch out and discover some favorite new dishes and learn quite a good deal in the realm of cooking techniques and skill. However, in the past few days or so I seem to have lost my mojo and don't seem to be stimulated to the same level of excitement which has resulted in my adventures to create the perfect dish with the best ingredients while developing my preparation, cooking and presentation skills. This excitement seems to range from the simple to the more complex-I have been just as thrilled to concoct a delicious holiday meal as to figure out a good way to use up grape tomatoes and mushrooms. I think this is perhaps the motivation for many of us who have a passion for food and cooking. Of course there are the old favorites, but the real joy in my adventures of the past few months has been really getting into the kitchen to practice the art of cooking. I am often inspired by some fresh ingredient in the store, a product at home that needs to be used, a simple craving for a combination of foods which I haven't ever cooked together before, a blog post that I happen across, but it seems lately that my new found creativity and exploration has taken a dive. What do you do when you run out of ideas? What inspires you in the kitchen-cookbooks, magazines, fresh and available ingredients, etc?

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  1. I pick up a bag of veggies every week from my CSA. There are always a few surprises in the bags. And, there are weeks that I have one veggie or another "coming out of my ears". I find this really keeps me on my toes to use the vegetables in a new way or just to use them up period. I get vegetables that I wouldn't particularly choose at the grocery store if left to my own meal planning.

    I also am a cookbook addict. Even if I'm not cooking recipes directly from the cookbooks they do inspire me. And, of course, I spend my fair share of time browsing CH!

    4 Replies
    1. re: pagesinthesun

      Every now and then I have an "OMG, I've lost the will to cook" hour or day or two. So, I don't cook, live with the gloom and somehow the mojo returns. Meanwhile, a lazy way to seek inspiration - way lazier than pulling out cookbooks - is to keep hitting the "surprise me" button on smittenkitchen.com until something piques my interest.

      1. re: janeh

        Hey I never noticed that button on SK. How fun! Already found a new apple crisp recipe :)

        1. re: juliejulez

          How have I missed that button too? very cool!

        2. re: janeh

          Yup, I've learned not to beat myself up when the mojo can't be found. We have nights of breakfast for dinner when that happens. Has never failed that in a couple of days, I'm bored and back into something cooking on the stovetop, something else in the oven, and a baked good cooling on the counter!

      2. Make a "Chopped" basket. Take four ingredients from your freezer, pantry, and fridge, then force yourself to use them in a dish. I love doing this.

        1. CH What's for Dinner thread has been great recently. Even though I skip over all recipes / meals with sausage, there are plenty of ideas for my needs.

          Aging ingredients in the pantry, freezer or (especially) refrigerator are often the source of "must use" inspiration.

          Favorite flavors -- if not my own, then my spouse's -- will get me started. The lemon salad dress and lemon pasta sauce from What's for Dinner both met that, and lemon hollandaise for asparagus looped into it as well.

          Sometimes, though, it's just nice to have a meal out and let someone else do the cooking (and cleanup). Returning to the kitchen refreshed after a day of rest may be all that's needed.

          2 Replies
          1. re: MidwesternerTT

            Indeed, the WFD thread has inspired quite a few meals for me. In fact this Saturday I spotted a bruschetta chicken recipe which inspired my own version which looked and probably tasted quite different but I was off to the races once the idea was in my head.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              WFD really inspires me. The ideas range from quick, easy and basic all the up to fine dining at home. I don't think I could ever run out of inspiration on this site.

          2. I read a large amount of food blogs, and that's where I get most of my ideas. Actually I confess I don't read them. I follow many on Pinterest and Facebook, and will check on a few... if the recipe of the day looks good I read on, otherwise I just close it out. I will also occasionally buy a new cookbook that strikes my fancy. This is the one I'm working with right now, it was reviewed on one of the blogs I read and it looked interesting: http://www.amazon.com/One-Pan-Two-Pla... I was getting stuck when having to come up with good things to make for 1 or 2 people since many of what I find are for 4+... and while I love leftovers, I get sick of eating the same stuff 3 days in a row. I'm making my first dish from it on Thursday.

            Also, in March I was "working my way through the freezer/pantry". Some of it was because of finances, but some of it was because I just wanted a challenge and I had a too full freezer. Doing that instead of buying new stuff all the time lends itself to creativity I think. Not everything I made in March was great, and this past week I was getting pretty bored, but the first few weeks were a fun challenge.

            I also had fun making the tikka masala from March's DOTM. I had never made anything close to indian food before, so that was a good introduction and I'm on the lookout for more recipes to make in that realm.

            1. You mean besides the wealth of information pouring out of the pages of this site?

              well if CH should ever fail me..........food blogs from all sorts of sources most def. fill in the rest.

              1 Reply
              1. re: HillJ

                Yes, I get many an idea from Chowhound and when I get an idea Chowhound is the place to help me refine that idea to make it successful which is why I love this place though recently nothing has really inspired me but of course with every new post is a potential new idea.