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Figuring out what to cook

By Brenda Kohlmyer

There are a ton of recipes. Pick up any can or bag at the grocery store and itíll have a recipe on the back, or at the very least, the label will refer you to a website with a recipe. Finding recipes is not going to be a problem, finding small recipes may be, but there are more of those than you might imagine at the moment.

The real challenge is figuring out what you want to cook so you can put together a personal home menu. Whatís a home menu? Itís sort of like that little piece of plastic covered cardboard youíd find at a restaurant, only it has all of your favorite foods in one list.

Of course to have a favorite foods menu, youíll need to figure out what youíve already been eating, well, what youíve already been eating and actually like. Time to start making a list. Put down 30 of your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants and greasy spoons. Brainstorm good food youíve had at friendsí houses and family get togethers.

Think you donít already have 30 favorite dishes? Youíd be surprised. Maybe you like the soba noodles at the Olympia Farmers Market and the Palace Special at that Thai place in Bellevue or the spanakopita at the Greek restaurant by the grocery store in Bellingham. Then thereís steak and garlic mashed potatoes at the waterfront pub and bar-b-que at Safeco Field (and Kirkland too come to think of it.) That stand on Highway 99 has the best fresh peaches and the shop by headquarters in Waukeshaw has unbelievable frozen custardÖand Dougís wife brought that fruit pizza thing to the last company picnic. Aunt Maeve makes fabulous key lime pie and thereís Dadís famous lamb stew and the ex always made great Caesar salad.

And when you get stuck there, think about what you used to like to eat or cook, but havenít had in years because it was banned at home. Maybe five alarm chili? Or Belgian waffles with whipped cream?

Before you realize it, youíll have thirty possibilities to add to your home menu.

The second step is figuring out what you can actually make at home on a regular basis. Steak and potatoes? Check. Soba noodles? Check. Lamb stew? You betcha. Duck a la Orange? Only after
a couple years at chef school. But, that still leaves a monster list of good food thatís easy for the average cook to whip up for himself.

Now all you need is guidance, usually in the form of a couple of good cookbooks and a bunch of recipes pulled in from all over the place.

If you donít already have a stash of recipes from friends and family, start asking around for your favorites from holiday dinners and summer picnics. Be warned, some cooks share recipes and some donít. Cooks that donít share recipes fall into two groupsÖthose that enjoy the attention their dishes garner and donít want any competition Öand those that wing it entirely and simply donít have a recipe to share.

If grandma falls into this last group and you really want to duplicate her borscht, ask her to make it with you. Just remember to bring along a tape recorder so you can remember how itís done and have a chance to write down the ingredients and instructions later.

By the time youíre done with the process of gathering your first set of recipes youíll probably have about 12 dishes that fit two criteria. 1) You can cook them. 2) Youíll eat them. These will be the backbone of your culinary efforts. Think of them as the jumping off point for getting out of the restaurant rut.

Keep a legible copy of your personal home menu on the refrigerator and another copy in the car so whenever, and wherever, youíre deciding what to eat at home, you have a menu of your favorite dishes handy.

 

 

 

What was your favorite dinner when you were growing up?

Who cooked it?

Do you think she still has the recipe?