Inspiration: Where to Find it, How to Organize It

9 Dec

I think the main reason I cook so often is that I’m pretty sure life is too short to:

1. try every single recipe I want to…. there are thousands..

2. waste time eating things that aren’t delicious and/or new!

Of course I don’t live by this second principle all the time – sometimes there is just simply not time to cook something fancy for every meal of the day.  However, I do like to get in the kitchen as often as possible.  It makes me happy to eat delicious food, and I figure, if eating is that important to me, I better figure out how to cook the things I like myself!

I’ve been collecting recipes for years.  I am definitely that person at a party making people write down their recipes for me.  However, I think it’s probably very normal and easy to be uninspired when it comes to food (especially on any given weekday night when you just can’t bear trying to figure out what to cook).  But, I’ve never really met anyone who didn’t like to eat delicious food.  If you like to eat, but don’t like to cook, I think here are several places you should look for inspiration to get in the kitchen.  Learning to cook will allow you to eat delicious foods anytime you like!  It’s a miracle! :)  Anyway, I’m getting carried away.  My main sources of inspiration have been:

  • Family & Friends – These are the recipes we all grew up with.  They may be simple, but they have been well-tested and perfected over many years.  These are great recipes to start cooking with, since they are likely relatively uncomplicated and you can learn first-hand from people you know. 
  • Restaurants – There have been many, many times where I have eaten something in a restaurant and then am inspired to try it at home.  Pay attention to what you’re eating and how you think they made it.  I now have developed this .. thing (problem? obsession?).. where I only order things at a restaurant that I know I can’t yet make at home.  I feel like it’s a waste to order something that I know I can easily replicate at home (for example, simple salads or burgers, etc.).  Since now I only like to eat more complicated or exotic dishes out, these dishes continue to inspire me.  Maybe I’m weird?
  • Cooking shows – As cliché as it sounds, a lot of what I know about cooking has come from watching cooking shows.  My ultimate favorite is Top Chef – I’m a die-hard fan.  But in terms of learning, the instructional shows are more useful.  I don’t necessarily make the exact recipes that I’ve seen on the shows, but in general it inspires me to get in the kitchen.
  • Foodgawker – This is like porn for foodies.  I LOVE this website.  It is a website composed of user-submitted pictures of food from their blogs.  I started saving so many recipes that I had to cut myself off for a few months.  It got out of hand.  But then I discovered Pinterest, which serves as a great way to organize the recipes you find online that you want to try (you can “pin” any page/picture you like).  Hopefully soon I’ll start submitting recipes to Foodgawker and link my Pinterest account to the blog, so you can see what I’m pinning.
  • Magazines – I subscribe to Everyday Food and Food Network Magazine, both of which I highly recommend.  FN Magazine has a very clean and easy-to-follow layout, with a wide range of recipes, from quick, week night meals to more involved, technique-centered recipes.  Everyday Food is great too – all the recipes seem to be relatively simple, yet gourmet, with short ingredient lists usually.  These food magazines are more accessible for the beginning cook (I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit, but with less pictures and more advanced recipes, I wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner).  I have found a lot of great recipes in Real Simple magazine also.
  • Cookbooks – I own far too many.  I read them like novels, cover to cover.  As far as which ones, a must-have is a good reference cookbook (I recommend Joy of Cooking, Bittmann’s How to Cook Everything, and/or Better Homes and Gardens).  I also own many specialty cookbooks.  My ultimate favorites have been: Thomas Keller’s ad hoc at HomeThe New England Soup Factory Cookbook, and Everday Food’s Great Food Fast).  Also, did you know you can borrow cookbooks from the library?!  I do this all the time now to find new recipes. 

Now, possibly just as important as inspiration is organization.  I only started doing this in the past few years, when I realized I had such an enormous collection of recipes that I liked in various books and magazines and online, etc. but I was never trying any of them out!  That’s when I realized it’s pertinent to organize them in a way that will make you reach for them when you need an idea.

This is my system:

 

I have a filing box that has multiple hanging files and tabs to organize the recipes I want to try.  Within the file box the tabs are: Appetizers, Sides, Salads, Soups, Entrees (divided into Vegetarian, Pasta, Chicken, Meat, Seafood, Sandwiches), Breads, Desserts and Miscellaneous (including drinks, sauces, etc).  If you are less of a recipe hoarder, you can start with less tabs.  I like this system because when I’m trying to plan dinners for the week, I ask myself what I’m in the mood for (Chicken? Seafood?), go into the folder, and look through my recipe choices. 

If I try, and love, a recipe, it gets moved to my “Tried and True” binder, which has tab dividers with similar labels as above.  The recipes are 3-hole punched, put in sheet protectors, or, if they are index card sized, they are put in those plastic photo album sheets. 

With any recipe that makes it to my “keeper” binder, I make sure to take notes on it, listing my modifications, likes and dislikes, etc.  That way, the next time I make it, I’m not wondering “wait, wasn’t there something I didn’t like about this recipe?”.

This system has taken care of all of my printed out, photocopied and  magazine recipes, and has SIGNIFICANTLY increased the amount of recipes I try.  I still have an enormous stack of Food Network Magazines I need to go through, since I have subscribed and kept every issue since the very first one and tried not to rip out any recipes.  I’m abandoning that and starting to go through them and take out recipes, because I have realized that I NEVER go back and try to “find” recipes from old magazines – the recipes need to be out and more easily available.

There are still other things I need to improve on too:

  • I am trying to use Pinterest more to keep all my online recipes organized in one place. 
  • I need a new system for my cookbooks.  Right now, all of my cookbooks have post it notes marking recipes I want to try, but as with magazines, I never go and open a cookbook to find recipes I want to try, because they are not organized in any way.  My new idea is:  when I go through a cookbook and see a recipe I want to try, I will write on an index card the recipe name, which cookbook it’s in, and what page it’s on.  Then, I will put these index cards in the appropriate file in my “Recipes to Try” file box.  That way, all my cookbook recipes will also be included when I’m searching for a chicken recipe, or whatever type it is.  This will save a lot of time and photocopying.

So clearly, I still have work to do too.  But hopefully you will feel more ambitious in finding recipes, knowing that you will have a way to organize them and find them again when you want to try them.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress :)

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