Monday, March 16, 2015

10 Ideas for Cooking Inspiration

Considering our blog's name is Cooking Inspiration, we thought it's fitting to write about what inspires us when we cook and bake. There are so many outlets to get recipes from and sometimes it's hard to narrow down what you're actually looking for. Even when you have go-to recipes, it's good to change it up once in a while, and there are days where we wonder, what should we make today? Here are 10 ideas to look for some inspiration.

1. Media - Books, magazines, websites, television shows, etc.

There are countless sources for recipes in the media like recipe books, food magazines, food blogs, and cooking shows. Start browsing a few that you find interesting, try some recipes, and soon enough you'll have favorites that you rely on more often. Some examples of sources we use are Serious Eats, America's Test Kitchen, Food Wishes, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, and Jacques P├ępin's Complete Technique.

2. Make your way through an entire cookbook

It's easy to buy a cookbook and then at most make only handful of dishes from it. Challenge yourself by making sure you go through all the recipes from start to finish. You'll have more variety in what you make and chances are that you'll also learn something new.

3. Look to your favorite chefs

People usually have a few favorite chefs. There are countless renown chefs and most of them have cookbooks or television shows. It helps narrow down your sources if you're looking for recipes from a specific chef and you'll be more interested to find ideas from your favorite ones.

4. Reinvent/modify existing recipes

Once you get the hang of cooking and baking, you'll start to become familiar with how to modify recipes according to your preferences and what you know tastes good. Recipes you find become a base or just guidelines to help you create something you might start to make regularly. If you're more of a beginner baker or cook, it makes sense to follow recipes more closely at first, but you can still reinvent or modify them by making variations of recipes or making small adjustments. For example, you can take inspiration from other cuisines to reinvent a dish. We've created burritos using Korean style fried chicken we made combined with rice and pickled nappa cabbage, radish and carrot as the filling. One of our variations of recipes is a combination of flan and panna cotta or flanna cotta.

5. Recreate a dish you've had at a restaurant

Sometimes you have a delicious dish from a restaurant that you'd want to eat it again. What better way than to recreate it and make it yourself? You can look for a similar recipe or create one on your own based on your memory of the dish. For example, we tried recreating a halibut dish with an aromatic spice broth from Jean-Georges in NY. We ended up creating our own aromatic spice broth by using what we knew about the dish, which had a light curry flavor and included zucchini, and added ingredients that we knew went well with those flavors like jalapeno pepper and lemongrass.

6. Work with complementing flavors

We can easily see that some ingredients pair well with others like peanut butter and jelly, but some combinations are not as intuitive until you try them together. Savory ingredients tend to pair well with sweet ingredients, and there are some ingredients, like bacon, that go well with many other things. Some flavors that work well together in desserts include strawberry and tarragon, raspberry and thyme, maple and bacon, and green tea and white chocolate.

7. Create dishes based on ingredients you have on hand

More often than not, you probably have what seems like a random list of ingredients in the fridge which are likely left over from dishes you've made recently. Some of those ingredients may actually go together and help you make something new. It's also great to know how to cook with few ingredients and make do with what you have.

8. Family recipes/childhood favorites

Your parents, grandparents or relatives may have recipes they've passed down for generations or they might make something often enough that they know the ingredients and proportions by heart. Now all you have to do is ask your family for a recipe or learn how to make it from them. There may even be some favorite dishes you've had growing up that you can now learn how to make yourself.

9. Experiment with new ingredients

Some ingredients can be very exotic or unfamiliar because you've never used them before. It can be fun to experiment with these kinds of ingredients to learn or try something new. You can also use ingredients in recipes you wouldn't normally think to find them in. New ingredients that we've tried include celeriac (also called celery root), kohlrabi, and dandelion greens. We turned celeriac into a mash much like mashed potatoes, used kohlrabi as a replacement for cabbage in slaw, and stir fried dandelion greens Asian style with minced garlic and served with oyster sauce. We've also used beets as a main ingredient to make vegan red velvet cake.

10. Learn and use new techniques, equipment and non-traditional ingredients

Another fun thing about cooking is learning to use new techniques and equipment that allow you to make something interesting. Recently, we've been playing with dry and wet brining, sous vide cooking and sodium citrate. Brining, whether wet or dry, seasons meat and allows it to retain its moisture during cooking. Sous vide cooking uses a hot water circulator and allows food to be cooked and held at their ideal temperature (this does a lot of interesting things with regards to texture and flavor; in general, very delicious things). Lastly, sodium citrate is an emulsifying salt seen in products like Velveeta and Kraft Singles; we use it in lieu of a roux in macaroni and cheese and it allows for a cleaner cheese flavor as well as some interesting cheese combinations. Trying new things gives you the opportunity to make something better and more delicious, and isn't that what becoming a better cook is all about?

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