By Ashley Roe, Contributing Writer
When I got married I only knew how to make a few things from scratch. Those few things mostly consisted of baked goods like cookies. I had a lot to learn but I was also determined to no longer be the girl who barely knew how to boil water. I learned a lot of techniques from cooking shows and watching my husband in the kitchen.
Searching for new recipes became almost like a hobby of mine. It took some time, but as I became more confident in my abilities I began to experiment more and have even created many of my own recipes. Based on my own experience, I want to share with you some ways to expand your recipe repertoire.
You don’t have to be a newbie cook like I was to find this useful. These tips will certainly be helpful if you are still learning to cook but even if you have been cooking for years, I think you’ll find some good ideas here. You might even find some inspiration for new recipes of your own!
Find Some Good Cookbooks
I could literally spend hours browsing the cookbook section of the library or a bookstore. I just love flipping through pages of recipes and getting new ideas for things I could make. I am sure I have checked out dozens of cookbooks in one trip to the library on more than one occasion.
One thing I have learned is that there are plenty of exotic recipe books out there: You know, the kind of cookbook where most every recipe has ingredients you have never heard of or are only available in the south of France. Sure, it would be nice to travel to France someday but going there before dinner tonight just isn’t happening for most of us. While I love checking out new books like this from the library, I won’t likely be buying a copy for myself.
I have found that on most occasions, I usually refer to one of three cookbooks in my collection. I know these cookbooks are straightforward and easy to understand. I also like that they have lots of helpful tips. A lot of what I learned about cooking can be attributed to one of these books.
As much as I love these books, they are not my only sources for recipes. I also have some church and family cookbooks that I use often and I have even found a lot of great recipes online, which leads me to the next tip.
Know Where to Find Recipes Online
I love finding recipes online because I am more likely to find reviews and ideas for improvement. When I make something from a cookbook, I usually have to go with what the recipe says or make some of my own changes and hope it turns out.
I have also learned the hard way that even though something is printed in a book or anywhere else for that matter, it does not mean that it is a fool proof recipe. I have followed plenty of recipes as written and wished I would have either not made it in the first place or changed it in some way.
So, if you want to search the vast array of the internet for recipes, here’s a few ways I have found many great new recipes.
There are a lot of websites just for recipes. These are great especially for reading reviews and getting ideas for what did or didn’t work for someone else.
Here’s a few recipe websites that I have used:
Another great source of recipes are blogs. What I love about recipes on blogs is that I know a real person actually took the time to make and test the recipe. When I am writing a recipe to post on my own blog, I do my best to write it in such a way that even if you don’t know a lot about cooking you should be able to follow it and I think a lot of other bloggers do the same. Lots of bloggers also have eBook cookbooks too which can be great recipe sources as well.
Jami’s collaborative cookbook Real Food for the Real Homemaker is a great example of a good blogger cookbook!
When I am looking for a specific recipe, need some inspiration or a place to save an online recipe for later, I will often turn to Pinterest. I have a large collection of recipes saved on my recipe board.
You’ll find lots of great recipes from blogs here as well. Another great thing about Pinterest is that you can search just your own pins if you want to find something that you know you already have pinned.
Know Your Substitutions
Oftentimes, you may find a recipe that looks good but you don’t have a particular ingredient or can’t use it for whatever reason. This happens a lot when switching to a more real food diet like I have. But don’t skip the recipe just yet! There’s probably a good substitute for that ingredient that you could use instead.
For example, these are some substitutions that I use often:
- I no longer use vegetable shortening but I know if a recipe calls for it I can just sub in coconut oil, butter or a combination of the two.
- I also never buy actual buttermilk. I just make sour milk with lemon juice or vinegar and milk.
- I have an herb garden but I usually only get fresh herbs from it in the warmer summer months. So I use a combination of fresh or dry herbs depending on the season and what I have on hand. Fresh herbs can be easily substituted with dry or vice versa; just use one teaspoon of dry for every tablespoon of fresh.
- I don’t buy sour cream anymore either, I just use plain Greek yogurt.
Knowing some basic substitutions like these can really transform how you cook and find new recipes. Here are some great lists of even more substitutions to get you started. Many cookbooks also have substitution lists as well.
- Substitutions for Common Ingredients
- Herb and Spice Substitutions
- Easy Real Food Substitutions
- Healthy Baking Substitutions
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment or Try Something New
My last tip is really the most important and it is this; don’t be afraid to experiment with recipes or try something new. When you feel stuck with making the same meals a lot, it’s likely a sign that you should try something new. Start browsing cookbooks or online sources and pick out a few recipes that sound interesting. You may just find a new favorite!
If I only ever stuck with things I was familiar with or only used a recipe as written, I never would have discovered some of my favorite recipes like zuppa toscana, chicken fried rice or skillet gnocchi.
Keep in mind that it is okay to experiment with recipes. I tend to look at most recipes as guidelines that could always use a little tweaking to suit my own taste and preference. Oftentimes, I add a few extra spices here and there or take two similar recipes and combine them to form my own unique recipe. Experimenting may not always be successful but it’s a great way to learn from mistakes and it’s what makes cooking so much fun.
Have I intrigued you enough to want to get in the kitchen and try a new recipe?! I hope these tips and resources have given you some ideas to start building your recipe collection and learn to love to cook as much as I have.
What is your favorite way to find new recipes?
Do you have a favorite cookbook? What is it?