I realised a couple of weeks ago that I’m well and truly stuck in a cooking rut. Despite the fact we own more recipe books than your average branch of Waterstones, I only ever seem to cook the same few dishes on repeat: lasagne, chilli con carne (made from the same packet of mince, obvs) and ‘stew’, which is whatever meat I find in the freezer plus whatever veg I find in the fridge (chuck it all in a big casserole dish in the oven, forget about it for several hours until the meaty smell has fully permeated every pile of fresh washing in the house, and – hey presto – stew o’clock).
Now that summer’s sort of here, I’ve vowed to add some different – and less wintery – dishes to my repertoire, even if it’s just a few new favourites. If you’re stuck in the same cycle of meals on repeat, here are a few things I’ve tried that have actually been quite useful…
1. Subscribe to a cookery magazine
I’m far too stingy to spend actual money on magazines, but I figured out I could use my Tesco Clubcard vouchers to pay for a 6-month subscription to BBC Good Food (it was the cheapest, or I may have chosen a different one). I don’t often get a chance to causally flick through a glossy mag these days, but I’m thinking it’ll be a good compromise between chilling out and hopefully picking up some new recipe ideas. I’ll keep you posted, seeing as I’m still waiting for it to land on my doormat. It’s the thought that counts though, right?
2. Swap recipe books
I’ve discovered a few really lovely recipe books thanks to friends who’ve lent me theirs (including the whole range of Nosh books, which I’d really recommend if you’re all about no-faff cooking). In the same way I always want what my husband orders at a restaurant, my friends’ recipe books are just a million times more appealing. Don’t ask me why, but do try the swapsie thing.
3. Get a recipe box delivered
Gousto sent us a recipe box to try out a few weeks back, and we’ve been waxing lyrical about it to anyone who’ll listen ever since. In a nutshell, you go online and choose from 12 new recipes each week, and they’ll send everything you need to make two to four meals, depending on how much you want to spend (prices start from £27.49 for a two-meal, two-person box – there’s more on prices here).
After an awful week, I breathed a massive sigh of relief when my box arrived on Friday night with all the pre-measured ingredients to make two posh meals. The husband and I made Thai beef and brothy noodles on Friday night, and cooking together was a lot more enjoyable than flicking through the tellie channels in silence while waiting for a takeaway curry, for about the same price. I cooked Mexican pork chilli with apple salsa the following evening for the kids (deliberately chosen as a variation on my standard beef chilli) and there wasn’t a scrap of waste because the portion sizes are set. I’d recommend taking a look even if you don’t plan to get regular deliveries – there’s no subscription fee so you only get boxes when you want them, and it’s a great way to get a bit of foodie inspiration or plan a date night when you’re stuck for babysitters.
4. Pick up one new ingredient a week
A friend suggested I chucked something new in my trolley with every food shop, and it’s a great tip. I do all my food shopping online, so it’s a little more difficult to be spontaneous, but I’ve been scouring the virtual world-food aisle and I’ve already found some weird and wonderful things. Suggestions for tamarind paste, please?
5. Take a look at Foodgawker
I’m a little bit in love with Foodgawker, which is basically a massive Pinterest board of foodie pictures. I don’t even use it to get full recipes – a quick scroll through is sometimes all you need to remember those eggs languishing in the back of the fridge wishing someone would turn them into a frittata.
6. Swap one ingredient in your standard dishes
This one’s particularly good if you’ve got fussy people in your house who might not be happy to try new dishes. Just take whatever dish it is you usually cook, and swap out one of the ingredients. Since trying the Gousto box I now alternate between pork and beef for chilli con carne, and I add a bit of chipotle paste to give it a Mexican kick. Another one I tried was swapping the usual potatoes and veg with roast lamb, to cous-cous instead. Stick a bit of harissa paste on the lamb when it’s cooking, throw a few raisins in the cous-cous, and before you know it you’ve got a new take on an old classic.
I’m still not quite out of my cooking rut, but I’m definitely less fed up of cooking the same old thing. If you’ve got any tips for discovering new dishes, I’d love to hear them. And my family would probably be pretty grateful, too.
Disclosure: Gousto kindly sent me a recipe box to try out. As always, opinions are my own.