Food For Thought: Finding and Making Great Recipes + A Few Other Tips To Get Adventurous In The Kitchen

A huge part in changing your diet is finding the right recipes. As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I think it was a combination of being surrounded by a culture of people for whom eating well was a priority, as well as a pretty intense immersion into the food blog world that helped me to change my ways. One of my biggest misconceptions and hinderances to eating better was simply believing that that healthy food would taste terrible. But along the way, food blogger's amazing and delicious-looking photos got to me and I just couldn't resist trying many of their healthier recipes - I mean, we supposedly eat with our eyes, right?

While I can't say I have a secret formula to finding recipes, I have found a handful of tried-and-true blogs that I totally trust when it comes to recipes. Just like some people swear by America's Test Kitchen cookbook (Which I totally do too.) or are Rachel Ray die-hards, when you find a chef you like, you don't have to worry too much about trying something new, do you? Below is a list of some of my favorite food blogs, and if applicable, I've included a few links to some of their series that have helped to educate me and become more confident in the kitchen.

  • Oh My Veggies - They have a great weekly meatless meal plan post published once a week. If you want easy vegetarian meal planning - this is your blog. 
  • 100 Days of Real Food - A blog all about cutting out processed food. She does lots of "investigative-type" articles that look at the pros and cons of all the food products out there. Like understanding the different types of milk, she breaks down the food industry into bite-sized blog posts that help you sort out what's nutritious and what's just marketing. 
  • A Couple Cooks - I've shared it before, but their Healthy + Whole Project has been super inspirational in my food journey. If you haven't checked it out, you should.
  • Annie's Eats - Sometimes her recipes can seem intense, but usually she's just super thorough. Everything I've ever made from her has been super good. 
  • Food For My Family - Great blog for people with kiddos and lots of thoughts on involving children in the kitchen. 
  • Espresso and Cream - You know by now Madison is a dear friend of mine. Her recipes are super simple and down to earth, lots of great breakfast recipes on her blog. Seriously, just search "pancakes" on her blog and you'll see what I mean. They. are. all. good. 
  • Iowa Girl Eats - Runs a series called "Take-Out Fake-Out" which is great for lots of those Chinese recipes you might be looking for. She usually has very simple recipes and she breaks down every step. 
  • Joy The Baker - Great series on Baking 101 - definitely up my baked goods game. 
  • Oh She Glows - Everything is good. Everything. 
  • Pinch Of Yum - Super easy and delicious meals. Plus, I'm pretty sure they live in my neighborhood. I can't be sure, but I like thinking they do. 
  • Smitten Kitchen - You'll likely find many weird ingredients, or at the least, weird combinations - but I guarantee, if you make something from this blog you'll love it. I do tend to sub more frequently with her recipes, but they still have a great turn-out track record. 
  • Sprouted Kitchen - The photos will make you want to make everything. And you probably should. 
  • Simply Scratch - A great blog cooking-from-scratch how-to's. 
  • Simple Bites - Great place for cooking simple, whole food meals. Lots of tips on food budgets, meal plans and how to eat seasonally and local. Super down to earth and simple meals. 
  • Cookbooks: I don't use cookbooks much, but the two I love are Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day, (Which I exclusively use for bread, pastries, pita bread, hamburger/hotdog buns, pizza dough and the like.) and America's Test Kitchen. Both great investments. 
Particularly when you start reading whole food or healthier blogs, you might start coming across some unfamiliar or different ingredients. First off, GOOGLE THEM. The unknown is always scary, find out what it's similar to, what types of dishes it's usually used in, and if it's carried in a normal or speciality grocery store. If it's something you're familiar with, but you've never used the "fresh" version - like ginger or garlic, research how to peel it/store it/chop it. It will make your life much easier and the ingredient much less scary. (ps. I truly hope you've worked with them before, but have you seen this game changer for cutting cherry tomatoes? Awesome.)

Sometimes, I can have a hard time justifying an ingredient - particularly with Asian foods, lots of the ingredients seem like they don't overlap into other types of dishes and at first, I would be worried that I wouldn't cook enough Asian food to justify the cost of purchasing an entire bottle. It's the worst to feel like you only used a spoonful of something and then throw it out, isn't it? Things like fish sauce, hoisin sauce and rice vinegar - all things that I'd really never heard of growing up - are frequently in Asian food if you plan on making it at home, and today are pantry staples in my home. If you're nervous about justifying the cost of a speciality ingredient, I'd suggest one of two things: Either 1) look up a substitution, or if you start seeing it frequently enough, 2) it's probably time to bite the bullet. But also be sure the ingredient will truly affect the end result of the dish. Something like Veganese (basically mayo for Vegans) for example, comes up in recipes I read a lot - but I know that's mayo is just as good,  and is a very suitable replacement. But something like fish sauce - there's really no good substitute for it - and the quality of the final product depends on it, so it's definitely worth purchasing. I think you'll find as you cook more and more homemade, you'll stop having to throw out entire bottles that you purchased originally for just one recipe and they're worth investing in.

Another question I get asked is how to use up leftover ingredients. While I'll go through how I meal plan in a post later this week - which is a huge part of not wasting ingredients, sometimes there are still a few items I have leftover at the end of the week that I need to use up. Like extra herbs, a half a pepper, fresh mozzarella, whatever. I've got about three "catch all" recipes that I use to use them up, but I'm not sure you could even call them recipes, since they change depending on what I have leftover.
  1. Homemade pizza. I make this dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day and it's amazing. You can make a big batch and freeze it, then just pull it out to defrost in the fridge the night before. Pizzas are super forgiving for lots of toppings and I have this baking stone, which I can use in the oven or on the grill, depending on how hot it is outside that day. After you shape the dough (this dough gets nice and thin!), throw on olive oil and sea salt, maybe a can of fire roasted tomatoes and then whatever toppings you have, some motz (fresh if you have it) and parm, and you have yourself a pretty fine meal. (ps. I PROMISE, I will talk about bread baking with you guys - the post is coming, but I just want to get a few other things out there first.)
  2. Omelet or frittata. Both super easy. I like the Frittata for dinner because it's meant to be eaten at room temperature, so I can make it at 4 p.m. during nap and serve it at 6:30 p.m. with fruit and a side salad. 
  3. Quesadilla - I grew up on quesadilla's and still can't kick the habit. That's because they're awesome for using up extra cheese, veggies, meat and herbs. Make a salsa to throw on top and it'll be extra delicious and look like you spent just a little more time on it. 
  4. One final trick - say I have three ingredients leftover, like asparagus, red pepper and goat cheese. I'll literally google those three ingredients with the word "recipe" at the end, and lots of options typically come up with ideas. I can usually find one in there that sounds good and I have the ingredients for.
Okay, so hopefully this will help get you started expanding your recipe repertoire and get you more adventurous in the kitchen. Remember, baby steps. No matter how much I grow and change as a cook or baker, I'm not sure I'll ever be one of those people that can just "whip something up with a little of this and a little of that" without at least using a recipe as a base. I know people like that seem super cool, and it's almost a bragging right these days to say, "I don't use recipes and my food is still amazing." That's great for some people, but if you really want to give healthier eating a go, give it a fair shake and make the recipe as is. As you get better, you'll learn where you can deviate and improvise and likely even have a few dishes that you can put your own stamp on.

Also remember, you don't have to make 30 different recipes every month. Start small and conquer a few and get them on regular rotation at your house. I personally enjoy trying new recipes, so much so that Mike has to beg me to make something again. But I know other people are not like that, and that's okay! Don't feel like you need to be like anyone else or get overwhelmed with what you hear someone else is doing. Food is super personal and you should feel comfortable in kitchen. So focus on making small changes and I think you'll be surprised at how they'll soon turn into a big one.

Like this post? Here's the others in this series.
Food For Thought: Misunderstandings & Baby Steps
Food For Thought: My Transformation

9 comments:

  1. Great post, and wonderful roundup of blogs - many of which I read regularly and cook from, too. If you haven't been to Cookie + Kate (http://cookieandkate.com) or My New Roots (http://www.mynewroots.org/site/), check them out! They are two of my favorites.


    If you can't tell, I'm a total foodie, and am giddy excited anytime someone mentions sharing how they meal plan. Excited to see how you do this. It has drastically cut back on my food waste, and allows me to meal prep ahead of time.

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  2. ack- I can't not comment- with respect to asian food.. I totally used to be that person that was easily scared off by the REAL ingredients in a from-scratch asian dish, like rice vinegar and toasted sesame seed oil... and I can't emphasize enough how WORTH IT it is to buy these! Stir fry with just soy sauce is ok in a pinch but toasted sesame seed oil is a LIFE changer and really gives it that authentic asian food taste. ack, so delicious. I have bought one bottle and it's lasted me years, too (maybe that means it's expired... but it tastes fine, haha, and nobody has gotten sick so MEH).

    Also that tomato cutting hack also just changed my life. I had no idea.

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  3. Delightful resource & delicious food!

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  4. Just getting caught up on blog reading, and I love this post! It's so fun hearing about how people are making every effort to live and eat healthier, and I'm honored to be on your list. I know you said you don't have many cookbooks you use, but I would strongly suggest buying the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook if you don't already have it. It's amazing and truly one of the best cookbooks I've purchased in years!

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  5. Oh! I've been meaning to get that! I did check it out from the library recently and it was amazing. Thanks for the kick to make the purchase!

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  6. another favorite food blog of mind is Budget Bytes...affordable, delicious, and usually healthy recipes

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  7. Ooo definitely - I'll check it out!

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  8. What a great post! And ~~ SO glad you enjoy our H+W series; good to know someone is reading!

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  9. Thanks Alex! I love your blog, and it's been so inspirational. Please keep up the great work!

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