splurge-yourself-out-of-a-cooking-rut

Eat Well, Spend Less: Splurge Yourself Out Of A Cooking Rut

This month, the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers are delving into the topic of making food fun!  It’s (almost/maybe/sort of) the end of winter and the enthusiasm most of us had for soup and bread in September has waned and we’re now looking forward a change of scenery on the food front.

I’ve actually been really motivated in the kitchen lately – part of it is due to the nesting phase of pregnancy, which I know that most of you can’t pull out at the drop of a hat, but I’ve also been inspired by new cooking tools and websites.

I’ve also freed myself up to splurge a little bit at the grocery store, knowing that I’m much less likely to call my husband and ask him to pick up a pizza if I’ve got something new and exciting to cook with.

So, here’s how I’m having fun splurging myself out of the February Food Blahs!

Get inspired by new equipment

My sweet husband snagged this hot deal on a Kitchen Aid mixer for me for Christmas.  You have no idea how much I wanted to send him a link to the deal and say “You will never get a better deal on this if you happen to be looking for a Christmas gift for me” but I resisted since I had just spent way too much on a vacuum cleaner.

Once the busyness from the holidays settled down, I finally got to start using my new Kitchen Aid and I am in love.  I can now do the dishes while the mixer kneads my dough for me.  I can change a diaper while it mixes cookie dough.  Love, love, love.

As a result of my new cooking toy, I’ve rediscovered the wonders of yeast bread and learned about parbaking and now have fresh bread in the freezer, just waiting for a 10 minute blast in the oven to finish baking.  Before, the idea of going to the work of making bread ahead of time and freezing it was just too much; now, it requires such little hands-on effort that I say, “why not?!”

I made fresh pasta for lasagna the other day – a dish that my husband loves only when made a certain way (which mandates fresh pasta).  I hate kneading pasta dough by hand, and with my stand mixer, I didn’t even get a finger dirty.

I’ll stop going on about how much I love my mixer, but I know that it has definitely gotten me out of a food rut and inspired me to cook!  It was a pricey splurge, and I’m sure that it hasn’t recouped it’s own cost yet, but I have no doubt that it will in time and it’s definitely made our tummies happier over the past month or two.

If a stand mixer isn’t in your budget or you’ve already got one, here’s some more equipment splurges that have inspired me to cook more in the past:

  • Immersion Blender: the ways I love my Kitchen Aid immersion blender cannot be counted.  It is so much easier to clean up than a traditional blender and so much easier to use.  I use it for pureeing soups and tomato sauces – just stick the blender in the pot and turn it on, no need to dump the liquid into a blender and risk spilling hot liquids everywhere.
  • Good Knives: a sharp chef’s knife makes prep work so much more enjoyable.  If you have good knives that are getting dull, splurge and get them sharpened!
  • Baking Stone: if you’ve never using a baking stone or have one of the super-thin ones, you might be inspired to cook more breads and pizzas with a nice, large, thick one like this.

Sometimes, motivation can come from something as simple as a new pair of kitchen scissors or parchment paper!  Or maybe even a new apron?!

Get inspired by new websites and books

Need inspiration beyond baked potatoes? Search "potatoes" on Pinterest!

I’m sure many of you have gotten wind of the Pinterest craze.  If you are visually oriented, you can get some great inspiration from the food section (or find some of your favorite food bloggers on there and follow them to see what food they’re pinning).  Even if you don’t make the recipes, there is some beautiful food styling and photography that may inspire you to make food that looks beautiful as well as tastes amazing.

And, while you’re finding pictures of recipes that look good, you’ll also likely stumble across food blogs and websites that are your style – read their archives!

I’m a huge fan of the Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country websites and magazines.  I don’t have much time to read the magazines these days so I don’t have subscriptions, but I’ve never been let down by their recipes so whenever I’m looking for a new recipe, they are the first place I go.  They will together cost you about the price of a single magazine subscription, but have hundreds of archived recipes, reviews, and tests.

How To Make Fresh Mozzarella from the ATK Blog

I’ve already recently discovered that America’s Test Kitchen (the TV partner of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country) has a blog called The Feed.  I love that it’s much the same geeky stuff that you’ll find on their show or magazines, but is very much a blog and has lots of pictures and personality.  I think I was hooked when I read the article about how to make fresh mozzarella and the author stated this:

Internet recipes abound, all proclaiming the same thing: “It’s easy! It’s fun!” Well, I’ve got news: They lied.

After that articles step-by-stype instructions and fabulous pictures, I’m now inspired to try fresh mozzarella again after a failed attempt a few months ago.

And naturally, the bloggers in the Eat Well, Spend Less series are great places for inspiration!

Get inspired by going out of your comfort zone

A great way to get inspired to cook is to attempt something you’ve never tried before and have it work.  The feeling you’ll get from making something and having people say “You made that?!” will give you inspiration for weeks!

Get a big sense of accomplishment by doing something like making your own ricotta cheese!

I’ve learned how to make my own ricotta cheese.  It’s just barely cheaper than buying it pre-made, so I’m really not saving that much money (though it doesn’t have any preservatives or stablizers in it so that’s saying something), but making something that most gourmands even buy in a container gives me a great sense of accomplishment.  (Making mascarpone cheese is equally easy.)

Find something that you’ve always wanted to make and make it!  Maybe it will flop, but in the process, you’ll probably learn why it flopped and how to do it better next time.  And if you can get this close to accomplishing something amazing, chances are you’re going to want to try again and make it work.

Get inspired by trying new or “non-frugal” ingredients

Parmigiano Reggiano is definitely not on my normal grocery list.  Neither are capers, clams, or shrimp – but when I allow myself a splurge on ingredients, I am so much more inspired to cook a delicious meal!  While you might not want (or be able to) to make items like this a regular item on your grocery list, it’s a great way to get motivated to cook.

And, if you skip going out to eat one night (where it would cost your $30 or more) because you spent $20 on some awesome ingredients for a meal, it’s still saving money.  I remember one time a reader commented that they’d figured out they could cook steaks at home for much cheaper and much better than they were regularly spending going out on Friday nights!

How do you inspire yourself out of a cooking rut?

How do you get out of a rut in the kitchen?  What types of things inspire you to try something new or cook better food?  I’d love to hear your tips and favorite websites, cooking tools, and cookbooks!

Inspiration from the Eat Well, Spend Less series:

We’re exploring ways to make food fun in this month’s edition of Eat Well, Spend Less!  Be sure to check out these other blogs for great ideas on topics like making food more fun for kids and making food prep fun!

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Comments

  1. Love my stand mixer too! Do you have any good links for instructions or recipes for par baking bread? I’ve never had success with it, but maybe I just need better instruction!

    • Well, I’ve just followed the instructions in this recipe (from Cook’s Country, which is subscription-only, as I mentioned above): http://www.cookscountry.com/recipes/print/20681/

      They recommend baking it for five minutes, until it just starts to brown, then cooling and freezing. When you’re ready to bake, let the frozen bread sit on a cookie sheet for 1 hour, then bake for 10 minutes at 400º. (The normal instructions are to bake at 400º for 15 minutes.) They also have you brush the tops of the rolls with egg before the first bake, which seems to help it develop nice color.

      I haven’t tried parbaking anything other than rolls, but that method seems to work great for dinner rolls!

  2. Do you have any suggestions on a good knife set, that isn’t too spendy?