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Old 12-28-2007, 01:19 PM   #1
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Are you good at improvising meals?

dh and I had a conversation last night. He's telling me that he thinks I need to get better about improvising meals with what we have in the fridge. I think it is either a skill you have or you don't. I don't have it. I need a recipe or at least need to have something planned out ahead of time.

That being said, I feel like whenever he improvises it is not something I'd like to eat.

Now that we live in town, we don't eat out anymore. I need to plan out a weekly menu and acquire a lot more ideas for meals.

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Old 12-28-2007, 01:32 PM   #2
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I think improvising is something you can learn. I think almost any cooking skill (including planning etc) is something you can learn. Its tough to learn something without a teacher though. So, if you haven't learned to do it and you are living with someone who doesn't know how, then you might have a tough time figuring it all out.

I say use the new forum "I have these ingredients..." and we will help you learn corazon!
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Old 12-28-2007, 01:45 PM   #3
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Awww, of course we will help you, corazon!

THere are some staples that you can keep on hand to use when you want to whip up anything you have in the fridge.

Examples of such staples are: tortillas (millions of things you can put in, on and in between them), pizza dough or Bobolli (no such thing as a bad pizza topping), elbow macaroni (you can make either a hot or a cold mixture of just about anything). Canned tomatoes, jars of tomato sauce, box of chicken broth, eggs, cream of mushroom soup, frozen vegs, ummm well, that's a start.

I'm sure others will have a lot more to say on this one! :-)

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Old 12-28-2007, 01:46 PM   #4
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i have the opposite problem, cora.

i have a hard time keeping to a single recipe. i keep thinking of ways that a dish might be improved or changed to suit my liking better, so i tend to improvise all the time.
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Old 12-28-2007, 01:50 PM   #5
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Thanks guys. I did think of the "i only have this, help" forum. I will be posting there more.

I knew you'd have it bt, your creations always sound delicious. That is what I want to be able to do but I think I lack the creativity. A picky dh doesn't help either.
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Old 12-28-2007, 02:10 PM   #6
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believe me, cora, many of my creations in my first few years of cooking were real stinkers. fortunately, i cooked for myself and for girlfriends that had to like it.
i think my cooking got better as i learned the basics from watching cooking shows and really a lot of what i've learned here. things like the difference between sweating and browning, how the maillard reaction works and why it's important in certain dishes, when to add herbs, how to finish dishes with salt or butter or other flavor enhancers, when to keep something plain and simple to highlight a particular ingredient, or when you're going for deeper, more complex tastes, and the balance of ingredients in the latter, etc..
watching the giants like julia child or jacques pepin, or maryanne esposito
or lidia bastianich really helps to learn basic techniques which can be expanded upon.

btw, i have a picky spouse as well, but so long as i make it healthy (low fat, low cholesterol, whole grains, etc.) she'll at least give it a try. your hubby is a health nut too, so try to sell it to him that way.

something that got me into the creative part was doing the food shopping, iron chef style. that is when i went food shopping, i'd pick up an ingredient that i liked (usually on sale) and i'd think, "if i were an iron chef, what 5 things could i make with this". and then the creativity would kick in. what different techniques could i employ to make this tasty. then as i'd continue shopping, other stuff on sale would help steer me as to what kind of dish i might make.
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Old 12-28-2007, 02:20 PM   #7
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because we raise much of the food/meals we eat, I have a certain list of ingredients with which to work. But I also love having recipes before me to look at when I put together a dish. So I search my cookbooks and online for recipes based on what ingredients are at hand. I agree with Alex that it is a skill that can be learned. For me, I was eased into it. The first gardens were small and over the years I have learned what I like to cook with and what not to plant! But I also have a DH that will eat most anything put before him. He's not much on cooking, (boy is that an understatement) and is grateful for the meals I prepare. But I really rely on recipes for inspiration.
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Old 12-28-2007, 02:23 PM   #8
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Corazon, do you READ cookbooks? I don't mean just recipes on line like here and other sites... I mean books.

If not I suggest Pam Anderson's book "How to Cook Without a Book." It is truly fabulous, and will help you conquer all your fears of this!

You can check it out by clicking on the link above. I think you'll like it!
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Old 12-28-2007, 02:35 PM   #9
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We were having a discussion the other day (DW and I). I asked her if I was a good cook. She was ambiuvelent at best saying the reason was I occasionally made strange combinations.
Use your knowledge from the recipes you have been following and then experiment a little with changes at first, a thought process of that will work in there. Try it and if it works great, if it doesn't you have learnt one mopre thing about combinations. Be open to the comments and learn from them as well, this will help you evolve your cooking style. Few people are immediately creative, it is about testing and experimenting.

I also learn by watching cookery shows especially on over here (Ready Steady Cook) where the cooks are presented with a bag of ingriedients and create several dishes in 20 minutes. I gain a lot of ideas from them.
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Old 12-28-2007, 04:05 PM   #10
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Thanks everyone. You are all so helpful.

I feel like dh is picky in a complex way. He'll eat eggs, as long as he can't taste them, so I have to load them up with veggies and meat or chile. I always need to do something special to a piece of meat. The only thing he will eat that is easy is grilled steak.

Thanks ChefJune. I'll be picking that book up from the library today. I get Fine Cooking every month and I really like when they give a basic recipe and give suggestions on many different ways you can mess with it. Unfortunately, most of the magazine has structured recipes, only one free lance one in an issue. There was one for a baked pasta that I have made so many different ways.

I also feel like I need suggestions from dh but he doesn't want to give them to me. He's no help at all.
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Old 12-28-2007, 04:29 PM   #11
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Quote:
I also feel like I need suggestions from dh but he doesn't want to give them to me. He's no help at all.
There's an up-side to that... He has no room to complain if you choose something he doesn't like and he hasn't told you that!

It also gives you more room to be creative. If he gave you a list of "don'ts" or "do's" it might affect how you put recipes together. You probably know pretty well what he DOES like, and what he hates, so I'd guess you'll take that knowledge with you as you search. But do get Pam's book, it may solve all your problems!
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Old 12-28-2007, 07:10 PM   #12
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I found that by looking at lots of recipes, you can break them down into components or styles, and then most are just variations on a theme. Cooking theory becomes a lot easier then - may not help your technique but it does help your understanding of what you are doing. The other thing is to learn what flavours work together and that is personal preference as much as classic pairings.

I start by choosing my basic ingredient, usually the carbohydrate source, and then add to it with say the veges that need to be used up or are super fresh or the protein source. From that I then choose the style that I want to cook. That's pretty much it in a very basic form.

With your DH, I know what you mean but I don't have to deal with that situation every day - only when my mum comes to visit!! LOL She always says "anything is fine" but I know that "anything" is far from fine!! And because she is my mum, not only do I want to make her something she will like, but I will know when she doesn't like it because I know her well enough to recognise the signs, even if she says she likes it. It is very frustrating. Sometimes you just have to ignore the preferences of others and just go for it and if they don't like it, well they can always have a sandwich!

I also get some of my inspiration from restaurant menus and I don't mean by eating out (although it does help). With my role on another forum site, I spend a lot of time reading diners restaurant reviews and I will often check out an online menu to see the restaurant's description of the dish the diner ate. You can get some great inspiration from those menus.

And as was said by Miniman (I think - on the previous page), Ready Steady Cook can be inspiring, although the UK version is better than ours. If you don't have access to it where you are, there are some episodes on YouTube.
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Old 12-28-2007, 07:59 PM   #13
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I say be creative! kinda like buckytom said, you may have a few stinkers along the way, but hey, you gave it a try and you learned. Plus, you got us to help you out, just tell us what you got and we can give you some ideas.

I agree, DH needs to give you some idea what he is in the mood for! Otherwise, I don't want to hear you complaining!!
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Old 12-28-2007, 08:20 PM   #14
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DH says I can make a meal out of nothing. I think it comes with having been poor. I have a well-stocked pantry now, which makes it a lot easier.
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Old 12-28-2007, 08:53 PM   #15
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Start simple if you have some pasta you can whip up a pasta dish with the odds and ends you have another one is stir fry keep rice on hand.Another idea is to think out side of the box if its dinner it could be omelets and all the other breakfast fare or the omelet with salad and garlic bread.Its really just looking at what you have to see what you can make.I would keep certain staples on hand like rice,pasta.canned mushrooms,roasted red peppers,canned artichokes,pesto,beans,olives,garlic,soy sauce,Flour tortillas and frozen vegies,shrimp and french bread etc in freezer.Some cheeses etc if you have a few good staples you can make a meal much easier with what you already have in the fridge. Another idea is keep some of your leftovers in the freezer like spaghetti sauce,chicken etc.You could make an omelet and cover it with spaghetti sauce and parmesan.Just try to imagine what goes together and do it.I have had some miserable failures and some masterpieces.
Quesadillas can be made with all kinds of leftovers.The sky is the limit.
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Old 12-28-2007, 09:14 PM   #16
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I love to improvise. Like many others have mentioned, pasta or rice is cheap and handy to have around. Add a meat... ground beef or turkey and a sauce... tomato or alfredo. Some canned veggies... I keep around sweet corn, canned tomatos and greenbeans as well as beans. I like pintos and northern white because they fit in with pretty much anything. I also have a can of "stir-fry" veggies for a quick stir fry with some chicken, steak or shrimp. A few canned soups such as cream of mushroom, chicken, celery, et. always makes for a quick sauce. I also keep around some easy instant mashed taters and stuffing. Veggie stock because it goes with anything. Onions and garlic are a must as they make anything better. Maybe some cheese... shredded chedder, mozzarella, or maybe an Italian mix. Spices are something I'm still learning about.

I've made some, let's just say, interesting concoctions... some I've handed over to the dog nothing wrong with that. Improv in cooking is a learning experience so don't be afraid to just go with what you might be a good combination. And don't get discouraged if it doesn't come out like you expected.
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Old 12-29-2007, 06:41 AM   #17
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I keep well stocked pantry and freezers, but sometimes I have almost a love/hate relationship with cooking. Sometimes ideas just are abundant in my head and sometimes I look at everything and think "I can't stand to cook tonight". Between Thanksgiving and Christmas enjoyed cooking so much, but since I've been in a real slump. I'm tired of cooking and tired of eating. I've not even been able to think of something I'd enjoy. I know this will pass, but I'd much rather stay on an even keel with my cooking. I hope that comes soon.
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Old 12-29-2007, 06:49 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by corazon View Post
Are you good at improvising meals?
only about 364 days of the year
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Old 12-29-2007, 07:44 AM   #19
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YT, who's doing the cooking on that one day? ;)

I never cook as the recipe sais... almost everytimes there is something I don't like, I don't have or I think something else would fit great..
It's no problem to search through the fridge and freezer and boards and create something...
but these meals are almost unique, as I can't remember what I did afterwards...
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Old 12-29-2007, 07:53 AM   #20
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me, it`s Christmas dinner and there`s little room for change.
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