Get Out of That Comfort Zone!
Like most home cooks, I rarely put new meals before my family each week. I have more opportunities to try new dishes because I'm looking for recipes to write about here on my cooking blog, which I usually try out with my family. I still find myself reverting to those few meals that I'm comfortable with and I know my kids will eat.
Let's face it, for entrees, what do we have to work with?
Chicken, fish, beef, pork, and a bunch of vegetables. It may not sound like many alternatives, but think about how many different recipes there are on the Internet using these few ingredients. Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
It's sort of like the alphabet. Think how many words you can create with 26 letters. If you had 26 ingredients including chicken, fish, beef, pork and some vegetables, how many recipes could you come up with? I have no idea how many cookbooks have been published since the printing press's beginning, but I know I have two bookcases full.
My wife will tell you that I have never met a cookbook I didn't like, and she is right. Even though I don't have much room in my office for more, I can't help myself when I see a cookbook that catches my eye. We were at a farm fair this weekend where they were selling books at $2 per carton. Although we arrived late, I found some great used cookbooks that I "had to have."
So Many Cookbooks
So here I am with hundreds of cookbooks sitting on those shelves, including my recent must-have purchases, staring at me and crying out, "Pick me! Pick me!" hoping that I'll choose one off the shelf and pick a new and interesting recipe to prepare for that night's dinner. I usually disappoint in my cookbooks. I typically choose from one of 4 or 5 cookbooks I'm really comfortable with or make something up on the fly using ingredients I have in the refrigerator. And my huge selection of must-have cookbooks sits there gathering dust.
If I am honest with myself and with you, the truth is that even though I have access to thousands of recipes in my magazines, cookbooks, my own site and the Internet at large, I don't take advantage of them. Unless I'm researching a recipe for a new post, I rarely go to my cookbooks to find a recipe and when I do, I usually make variations based on what I have on hand.
Pick Up a Cookbook and Start Cooking
I've been asking myself "Why don't I cook more from this great selection of cookbooks that I own?" and I'm unsure of the answer. I could blame the Internet or all my cooking magazines (another challenge), but I don't want to play the blame game. What I want to do is grab a cookbook off the shelf, browse through it, pick a recipe and prepare it from start to finish.
I think the real answer to why I don't fully utilize my cookbook collection is a combination of wanting to stay in my comfort zone and lack of time. Having a family with busy schedules, sometimes it's just easier to stick with what I know. Is there anyone else who can relate to this?
I think of myself as a pretty good amateur cook, but like many of you, I have my own fears of trying something new. Baking is my biggest fear in the kitchen, but I'm lucky to have my good friend Chef Jenni Field help me with your questions and my own.
I think it is time to leave my comfort zone and have some fun in the kitchen. I don't plan on anything too aggressive like sous vide or working with sweetbreads but something new, quick and easy to serve my family during the week. French, Italian, Mexican, Danish, and American. I don't care as long it is new to me.
The Reluctant Gourmet Cookbook Challenge
So here's my challenge to myself, and I would like to invite anyone who reads this to challenge themselves. I will pick a new recipe, one I have never prepared before, from a different cookbook every two weeks and make it for my family.
You may think two weeks is not much of a challenge, but I looked at a typical week with two kids and all the stuff we have scheduled, and I don't think I can realistically commit to one new recipe each week. If you can, go for it, but for now, I'll start with one every two weeks and then write about it on this blog.
If you accept the challenge, I would like you to come back to this post or my Facebook every couple of weeks and let me know:
- what cookbook you used
- what recipe you cooked
- how it turned out
- whether you would prepare it again
- what you might do differently
You don't have to post the recipe; just let us know where it originated.
My Challenge Goal
My goal is to encourage myself to start cooking from my expansive cookbook collection, many of which were written by some very special chefs and professional food writers. I know I'll learn some new cooking techniques and learn to work with new ingredients, especially spices, and herbs. More importantly, I'll be expanding my cooking repertoire by trying new recipes, which I think we can all benefit from.
So I hope you take up this challenge and try just one new recipe from one of your collection of cookbooks every two weeks and share your results with my readers and me. I look forward to hearing from many of you.
I'll post whatever recipe I'm trying on my Facebook page in case you have the same cookbook and want to try the same recipe. This way we can compare notes. I hope many of you take this challenge. I think it will help those in a cooking rut to climb out. I know it will help me get more familiar with my cookbooks.