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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Finding Cooking Inspiration

[Sorry, delayed due to Victoria Day holiday]

Frugal Kitchens 101
If you are looking for ways to save on your food dollars the most effective method is too cook from home from scratch. By scratch, I mean use the whole foods and raw ingredients to make a meal rather than high priced mixes and convenience foods. One of the biggest problems with home cooking is you can easily get into a rut, cooking the same foods in the same way so you end up getting bored. It's not as much about not wanting to cooking but more of a tired of cooking the same old thing. Whether you are just starting out learning to cook or you are an experienced home cook you will need to find cooking inspiration from time to time. What are good sources for cooking inspiration?

Here are some of the ways I find cooking inspiration:

  • word of mouth - My kids, other family members and friends call and/or email me with details of dishes they enjoyed whether homemade or at a restaurant. They call me when they experiment with new ingredients or to tell me I simply have to try something they liked. This kind foodie talk helps to stimulate your interest in food. Sharing foodie talk is a great inspiration!

  • printed materials (cookbooks/magazines) - This really is a traditional method of finding recipes. Anyone interested in cooking usually has a small collection of cookbooks. I prefer ones that have a picture of the finished dish. Older cookbooks often may or may not be illustrated but they usually do not have pictures of the finished dish. Still they can be quite useful for finding new recipes to try. Many including myself are turning to these older cookbooks especially those from the depression era because the recipes tend to be on the frugal side.

    There are many sources for cookbooks/magazines including free magazines. While I have bought or been gifted with several new cookbooks, quite a few of the cookbooks in my collection were bought used. Good sources for used cookbooks are resale stores and yard sales with prices ranging from 25¢ to $1. Borrowing a cookbook from the library or a family or friend is a good way to try out a few new recipes without any cash outlay. The problem with borrowing is you don't have a hard copy but read down for my solution.

  • television - There are a lot of good cooking shows on tv. I admit to be addicted to the food channel! It's on most afternoons especially when I'm looking for something just a bit different for dinner. I used to tape an entire afternoon of cooking shows for later viewing but now I tape only those I know I want to review based on the show's description. Now the new PVR receivers allow easy recording without using video tapes so that is an option as well. The downsides to television is some essential steps are not shown and it's not as convenient as a cookbook unless you have a television in your kitchen.

  • video - I mentioned recording television cooking shows but there are also a lot of cooking videos available in various formats. Again resale stores and yard sales are great sources for cooking videos.

  • restaurants - This is one of my favourite sources for cooking inspiration! Not only do I get a good visual as to the finished dish I get to smell and taste the finished dish. Trying to duplicate a dish I liked becomes the challenge.

  • online - There are literally hundreds of thousands of cooking databases, cooking websites and blogs available online. In addition to that many manufacturers have websites that include a recipe section for using their products. Some websites allow you to search for a dish simply by the ingredients you want to use. YouTube and similar types of video sharing sites have great cooking video clips as well. Finally you can get digital cookbooks and videos for your handheld device (eg. Palm, iPod, iPod Touch etc.) either with no charge or for a small fee or you can upload you own cooking information to your handheld using the sync function. That means you can have your favourite dishes and food related topics at your fingertips even when away from home. The best part of online resources is they are basically free!

  • experiment - When you do your grocery shopping, pick up one ingredient, herb, spice, fruit or vegetable you have not used before. It does not need to be expensive and in fact I suggest keeping the cost to just a couple of dollars. Keep it simple! Remember this is going to be a learning experience. When you get home go online and find a dish that uses the item you bought. Try to use it with foods you already have in your pantry or freezer.

    Remember how you cook foods affects how they look and taste. Try a different way to cook a vegetable, meat, fish or poultry. If you always boil potatoes for mashing try steaming them for nicer results. If you always steam asparagus, try grilling or baking for a different result. This simple method helps to stimulate your imagination and keeps you interested in cooking. It costs nothing but can be very rewarding!
Previously if I wanted a copy of a recipe I either had to write it out in long form, photocopy it or buy the cookbook/magazine but that is now a thing of the past! Instead I use my digital camera to take a picture of the recipe. Save as digital images to use as desired. Transfer to a flash drive to use on your kitchen computer. Essentially this costs you nothing aside of your initial equipment and ink if you decide to print out the recipe. This works well for any printed material such as cookbooks and magazines. It also works well for taking pictures of restaurant menus that often highlight the key ingredients in the dish. It is an excellent way to capture the look and presentation of the dish. Most restaurants do not have a problem with you doing this but if in doubt just ask.

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