I'm often asked, "How do you make new recipes? Where do your ideas come from?" These are fair questions to ask and ones that I expect to hear. The kitchen can be intimidating at its best and foreign at its worst. It reminds me of what I tell my kids when I'm shuttling them to sports practice, "Do your best! Practice makes you better."
New ideas and recipes in the kitchen are a reflection of my curiosity about food and cooking. I've loved food and cooking for as long as I can remember. When I was 7 years old I got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas and it still stands in history as my favorite Christmas present. Armed with 100 watts of cooking power and my included arsenal of "Just Add Water!" mixes, I could choose my own kitchen adventures. When my packets ran out I started experimenting with baking sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or anything else I could scavenge from the kitchen. Sometimes things tasted great and other things tasted terrible. Since then, I can't begin to count the number of times I have burned dishes, made awful flavor combinations, cut things horribly, or timed things inaccurately. But no matter how good or bad my finished product is, another meal time is never too far away. I learn from it and try again. Practice. Practice. Practice.
My recipe ideas come from a broad range of places, but they all require practice because it's rare that my first run through a new recipe idea turns out perfectly. I start by grabbing my handy notebook out of the kitchen cupboard. Then I quickly jot down what I'm planning to do and keep the notebook and a pen on the kitchen counter while I give the recipe a try.
If I change an ingredient or the method while I'm cooking, I'll make a quick note. When the new dish is finished and our family eats it, we'll talk about what did and didn't work. Because my kids have watched a few cooking shows they usually muster their most adult sounding voices and say something like, "I like the flavors of the sauce, but the rice is weird." It makes me chuckle to hear them talk about food with such an authoritative tone. But I encourage them to try new foods and flavors and to think about what it is that they specifically do or don't like in different dishes. When we're finished eating I'll jot down another quick note of our criticisms and what I'll do differently next time.
The goal of cooking isn't perfection, but enjoyment and improvement in the process. If you want to try new things in the kitchen, then get daring and creative and embrace any failure that may come. One great place to start is to think of a dish that's your favorite to order at a restaurant. Could you make it at home? Could you replicate the main flavors of that dish, but turn it into something slightly different? Maybe its flavors could be featured in an omelet, panini or pizza. Maybe you can switch the protein of the meal from chicken to seafood. Maybe you can change the grain from noodles to potatoes.
If you want to start with a blank slate, focus on one new ingredient or method. If you see an intriguing food at the grocery store or farmers market, then buy it and give it a whirl. Choose a new cooking method, research it a little and then give it go. If you approach cooking with a spirit of adventure then you’ll find new foods and flavors constantly beckoning you to give them a try. Go for it! The results can be delicious and there’s fun to be had along the way.