Squash blossoms

Winter doldrums, menu malaise… It’s easy to get into a cooking rut. But it’s just as easy to get out of one, too. Especially with spring around the corner. Produce seems prettier and more inviting that basic root veggies. There’s color outside and more color in the markets.

I asked our Facebook page followers what they do when they’re feeling the need for some inspiration for new dishes, techniques, and menus. What is their inspiration? And I got a variety of options to share with you:

  • “I watch Fast Forward cooking shows,” responded Cherylanne Farley. “The Kitchn always has good ideas techniques.”
  • “The Barnes and Noble bargain cookbook area,” is member Carol Borchardt’s inspiration. “Pinterest. Old magazines because everything that is old can be made new again.”
  • “Tasting Table, Plate magazine or Pinterest are my go to’s,” said Jennifer M. Grawburg.
  • “Pinterest,” is Suzy D. Brown’s source of inspiration.

Media, of course, is a great source for food-related ideas. Social media is awash in food images and video. And you should certainly subscribe to daily newsletters that arrive in your email’s inbox from Epicurious, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, Well Done, Cooking Light, the Kitchn, ProChef SmartBrief, and MyRecipes–just to name some of the most obvious. So are the vast array of cooking shows on PBS, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

Marcus Samuelsson learning how to make noodles in Las Vegas

But sometimes you need to get your head out of your computer or device and get out. A recent PBS series that puts out there just how inspirational a hometown can be is chef Marcus Samuelsson’s “No Passport Required.” His second season just concluded but you can find the episodes on demand or the PBS website. Lucky you if you’re from Boston or LA, Philadelphia or Seattle or Houston. Most cities have enclaves of different ethnic groups and watching No Passport Required should give you the itch to explore your city’s Armenian neighborhood, or Filipino or Nigerian or Italian.

Yes, I recognize the irony of suggesting a TV show to get outside. So get outside. You may think you’ve hit all the hot spots of your town but there may be other towns nearby to explore.

Learning from a kind family at next table how to add egg to a Soon Tofu dish at BCD Tofu House in L.A.’s Koreatown.

I asked a chef I know in San Diego what she does when she’s looking for inspiration. She goes on food tours of the city–in San Diego or wherever she happens to be. They take her to markets, restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors. There she can try new flavors, ask questions, and develop ideas for new dishes. I’ve done this myself in San Diego, Los Angeles’s Koreatown, San Francisco, Paris, Quebec City, Vancouver, and Montreal. It can explode your mind and lead to an exciting new approach to your menu.

If you’re not in an area where organized food tours are available, how about gathering up a few friends and day trip somewhere close by? Take a bus or train or carpool to a nearby city for a day of markets and food from another culture? Bring a notebook, take photos, and ask lots of questions of chefs and shoppers? See something you don’t recognize in a bin? Ask someone making a selection about how to use it and how to pick the best quality.

Green almonds from a Middle Eastern market in San Diego

And, if you can’t leave town and you have several different kinds of markets in your town or city, turn that into a day trip and enjoy your region’s diverse offerings. Mark Dietz told us on Facebook he swears by markets as inspiration.

What if your inspiration needs to come from a very specific practitioner? Let’s say you’re interested in taking on cooking for clients with a specific dietary need. Sure, you can turn to the Internet and Pinterest, etc. But how about reaching out to professionals–dietitians or nutritionists, for instance–who can give you some ways you can incorporate specific foods into dishes? Maybe you can have a cook date to learn techniques?

It all comes down to how eager you are to come up with novel resources that ignite that spark of change. Just getting a fresh perspective from another chef or an aisle of gorgeous spring vegetables may send you racing back to your kitchen, eager to develop a new recipe or two for clients.

What’s your inspiration when you are in a culinary rut? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

For the home cook, leftovers can mean another meal or two. But how about if you’re a personal chef and you have bits of treasure from dishes you’ve made? You don’t want them to go to waste. And they could probably lend themselves to some stunning new dishes.

Food that’s been safely handled, prepared properly, and stored correctly is simply good food. Most personal chef clients find their custom-designed meal support programs keep leftovers to a minimum but if you find yourself in a leftover-heavy position–as the chef or the client–you might find some of these tips helpful.

Salad bowl

Let’s look at the easy stuff first–ingredient leftovers. If you have unused herbs or proteins–such as chicken, beef, sausage, fish or other seafood–or grilled vegetables, you can certainly use them in an omelet or frittata, or as a filling for ravioli or wontons, or in soups or salads. Quesadillas and tacos are also great ways to use extra fresh ingredients. Leftover pasta can also go in a frittata–or soup. Got mashed potatoes? Make mini shepherd’s pies or use it to top a casserole.

veggies for garlic scapes pesto pasta

Prepped but unused onions, tomatoes, peppers, lemons, watermelon, or anything else coming from the garden can enhance and complement any number of dishes. The watermelon pieces that were part of dessert the night before can be tossed with sliced heirloom tomatoes, pieces of feta cheese, olives, and arugula for a sweet and savory salad.

Our colleague Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food and her new blog, A Cookbook Obsession, recently wrote about turning vast amounts of leftover grilled sweet corn into smoky sweet corn puree, which she paired with seared scallops. After heating some butter and a little bacon fat from cooking up four slices of bacon, she sauteed chopped scallions, then added the corn kernels, cream cheese, and half and half. Then she added cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper before pureeing half the mixture. Pieces of cooked bacon and chives are added to the mixture and served with seared scallops.

Seared Scallops with Smoky Corn PUree

Photo courtesy of Carol Borchardt

Risotto is another one of those leftover dishes that never tastes quite the same warmed up the next day. So, how about making risotto pancakes with sauteed mushrooms and onions and strong meltable cheese, like gruyere? Add a binder, like a beaten egg, then form a ball just a bit larger than a golf ball with the risotto. Flatten it into a oval in the palm of your hand. Make an indentation in the middle and add the mushrooms and cheese. Then close it up over the filling. Repeat until you’ve used up the risotto. Saute the pancakes in butter or olive oil on both sides until crisp and serve.

Making pies and have leftover dough? Roll it out and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, then get out the cookie cutters. You’ve got cookies to bake.

There are numerous web resources for you to get ideas as well.

  • Food52: Experts and home cooks contribute to this site. Here’s a blog post on creating refreshing summer rolls with leftover fish, plus links to 10 other recipes for leftover fish.
  • Foodinese: Leftover stir fried veggies can be soggy and unappealing after their initial debut on the table. Here’s a video on turning them into dumplings.
  • Epicurious: Got leftover grilled salmon? Flake it, Make a sandwich on ciabatta, per this recipe.
Photo by Marcus Nilsson

Photo by Marcus Nilsson

  • Food Republic: Wow, they must think you never finish a meal. Here are 15 recipes for using up what’s in the fridge.
  • Bakepedia: Are you a baker with leftover ganache or buttercream? Even dessert leftovers can get a new life with these ideas.
  • Tasting Table: Now we’re getting hard core. These “leftovers” are more like the trimmed off stuff you’d ordinarily toss, like stems, leaves, pods, and peels–even baguette ends. But they’re fantastic in all sorts of dishes. Here’s how to use them.
  • The Kitchn: Turn dinner leftovers into lunch. If it reheats well (or is good cold), easy to eat at your desk or the lunch cafeteria, and is easy to transport, you’ve got a delicious lunch. Here are 10 leftover ideas.

Any meal in which there are leftovers is simply another opportunity to make the most of your tasty, beautifully prepared ingredients–whether it’s reheating or reinventing.

What are your favorite leftover ingredients? Have you developed a repertoire of dishes based on leftovers?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

Don’t forget to sign up for our September Personal Chef Seminar Weekend!

 

 

 

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