For many, creativity in the kitchen is a far-off concept that doesn’t get much thought. I have found that the main reasons are: there just isn’t the time between life’s other commitments, there is a lack of confidence, a lack of inspiration, a fussy family member or a combination of all four.
Let’s face it, sometimes it’s enough to just get food on the table, whatever it is, at least the family is eating. We all have those evenings when baked beans on toast seems like the perfect dinner. But there are other times when it would be nice to spend a bit more thought and time preparing something a little bit different. Maybe you are having guests for dinner or you can’t face yet another dinner of spaghetti bolognaise (although in my family no one ever seems to tire of this except me). So where to start with creativity in the kitchen?
I think a good place to start is to consider what holds you back. Is it a lack of time? When you walk in the door at 5.30pm it probably isn’t the ideal time to become all gourmet. Maybe the weekend is a better time to try something new. Set aside some extra time in the afternoon to get inspired and cook something a little different. Different doesn’t have to mean spending two hours in the kitchen. It can be as simple as finally trying that recipe you copied from a friend or a new recipe from your favourite magazine.
Time, and lack of it, is an interesting phenomenon. If it’s important enough then there is usually enough time. If there isn’t maybe being creative isn’t that important for you and it’s time to stop feeling guilty about that and be comfortable with what you do cook.
Do you lack the confidence to try new things? I talk to so many women both socially and professionally who don’t think that they cook very well. Cooking well is all about confidence. I’ve had some amazing meals and the cook has spent the whole time apologising for it. When you believe that you can cook you will be amazed at what you want to try. But how to become confident cooks? The first step is to silence your critics. The rule in our family, children included, is that there is no complaining. If it’s not a liked food or meal then it doesn’t have to be eaten but to constantly hear “I don’t like that” is very demoralising so try to discourage it as much as possible. It isn’t always successful but I think its good manners to appreciate the effort even if its not their preferred food choice. If your partner or spouse is a better cook than you cooking together is a great way to learn different skills and greater confidence. This is of course if they are someone who comfortably shares the kitchen. However, the best way to increase confidence is to push your own comfort zone. The more you try the more you realise what you can do. I’m always happy to try new things because I figure it isn’t usually a complete disaster and if it is then bring on the baked beans on toast.
Getting inspired is always a bit tricky. Finding a good source of recipes that suit your skill level, taste preferences and budget can take some working out. Friends are always a good start. Often they like the same things you do. If they serve you something delicious ask for the recipe. Most people love to share things like that. It makes them feel good that you liked their meal and cooking. Ask them for some recipe book suggestions or websites that they like to use. Kiwi Families always has some great recipe ideas. Below is a risotto recipe to get you started, it’s easier than you think and has a wonderful flavour. It is one that I have shared with family and they have cooked it with great success. It may not be the stuff of Master Chef but it can easily be made with ingredients found at home.
Often special occasions can be a good time to feel inspired. There is something about cooking for other people that makes me put in that little bit more effort. I’m never sure whether it is because they will be more appreciative or I just want to look good. Probably a bit of both in all honesty. It can be a great time to try new things but it can also just feel like extra pressure. However you look at it, make something you feel confident you can prepare without getting too stressed about. This may mean a practice run earlier in the week or preparing it earlier in the day and just putting the finishing touches on before serving. This way you generally know if it is going to work out as you want it. Remember whatever you serve, the main reason guests are coming is to socialise with you, not critique your food so relax and enjoy.
A fussy family member, whether a child or an adult, can make it difficult to create new meals. I think it is important to cater to everyone in the family. To me this means that it doesn’t always have to be something that everyone will like. I try for an equal rotation of meals that suit each person’s preferences. This includes my own. Sometimes I know my children won’t eat what I am preparing but I love it so I don’t want to be the one missing out all the time. I serve the food onto the table and usually try to have a couple of different dishes as part of the meal. Just a few cut up carrot sticks, tomato wedges, maybe some bread if I know the main meal isn’t going to be eaten. Usually the extra items are accompaniments to the main meal. Don’t wait until your children have developed past the fussy stage otherwise you may never get to try those dishes and it is really important to show your children that there is more to meals than their preferred choices.
Cooking, like most things is all about practice. Even the best chefs had to start somewhere and I bet most of them can tell stories of burnt meals and other disasters. The key is to not let that put you off. I started cooking dinner at 12 years old and I can guarantee they weren’t always successful or amazing. One of the meals I remember serving after my home economics class was a Florida salad which consists of orange segments in lettuce cups with cream and lemon juice over the top. Great practice for learning how to cut an orange but not much of a dinner meal. I sure hope mum had something else prepared. We’ve all burnt rice, we’ve all undercooked meat. It’s often repairable and it is definitely not worth remembering unless you can laugh about it.
Be inspired, be inspiring and most importantly of all give it a go.
1 Tbsp oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g chicken thigh or breast, diced
1 rasher bacon, diced
½ capsicum, sliced
½ cup short grain rice
¼ cup white wine
400ml hot chicken stock or 400ml hot water and 2 tsp powdered stock
½ carrot, grated
handful spinach, shredded or baby spinach
¼ cup tasty cheese
Heat oil in a medium frypan.
Fry onions until soft.
Add in garlic and fry a further minute.
Fry bacon and chicken to seal outside of chicken.
Add in rice and fry stirring frequently. It will start to look a little clearer.
Add in capsicum. Soften slightly.
Add in wine and simmer while stirring until wine is absorbed.
Add in hot chicken stock 1/3 of a cup at a time. Stirring often.
The stirring prevents rice from sticking to the pot and helps to develop the creamy consistency.
As the stock is absorbed add another 1/3 cup of stock.
Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice is soft.
Stir in cheese and serve.
PS. We actually don’t eat baked beans on toast that often but it is always on standby in the cupboard for those times it is a necessity to mental health. What is your emergency go to meal?