Normally, I put a new recipe up on Tuesdays under this header. This week, I struggled to come up with something that I’ve already made and have photos of, and although I’ve lots of plans to try new dishes (making tortillas, anyone?), my weekend of travel hasn’t left me with enough energy to try much that’s new.
But I was thinking about tweaking recipes. This is what makes a recipe “mine” as well as allowing me to be creative with my cooking. Friends have asked “how I do it,” and professed that they don’t possess that type of creativity, but I honestly just mix flavours and see how it goes. I really think most people can do it; they might need permission to try, or simply need the encouragement to give it a whirl.
Let’s face it – cooking isn’t like mudding drywall where you have to be extremely precise and any mistakes photo © 2006 Rene Schwietzke | more info (via: Wylio)
you make will be visible in the final product (a smooth wall). It’s much more like mixing cement – you want your ratios right, but there can be some differences in the final product and still have it work as it should. Maybe construction analogies aren’t the most appealing to take to the kitchen, but they work.
Think about flavours you enjoy – and don’t try this in baking for a while. Start with regular cooking because baking tends to be a more precision-based art than regular cooking. If you like Italian flavours, think about substituting some basil for oregano, or including some lemon in a recipe to brighten it. Cheese always goes with Italian cooking – think outside the box and find some cheeses other than mozzarella – provolone (smoked or regular), or including asiago or parmesan in a recipe that doesn’t call for it, but in which the sharp taste of those cheeses would work. Think about adding salsa or cheese to a “one-pot dish” – one that incorporates pasta, vegetables, and meat. Sprinkle some cheese on or stir some salsa in to some noodles, chicken, and carrots; it’s delish!
My latest tweak is my granola – it’s an almond-based snack here, and I had about a quarter-cup of almond butter leftover. I reasoned that there was no reason I couldn’t mix that in with the honey and cinnamon and it would only increase the baking/drying time a smidge. The result? Oh. My. Word. It’s not quite a peanut-buttery taste, but it adds a slightly-salty, slightly almond-y-sweet flavour in some of the clumps of granola. It totally works (and rocks), but if it hadn’t, we’d likely have eaten it anyhow, just because we like granola.
Another tweak last week was roasting some fresh garlic cloves (until the skins were browned and the garlic sweetened with the heat) and tucking them in to a loaf of bread during the final knead/loaf formation stage. I had seen it at Sprouts, a local “whole foods”-type store and knew it would work with my bread as well. The report was that it was delish – we haven’t tried it ourselves but gave it to friends as a treat.
This past weekend when we were away, we had a delightfully light chicken teriyaki salad with romaine leaves to use as a lettuce “wrap.” Amazing flavours – and it incorporated fresh, blanched asparagus. I never would’ve thought of adding asparagus to teriyaki, but it was delightful – a refreshing taste in the midst of slightly spicy-sweet-salty goodness. It’s definitely something I’m going to re-create for our hot summer nights when I need a cold meal.
One of my favourite ways to experiment or tweak is to use soups and stews. They are always forgiving and easy to adjust – if you need more spice, add it in. A new veggie? No problem! A different kind of meat? Give it a whirl!
I think the key to putting “oomph” in your recipes is to not be afraid of experimentation. If you’re cooking at home and feeding your family, it’s bound to be better than what you would get if you ate out. Nutritionally, it’s going to far exceed fast food. And you might find that it’s a new family fave – in which case, it will just boost your courage to try it again.