You’ve read the cookbooks. You’ve watched the cooking shows. At this point, you have a firm grasp of the basics of cooking. But how can you enhance your skills? As is often the case, mastering your own particular style occurs when you go from mimic to maker. Recipes can be viewed a lot like a map. At some point, you can stop following their every instruction or suggestion, or even stop using them all together. Instead, you’ll use your own knowledge and skills to make food the way you and your loved ones enjoy most!
But how can you foster this creativity? Beyond having a base level of cooking knowledge, there are a few fun ways you can teach yourself to be more creative in the kitchen. Of course, you can always just experiment, but it helps to have some structure to get you started. So, to help encourage you, we’ve thought up three ways to elevate your kitchen experimentation!
Play Chopped at Home
Food Network’s Chopped is one of the quintessential cooking shows, especially among cooking competition shows. It’s a fairly simple concept — four chefs compete in three rounds (appetizer, main course, and dessert), and the chefs are given a basket with four key items they must transform and make the centerpieces of their dish. One chef is eliminated (or chopped) each round until there is a winner.
You can bring this cooking competition to your own kitchen! You don’t need to make a three-course meal, but instead use the show’s concept for a single dish. Test yourself to utilize four random ingredients to discover new foods and how to cook them. Most importantly, this challenge gets you thinking about how different flavors and taste play off each other and mix (or don’t).
Test yourself to utilize four random ingredients to discover new foods and how to cook them.
The trickiest part is selecting the ingredients, because you want it to be somewhat random to really test yourself. We’ve thought of three selection methods, so pick the one you like best. First, you can have a friend or family member select them. To make sure they’re picking edible ingredients, they have to also eat what you cook. Second, you can look in your pantry or fridge to see what you have that’s been overlooked. Have a jar of pickles you haven’t touched for a while, some lunchmeat that’s about to go out of date, and a ball of fresh mozzarella? Use these items and turn them into a cohesive dish! Finally, you could turn to a random food ingredient generator before heading to the grocery store. You could get the challenge of figuring out how to use garlic powder, tonic water, ricotta, and andouille sausage together.
Similar to the last game, this next idea is more focused on reusing food in a way that both recreates and cuts down on food waste. Too often, leftovers either get tossed in the garbage or reheated in the microwave to lukewarm results. However, if we allow ourselves to have fun with our leftover food, we can do better than lukewarm lunch. And really, don’t we all deserve better than that? So, not only does this game help you reuse food to cut down on food waste and grocery bills, it also gets you thinking about clever ways to transform ingredients beyond just heating them up. It’s also a bit tougher than the previous game because the ingredients all are already cooked and seasoned, which could give you fewer options to work with or more hurdles to jump over.
Not only does this game help you reuse food to cut down on food waste and grocery bills, it also gets you thinking about clever ways to transform ingredients beyond just heating them up.
The trick to this challenge is to find a group of leftovers in your fridge to be the main ingredients of the dish. You can use other foods, too, but the bulk of the ingredients should be leftovers. Then, take your time deciding the best ways to combine these foods into a single cohesive recipe. If you don’t know where to start, we’ve actually presented a few of these scenarios in articles that you can read here:
- Winner, Winner, Double Chicken Dinner: Leftover Roasted Chicken Becomes Pot Pie!
- Save Time and Money When Leftover Brisket Becomes Philly Cheesesteaks
- Turn Leftover Pork Loin from Last Night Into Pulled Pork Delight
- Transform Last Night’s Mashed Potatoes Into Delicious Gnocchi
- 3 Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers
Country Cuisine Roulette
Our final kitchen creativity challenge involves a globe-trotting world tour. Don’t worry, you won’t have to leave your kitchen (except to maybe get ingredients). The big difference with this game compared to the others is that it takes a little planning, especially since you may not have all the ingredients at home. What you do is pick a country at random and research its national dish or at least a popular one in that country, and then you make it! Not only is this a really neat way to experience other cultures from your own home, you can learn about different styles of cooking, spices, ingredients, and flavor combinations. Then, you can utilize these in your own cooking to add a twist to other recipes that may need it.
Just pick a country at random and research its national dish or at least a popular one in that country, and then you make it!
Here are two ways you could choose a country. First, you could use the old dart method. Get a world map, throw a dart at it, and cook a recipe from the country it lands on. The other option is to use an online random country generator, much like the random food ingredient generator mentioned earlier. So, for example, we used the random country generator and got Haiti. From there, we researched and learned about a popular Haitian dish called pate (sometimes called patties). It’s a puffed pastry pocket filled with savory ingredients, blending French and African influences, making it a great representation of the island itself. From this challenge, we learned how to make a new recipe, got a deeper appreciation for Haitian cooking, and learned a little about their culture and history!
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All these challenges invite you to push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and do something new with your cooking. Ultimately, that’s the important thing — to make cooking fun and carefree. When you really enjoy making food without fear of messing up, it tends to get your creative juices flowing. By allowing yourself to experiment and be creative, you’re becoming your own cooking teacher, learning your way through delicious, hands-on lessons.