Back in the day, when I was a single working girl, menu planning and cooking were rather low on my list of priorities. My roommates and I each cooked a meal for the house once a week, but beyond that, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I kept quick and easy lunch stuff handy for taking to school, and grazed or went out to eat when leftovers weren’t available. It wasn’t bad.
But marriage has brought a new perspective on my culinary habits, as it has with nearly every other area of my life. For some reason, my husband can’t survive on my (healthy and perfectly normal) grazing-style meals. An apple with cheese and crackers doesn’t count as a meal in his book, just like a half a bag of tortilla chips with salsa doesn’t count in mine. So to keep my husband happy and my baby healthy, I’m working to develop a new cooking routine.
Thankfully, my mother, with her characteristic foresight, presented me with a collection of family recipes when I graduated from college. I’ve often turned to this priceless gift for guidance when inspiration failed me. Many a night has our table been graced with the familiar flavors of Mom’s chili and corn casserole, or Aunt Elizabeth’s wild rice, chicken, and avocado salad or Grandma’s Sunday Chicken. Zach’s step-mom Vivian has given us a few booklets of favorite recipes she makes for guests at her lake-side resort and I’ve relied heavily on those collections as well. I can make her fruited chicken enchiladas without even looking at the recipe now!
Nothing can take the place of traditional family recipes, but I’m on the look out for new recipes to add to my repertoire these days. Economy, flavor, and practicality are key: I want to learn new ways to prepare lean meats and hearty vegetables. I’ve mastered the roasted chicken (it’s cheaper) and made some headway in the pot roast department recently. I’ve even used the roasted chicken leftovers to make stock for homemade chicken soup! But my enthusiasm is a bit low these days.
What are some of your favorite dinner menus? Family recipes? Original compositions? If you post a recipe in the comments box, I’ll write a review of the dish (complete with pictures) when I try it!
In the spirit of reciprocity, here are a few places where I’ve found culinary inspiration before: Enjoy!
Food Gawker: A visual feast, if nothing else, this site features the best looking food you’ll ever find. Due to the emphasis on food photography, the daily spread usually leans heavily towards the dessert menu (and they’re awfully tempting to try…). Just browsing the homepage is a culinary education: I’d never even heard of gougeres before! Their archives are extensive and searchable, so you’ll be able to find a picture-perfect recipe for whatever ingredients you have to work with. Be warned: not all recipes are available in English.
Cooking Light: This is my go-to site when dinner needs to be ready in two hours and I’m completely stumped. I like their articles on seasonal foods and their special holiday menus often inspire. Take their “Superfast” recipes with a grain of salt, though—often they require starting with pre-cooked or deli-bought meats and so the real-life preparation time is twice as long as advertised. The calorie counts at the bottom of each recipe can be helpful, too, so long as you pay close attention to their portion sizes, which are usually on the small side.
Dinner on a Dime: It doesn’t always live up to it’s thrifty name, but I appreciate the simplicity of this site’s design. The recipes are often on the simpler side, as well. You’re more likely to find good ideas for how to jazz up old staples than suggestions for preparing more exotic ingredients. (We can’t eat pomegranate seeds and endive all the time, you know).
On My Menu: This blogger does a lot of the research for you—most of her recipes are taken from Rachel Ray, Real Simple, and other popular sites. A mother of three with a love for both cooking and photography, she reliably posts one recipe a day and has a good breadth of variety in any given week. She usually choses recipes that require a reasonable amount of preparation time and reasonably priced ingredients.