What's for dinner? Sometimes that's a hard question to answer. It's easy to fall into a rut, making the same meals day-in, day-out, or worse: buying expensive convenience food that you don't enjoy.
As a working mother, Glendalyn Fodra, knows all too well the strain a parent can face when preparing a family meal. Between managing her hectic schedule as well as her kids', finding the team to let the creative juices boil in the kitchen is a struggle. Thankfully, Mrs. Fodra has been able to utilize her Filipino heritage to unlock fun and creativity with cooking.
Like all creative endeavors, it's all about building on what you already know and creating momentum. So here's how to get the ball rolling - and keep it moving.
1. Stock Your Pantry
When you're trying to come up with ideas, throwing them away because you don't have the essentials is a problem. It's important to keep non-perishable and versatile ingredients in your kitchen, ready to go whenever they're needed.
The most important things are those that flavor or modify other ingredients. Things like spices, herbs, citrus, and condiment sauces are all good places to start. Even a simple chicken breast can be a delicious focus for a meal, though plain gets boring fast.
Next, consider building-block ingredients: Flour, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, and salt form the essential tools used in cooking. It's also useful to keep a stock of canned ingredients and items like honey.
Nothing is worse than suddenly realizing you're missing a key ingredient just as you come back from the store.
2. Rotate Cuisines
All cultures have a storied culinary tradition. Glendalyn Fodra’s Filipino background, for instance, has helped her obtain a collection of techniques, ingredients, and flavor combinations. Regional cuisine is a great way to compartmentalize your thinking.
Pick some of your favorite cuisines and stick with one until the ideas start being hard to come by. When you rotate to another, it will seem new again and full of delicious possibilities.
Don't be afraid to choose a hybrid cuisine, either. The key is to stick with what you've chosen.
3. Master the Basics
To open up your possibilities, you need a firm grasp of the fundamentals. You've probably made a roux before - but you may not have realized.
The French cuisine is not the root of all cooking: it does, however, represent the most solid foundation to build out from. Many other countries have integrated French concepts into their food, and the French culinary tradition has continued to evolve, so much of it is very transferable.
Getting a handle of the basics isn't particularly hard, and, if you eat as you practice, it doesn't have to cost a lot. You can learn all you need from a course, a book, or even YouTube.
Understanding the fundamental processes of cooking and learning how to make the intermediary building blocks removes a lot of the difficulty. Learning to see the structure of a good meal takes a lot of the mental effort out of the kitchen, much like Lego can bring out the architect in us all.
4. Find a New Ingredient
Next time you're shopping for food, pick up something you've never used before. If nothing catches your attention, try to find a specialty store in your area.
Not only does trying something new constitute at least one meal idea, but you are also adding a new tool to your culinary belt. Enthusiasm and novelty could lead to a lot of imaginative cooking.
Remember to look it up when you get home so you can see what it goes with.
5. Make a Knock-down list
We all have a big stack of cookbooks somewhere. Set aside some time to go through one, ideally when you're hungry, and bookmark every page that makes you want to eat.
Write a list of all of those recipes and work through them. If you enjoy something, make a variant, or go back through the book to see if anything similar jumps out at you.
By the time you get through all your books, it has probably been long enough to start again. You'll be amazed at how you missed things the first time round!
- Make sure you have a well-stocked pantry, so you don't shut down your ideas at the start.
- Try rotating through different cuisines, or any other grouping you can think of.
- Pick up a solid foundation of basic cookery.
- Pick a theme ingredient and explore what you can do with it.
- Keep a short-list of recipes and work through them - not just when you're stuck for ideas.
About Glendalyn Fodra:
Glendalyn Fodra is a physical therapist, loving mother, and caring wife who enjoys helping others and spending quality time with friends and family. She is known for her leadership and strong work ethics, but she devotes all of her free time to caring for her family and socializing with other Filipino families in Tennessee.