Maybe you have a favorite cookbook. Or a favorite cooking show. Or a favorite food blogger. And over and over again, they come up with winning recipes that taste great and fit with your style of eating (you can see my top 6 real food cookbooks here). But how do they do that? How do they come up with all those good recipe ideas? I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s how I come up with new recipes.
1. Based off of ingredients I have. If it’s a few days until the grocery budget resets, sometimes I end up doing an impromptu pantry and freezer challenge to tide us over until our next shopping trip. And that means making food based off of what we have. Sometimes it’s a soup with a mish-mash of chicken and whatever vegetables we have left. Sometimes it’s a new cookie recipe with less sugar (because we’re almost out) and some chopped fruit mixed in. And while some of those turn out to be duds, sometimes, those combinations turn into family favorites.
Example: Bacon and Split Pea Soup. I found some split peas on clearance, and then they sat in my cupboard for a long time. Fast forward to one of those pantry challenges, and I attempted to make a split pea soup with what we had on hand. It turned out great!
2. Based off a flavor I want to create. I love peanut butter and chocolate. And any time I can recreate that is a good thing. It’s even one of our favorite oatmeal topping combinations. But back when we used to buy oatmeal packets, I also really liked maple and brown sugar. So I tried to recreate that combination on my own, and now it’s a recipe in Real Food How To.
Example: Maple Pecan Granola. My basic Honey Nut Granola is still the go-to recipe, but every now and then I like a change, and the maple syrup combined with the sweet nutty pecans was a delicious variation.
3. Based off of one other recipe. This was definitely true when I was working on recipes for Oat Flour Muffins. I did Pinterest searches on muffins just to see what flavor combinations other people had tried. Some of those flavor ideas turned into muffins (like lemon blueberry). It’s also true when I find a recipe that sounds really tasty, but it isn’t gluten free. I’ll adapt it and make it my own. Using someone else’s recipe as a starting point is a perfect way to start coming up with your own versions of things.
Example: Energy Bites. The original recipe for these was pretty good, but I found that I kept making the same substitutions based on what I normally had in my pantry. So I made it officially my version of the recipe.
4. Based off of a combination of multiple other recipes. I remember when I was trying to find a good stuffed pepper recipe. We tried several different versions, but none of them were quite right. The version we use now is actually a combination of the best parts of several of the ones we tried. If you’re trying to find “the perfect _____ recipe” but they keep coming up short, think about what you like about each version you’ve tried, and what didn’t work so well. Keep the good things, change the not-so-good, and make your own.
Example: Katy’s Pesto. I’ve tried a few pesto recipes, and while the original with pine nuts is tasty, I don’t really ever buy those. I really liked the idea of using spinach from a spinach and almond pesto that we tried, so I kept that. The different herbs came from another recipe. All of those combined to make the version I enjoy most often in my kitchen.
5. Based off a skill I want to work on. I recently wrote about how I was intimidated by making a roux for a long time. But once I mastered that skill, I was able to use it in other recipes. Same for when I wanted to learn how to cook quinoa. I tried a few recipes, and once I had the basics down, I started adding my own flavors to it. This is the core of what Real Food How To is all about: learning or improving at certain kitchen skills by trying them out!
Example: Sausage and Roasted Eggplant Pasta. Eggplant behaved differently than other veggies, so I had to learn specifically how to cook it. But when I did, it turned out deliciously!
Sometimes, coming up with a new recipe is easy. Inspiration hits, I run to the kitchen, and we test things out. Other times, I have to look a little bit harder, and that’s when I turn to these strategies to come up with new recipes.