|Roasted Beets w/Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette|
One of my girlfriends and I were recently talking about our personal cooking habits -what inspires us, how we go about deciding what to make, the steps we take when making a meal. For dinner parties and other planned events, I'm pretty organized -lists of ingredients, several trips to the store, notebooks with menu ideas, etc. My day to day cooking, on the other hand, is completely different. It's the time I let my creativity flow, a time to experiment, to let my mind wander into unknown territories. Yet, as I thought more about my seemingly hodge-podge way of cooking, I realized there actually is a method to my madness.
- Contemplate Flavors. I generally start off by spending a few minutes thinking about what basic flavors I'm in the mood for. Think about what you're in the mood to eat --- spicy? sweet? savory? asian? italian?
- Scan Ingredients. Next I take a look through the refrigerator/pantry to see what ingredients I have on hand. Do I have spinach that's about to wilt? Cilantro that needs to get used? Cooking without a recipe becomes easy once you start regularly stocking fresh vegetables and herbs. I've made it a habit to shop for fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs over the weekend so I have them on hand for cooking during the week. I also like to keep certain standards in my pantry -like broth, tomato paste, pasta. Even though fresh is always best, there are certain shortcuts that just make life easier.
- Get Inspired. People think because I have a more free-style way of cooking, that I do it all on my own. I don't. I watch cooking shows. I love cookbooks and have subscriptions to food magazines. I spend hours flipping through the beautiful pictures and reading different recipes. I use them to inspire. Next time you want to make something, browse through different recipes; don't feel limited if you don't have all the ingredients. If you see a recipe that calls for cilantro, but only have fresh parsley -substitute it. It calls for chicken, but you only have fish. That's okay. You might just discover that what you end up creating is even better than the original.
- Be daring! Think outside the box. Let go of the thought that you have to have a recipe to cook. I know some of you may think, "That's ridiculous. How can I cook without a list of ingredients?" That's just fear talking. Fear of being imperfect, of letting go of old habits, of allowing your inner creativity to flow. If I didn't allow myself to experiment, I probably wouldn't make most of what I cook. Take beets, for example. I found myself preparing them the same way -plain, roasted with some olive oil -over and over. I never associated them with asian flavors, until one day when I just decided to try it out. I roasted them and topped them with a soy-ginger vinaigrette (above picture) and I ended up loving it. I do the same with leftovers, often combining ingredients I would never have thought would go together, ending up in a delicious fusion of flavors. (see below)
- Enjoy! Sit down, pour yourself a glass of wine, and ENJOY... it's tempting in this busy world of ours to just eat standing at the kitchen counter, but that's no way to enjoy a meal you've just poured your heart into. Sit down for a few minutes. Relax. Savor it.
|Leftover basmati rice and sauteed ginger asparagus. Add a fried egg and shredded parmesan...and voila, dinner.|