So, I’m in a cooking rut. I have a bunch of cookbooks and recipes. I read the WFD and other similar threads. And yet I have maybe 30 meals in my repertoire that I keep repeating, repeating. Until I am quite sick of them. They mostly play into the protein/starch/veg plate or occasionally the one pot soup/stew/chili with a handful of dinner salads thrown in. I’d like to do some totally different things, but with a full time job, I don’t have too much time to play this game. If/when you all get totally in a cooking rut, how do you get out of it? Where do you go to for inspiration and education, how far do you veer from your tried and true, and how long does it last before you’re back to making the same old same old? Just curious… And also realize that my same old is not your same old. But I’m guessing everyone has standbys they return to.
We get a cookbook of the shelf and use that for inspiration.
My favourite cookbook writer, Nigel Slater, has a series of “Kitchen Diaries” where the recipes move through the year. Last year, we planned in several recipes each month from the books. It kept things varied and it kept them seasonal. He is also the master of the “easy dinner” so we will regularly decide that we’ll eat those lamb chops that are in the freezer and then look in one of his other books for inspiration. We don’t use his books exclusively of course, but they do give us a solution to the question you pose.
Two things that keep me from overly repeating myself are
-I keep spices handy, not tucked away.
-I prep ingredients so the fixing time is shorter
…and an important 3rd is I force myself to buy new/diff ingredients that then force me to try new approaches…even when it comes to simple meals like eggs.
But, those tried and true meals are still my standby favorites for a reason.
Google. We have a couple of dozen favorites and make about one of those each week. For the rest we pick a protein and then go looking for things. “Something with chicken.” “Something with pork.” Keep your searches vague and you’ll get a broader range of returns. In addition we get inspiration from cooking groups like HO, Facebook groups, and Reddit groups. On top of that are TV shows. Not cooking shows - there aren’t many of those that are worth anything anymore. A rerun of Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon Cooper eats Pad Thai led to chicken Pad Thai on the menu for dinner tonight. Someone on Eastenders eating fish and chips leads to baked tilapia with oven steak fries and a salad. Sometimes we cruise through restaurant menus online and pick things that look good to make at home. Before CV-19 we would sometimes order one of the last at the inspiring restaurant and conclude our rendition was better. grin A TV commercial for Kraft macaroni and cheese (the blue box) recently led us to our own homemade mac & cheese.
Inspiration is where you find it. I suggest the key is paying attention.
We meal plan on Sat for the next week. During CV-19 we shop less often and buy more so we keep a list of what we have that isn’t shelf-stable or in the the freezer. One of us double checks the fridge at least once each day. We have a side-by-side fridge/freezer which is a major PITA to keep organized so we have to stay on top of it. Sometimes something late in the week will be planned for “something with /pick your protein/.” Something sooner might include “use up avocado.”
We’re usually pretty good at sticking with our grocery list but sometimes inspiration strikes on the shelves. I recently bought Andouille sausage “off-list” specifically because it made me think of Louisiana red beans & rice. Kidney beans (close enough to red beans) and rice are pantry items and we generally have peppers and celery and NEVER run out of onions. Cornbread is easy from pantry items. We eat a lot of salad so that’s easy. All inspired by looking up at a shelf peg while picking up bacon.
If you are just getting started injecting more diversity into your cooking I suggest using the restaurant menu idea. Remember those are professionals trying really hard to offer different things all with the fewest possible different ingredients.
Thanks I appreciate these ideas. To share some more info that may help explain, I went in March from 3 nights a week at home (work) to at home every night. So I’m doing a hecking lot more cooking - hence wanting to do something interesting but fatigue at the notion. Also, I have pickiness at home. Not extreme. But one doesn’t like certain foods, one doesn’t like different foods. One has a nut allergy. Which means the circle of possibilities shrinks as well. Anyway, just kvetching. Don’t mind me
It’s tougher during covid (and when you’re really busy), but back when I was studying for my qualifying exam, my break would be to buy an ingredient I’d never cooked with before and figure out how to use it. During covid? So much of the same meal…
Kvetching, especially now, can be super healthy.
Besides foraging for inspiration here on HO, like @harters I have been poring through my cookbooks with a fresh eye lately.
Not sure where you are located, but the start of summer produce here and the ability to use the grill are bringing me fresh energy I need now.
And to the extent your family’s food preferences and budget might permit, including some pre-prepared food and/or takeout might offer you another boost. I’m the one who shops, decides, and cooks for us all the time—husband’s work time has been expanding—and I’ve been surprised how much even a minor break from the meal prep routine helps me.
Yes! When I am just sick of it all, we’ll do takeout. In fact, just bought sandwiches for lunch. We have a similar division of labor. I do 90% of the cooking, and meal planning, and he does 90% of the pot washing. We have different strengths
I do a lot of what you’re saying. The lesser frequency of going out has me making more bread and more Thai noodle dishes than I ever did. I’m famous in my house for building a meal out of 1 thing lying around that has seen better days. I also keep the pantry and freezer stocked. It’s just I have my fallbacks, and even though there is a large variety and diversity within them, if you’re eating 2x day that isn’t cereal, even a large selection will repeat too often. Monthly? I like the idea of picking some random ingredient and learning about it, or grabbing a cookbook off the shelf and going through it more methodically. I’ve not really done that before. Just have to find the time now. And of course, time is a tradeoff, as my husband always reminds me. There is not enough time to do all the things and also spend 90 minutes making dinner. So to do other things, sometimes one needs to interject hotdogs and pasta roni. I know it. I just don’t like it.
Well now we’re circling the drain. grin Medically diagnosed allergies are real. Picky is picky. Eat what I put in front of you or cook for everyone. Pick one. grump
Take out is a chance to try things to experiment with. Thai sticky rice and mango. Matzo brei. Something with goat. grin
Your point on fallbacks is well taken. For my wife it is soup in the freezer. For me it is pasta with home canned sauce.
Yes, a medical allergy. Nuts are no joke. But as for the picky, I do not bend to all of their whims, because I’m the one doing the work. Then again, I also don’t entirely ignore them, because what is the point of spending the time if they won’t eat it.
As others have said, I often get ideas from just going about my business - I’ll read something online or see something on tv that puts me in mind of a certain food or a particular cuisine. I’ll realize that a red pepper and a handful of mushrooms are in grave danger of going bad and find a way to make use of them. One thing that helps a lot is that I have big collection of recipes in a folder on my computer, and browsing through them often leads me someplace interesting. And I also keep a document called “dinner” where I save recipes designed to use up something I just bought in bulk, like green garlic or snow pea leaves.
Me too! I have a doc, I used to write all my meal ideas on it, then go through them for dinner. It was often prompted by grocery trips and either the produce or protein I’d picked up. The reason this doesn’t diversify things for me is because when I brainstorm, I only come up with stuff I’ve done and know how to do. It’s the stuff I don’t know that I don’t know. But the list is an excellent way to make sure your purchases don’t languish.
Don’t brainstorm. Type the names of several ingredients and the word “recipe” into your browser and let the Google brainstorm for you.
I’m thankful that I only have to feed myself so I don’t have family pickiness issues, but I also get into food funks and sometimes shear cooking or prep laziness. I get a meat share so I often have to vary stuff up to use up that particular cut of meat I have in my freezer. It’s been surprisingly fun and has forced me to find good preparations for cuts of meat I had never previous purchased.
In an attempt to be healthy, I also try to enforce an vegetarian dinner night at least once a week. You can pick whatever food you wish you ate more often (seafood? turkey?) and this includes cuisines that I don’t prepare much at home (e.g., Vietnamese? Indian?)
I’ll also second the buy different ingredients method. Maybe look for what’s on sale at your market and let that determine what foods you’ll cook that week - and be bold and go for the food sales that you don’t normally pay attention to. Even better - how about try a different market? Any ethnic markets in your area that you don’t regularly visit?