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Chat Leftovers: Start Me Up

It's that time again, for another Food section and another Food section chat. Join us at 1 today in the usual place. You can ask questions, swap ideas and talk herbs with guest Nancy Baggett.

But first, time to clear up some unfinished business from last week's chat, when, as usual, we left a slew of questions unanswered. Here's one of them.

Arlington: My problem is one of inspiration. I love to cook, but I often find myself reading recipes and not feeling inspired by them. Maybe I don’t have all the ingredients, or it takes five hours and it’s 6 p.m. on a Tuesday.
I try to plan ahead on menus, and I want to try new recipes, but when I go through cookbooks I end up feeling sort of overwhelmed and retreat back to my familiar dishes. Any ideas for getting out of a cooking rut?

Absolutely! I have two ideas for you. One’s perfect for right now, the other is good anytime.

1. You want inspiration? This time of year especially, there’s nothing more inspiring than your local farmers market. The fruit is juicy and fresh, the vegetables are bright and beautiful, the meats and dairy products are tempting. You’re bound to see something you want to cook.

And at many markets, the vendors are full of advice. If you’re not sure how to prepare a particular food, just ask. Often the vendor has a written recipe to hand out or can recite one from memory. Other marketgoers are apt to hear your question and chime in with suggestions of their own. It’s a great way to learn about food and to branch out: Make a vow, for instance, to try something new each week. You live in Arlington, close to several very good markets, so this is a natural for you.

2. If cookbooks are too overwhelming, limit your focus. I hate to toot our own horn, but I will: A perfect solution for you is the Food section’s weekly Dinner in Minutes column on Page 2. It features an interesting new recipe that doesn’t take long to make and doesn’t call for tons of ingredients, though it usually requires a trip to the supermarket.

Because structure helps steel resolve, craft a plan and stick to it. Vow to make every week’s recipe, whether you think you might like it or not. (We pick dishes that we think most eaters will like, so even if some of them don’t immediately appeal to you, you might be surprised by how good they taste.) Check this blog for the recipe’s shopping list a day ahead of time, every Tuesday.

Mustard-Roasted Fish, a recipe from Ina Garten that you can put on the table in 20 minutes. (Quentin Bacon Photo)

Or just work a week behind, so you can shop for it over the weekend. Why not cook today’s recipe next week, because you might want to check out an Asian market for one or more of the ingredients? For this week, start off with Mustard Roasted Fish, an oldie but goodie from last year that is a snap to shop for and really delicious. In fact, once you taste the creamy-tangy sauce, you’ll want to try it on differents kinds of fish, or chicken, or pork. In other words, it’s an inspiration. Just what you needed, right?

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  August 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
 | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Next: Great Wine You Can't Buy Here


Or, if you have an interesting ingredient in mind -- like when my grocery store had pomegranates -- go to one of the many recipe websites and run a search. It's a lot quicker and more targeted than flipping through a cookbook, and a lot of the websites will tell you how long it takes to make, so you can pick the quick ones.

Posted by: laura33 | August 26, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Since we have a CSA, it's a fantastic jumping off point to figure out what to make for dinner/lunches, similar to the farmer's market suggestion. During the wintertime, we usually use what's on sale as a jumping off point. Oh, beans are on sale, let's make soup. Or whatever.

Posted by: skertrevir | August 30, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

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