Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rediscovering the joy of cooking -- with recipes

A while ago, a friend told me that an organization for which she volunteers was publishing a cookbook and she had offered to be a recipe tester. “It’s been a good experience,” she told me. “It’s helped me get back into the habit of using recipes.”

I know what she means. I too have strayed from the habit of using recipes and would like to get back to it. I used to subscribe to numerous cooking magazines, ask for cookbooks for gifts, comb for new recipes. And then somehow my cooking habits changed. I started relying on old standbys that I’d made so often I didn’t even need an old recipe, let alone a new one, to make them. And I haven’t been trying anything new lately at all.

This probably happens to a lot of families that fall into my demographic: busy parents raising school aged kids. I’m the only one in my family who likes to cook, and the varied preferences of the four of us are admittedly complicated: I’m a pescavegetarian, my husband Rick controls his weight by trying to avoid carbohydrates, and my eight-year-old is going through a phase where she hardly likes anything. My twelve-year-old is the family’s only omnivore, and thank heavens for him.

But still, given everyone’s different wishes, I tend to fall back on the dishes I know we’ll all like, or those dishes that at least two or three of us will eat. Somehow it just stopped seeming worthwhile to find new and interesting recipes for a group with such complicated tastes.

This spring, though, I’m resolved to get back into my previous habits of being an adventurous cook. I miss the fun of gathering ingredients together, the novelty of sitting down to a dinner when I’m not sure how it will taste even though I made it. I miss poring over full-color photos and enticing descriptions in food magazines, or typing a central ingredient or two into the epicurious search engine to see what suggestions the algorithm generates for me.

So when I was packing up for our move last month and came across four untouched issues of Bon Appetit, I resolved that if I was going to bother to put them in a cardboard box, that meant I was committing to read them. And consequently to find at least a few recipes I wanted to try out.

Coincidentally enough, this morning as I woke before dawn to do my daily 45 minutes of stationary biking, I couldn’t find my Kindle in the dark bedroom, and I realized I hadn’t unpacked any books yet. The only thing I could find to read, as I rushed through the house to the basement, was the four issues of Bon Appetit.

So this morning, while I biked, I reviewed recipes, and marked pages. True, Holly won’t like the roasted tomato tapenade napped over swordfish, and Rick would be wise to avoid the pasta under the anchovy sauce, and I’ll have to prepare something else for myself the day I make the Parmesan meatballs. But it will still be a kitchen adventure, something I’ve been missing lately. Old standbys are great, but it’s time to be creative in the kitchen again. I’ll have fun with it. And if my family will expand its tastes a little bit in the process, all the better.

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