I often write about finding inspiration to cook in this column, for good reason. If you have to cook more often than once per week or some rare special occasion, you will understand how grandiose an effort it is to cook everyday. Days blur into one another and meals become as unsurprising as the experience of cooking itself. But it need not be so.
I once had an aunt whose house I would often visit after school to play with my cousins until it was time to go home. She had a wonderful nanny who took good care of us but was annoyingly predictable in the kitchen. I would soon recite the menu for the week because it was the same menu for each day of the week, every single week. I think it was that experience — dreading the days where I did not fancy the menu — that has made me so keen on always changing things up and having wild spontaneous fun in the kitchen. Variety is the spice of life. I believe we were given different tastes on our tongues so that we can enjoy countless combinations while we nourish ourselves.
Just like how eating something different, new and interesting forces you to broaden your horizons and enhances your life experiences, cooking something different has the same impact on your kitchen time.
For those of us who make several meals a day from scratch, it is often hard to just keep going with the same joy. This is the reason why good chefs and good restaurants change their menus every three months even though they may maintain a few “old faithful” dishes and often insert a “Special of the Day” when some great produce has arrived like alba truffles or wild salmon or foie gras. Change is the key to survival not only in the commercial kitchen, but also in the domestic kitchen.
Go places you have never gone before
I think the most important way to shake things up a bit and add some excitement back to your relationship with your kitchen is to go food shopping without a list. I do not want you to forget salt, so by all means write a short list of the basics you must get, but nothing more. Once you are in the market or supermarket, if “tomatoes” are on the list, look for a different kind, maybe even two or three to experiment with. Same thing with salt- try buying a different kind. If you always go for table salt, try sea salt, if you always go for wet sea salt, try sea salt flakes, and next time, pick up smoked sea salt.
If you need protein, think broader than chicken, lamb, tofu, cheese and beef. For poultry, try duck, quail, turkey. Try different cuts of lamb and beef too and splurge on the expensive ones when the budget allows.
When you walk through the spice aisle, grab some new spices that you have never, or not often cook with. Do the same with fresh herbs. You would be surprised as to how different chicken tastes with tarragon as opposed to parsley.
Try new cheeses. Buy in smaller portions when experimenting so that you will not have a huge amount of cheese that you cannot bring yourself to swallow.
Test out some new veggies and salad greens that you have never actually cooked yourself. Remember to get small samples first and then you can return for more once you have mastered those new ingredients.
If you eat grains and seeds, pick up new ones. Buckwheat, quinoa and millet are the new star children of ancient grains that have made a comeback. Right up there as well are chia seeds and flaxseed or linseeds.
When you arrive home with your new purchase and have no clue how to cook them, search the web for blogs like mine that will help you to cook through something you never cooked before.
Cooking and eating different foods not only spices up your kitchen and palate, but also provides a wider range of nutrition for you and those you cook for. If you are going to be cooking, you may as well enjoy it.