Getting creative in the kitchen

I love to cook. But having to put something on the table, day in and day out, can wear a girl down. Worse still when the fridge seems empty, when a key ingredient or two is out of stock, or when I’m just generally in a cooking rut. But I’m discovering that it’s at these times when I’m forced to make something up and get creative, that I’m there in the flow, having fun and coming up with something yummy after all. 

Here are some ways I’ve gone from forced to flow in my little kitchen:

Ingredients Improv


Cake flour, buttermilk, heavy cream. Not things I typically keep in my fridge, so seeing it in an ingredient list has in the past caused me to move along to another recipe. But I’m getting a bit more relaxed in my old age, and opening up to a bit of ingredients improv. Case in point, the bran muffins above (sorry, no “after” picture taken).

Missing ingredients: yogurt, prune juice, molasses.

Replaced with: coconut milk, home made prune puree, maple syrup.

Spontaneous extras: grated carrot, dried coconut

Surprise, surprise. They were perfect and delicious and gone within the day. One dozen, and I can only account 1.5 of them going to the kid.

Other regular occurrences of ingredient improve include, lemon zest (fresh or frozen) in pancakes or any other cake-y offering such as my old standby, the upside-down cake. Since pineapples are rare in our home and so are usually enjoyed straight up, more improv takes place beneath said layer of lemon-zesty cake: peaches, plums, apples, blueberries or saskatoon berries… you get the idea.

Old dog, new tricks


Cheesy, spicy oatmeal. Oh yes I did! Now before you get all gaggy, give it a try! If you ask me, this is the fastest facsimile of risotto you could hope for. And you can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Reminds me of the noodles with butter, cheese and pepper sauce my grand mother used to make for us when she baby sat. Easy, comforting and delicious.

Here’s an approximate recipe which could serve 2 people:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 cups water
  • pinch of salt

To cook, bring to a boil on high, then turn heat to low and simmer until the oats are soft and the oatmeal is a nice thick consistency. Serve it up and top with a knob of organic butter (the organic stuff  is totally worth the $10/lb for flavour and feel-goodness), sharp cheddar, chives, pepper sauce (if you’re Trini, like me), or pepper flakes and fresh cracked black pepper. I could totally see this being yum with some steamed veggies on top – broccoli, maybe? Or garlic sautéed mushrooms. Clearly there’s room for creativity here! Seriously, try it!

A new habit


I get a lot of visual inspiration from my monthly Martha Stewart magazine. As well as some cool tips that I actually put into action. Collecting veggie scraps from daily food prep for making veggie stock was one example that has become a new habit. Stock is another of those ingredients that I don’t keep on hand, instead relying on bullion cubes. But it feels great to glean some added value from the bags and bags of veggie scraps that usually go directly to the compost bin.

Here’s how I make it: 

Once I’ve accumulated a bag full of scraps (it doesn’t take me long, one or two weeks), I put the frozen mass into my stock pot, cover it with water and put it to boil. I let it boil for about an hour to extract the goodness, though not longer, as I’ve read that unlike meat stock, veggie stock doesn’t become richer with lots of boiling.

It’s ready to use right away, but you can also keep a jar of it in the fridge for soup that week, or once cooled, into a ziploc bag in the freezer for later use.

A new spice is nice!


Somehow I got addicted to cumin and coriander. I add it to everything and it makes everything yummy. But recently I got turned on to smoked paprika, and Eureka! Things got exciting again. Smoked paprika in a tofu scramble! Smoked paprika on popcorn! Smoked paprika in scrambled eggs! And the nice thing about getting hooked on a new spice is that going back to an old favourite – like cumin and coriander – makes them exciting again.

Silly experiments


Before I became a mother, daily breakfast came and went without a big fuss. I ate it standing up at the kitchen counter, or in front the computer, on to-go out of a paper bag. But now with my little guy, breakfast feels as important at lunch and dinner, so I do my best to offer something he’s more likely to gobble down rather than fling aside. And I gotta do it every day. So little experiments like the one above keep things interesting for both of us.

What exactly is that, you ask?

What you see above is a canning jar ring, with an egg frying inside. What you don’t see though, is the sautéed lentils as the first layer and the finely chopped kale as the second layer (both leftovers from the night before).

It was a little tricky separating the food from the ring (I think there’s an actual kitchen gadget for this), but I’m happy to report that it was a big hit! He loved eating it and I had fun making it. Win-win.

So there are a couple of my little kitchen inspirations. How about you? How do you keep things interesting for you and your family? Share your tips, tricks and silly experiments in the comments below!