One of my passions is cooking. I always say cooking is one of my love languages. It’s how I show my family how much I love them! But one of the reasons I love cooking is the same reason many people hate it. Cooking is in fact a chore in the sense that it takes time and effort (some recipes more than others). But it doesn’t have to be a bad chore. In fact, it should be fun!
One of the things I love to do is tweak, re-create and customize recipes to make them my own. I’m here to show you how you can customize recipes to your family’s liking. That’s one of the reasons I have a recipe page in this blog. I wanted a way to share my creations.
When I was young and single, I traveled more than I do now. In my twenties, I enjoyed trying new foods and eating out was a luxury I enjoyed tremendously. As I traveled Europe before the year I entered law school, I had the blessing of eating local favorites in Italy and Spain. Those were two of the best weeks of my life!
At a pretty young age, I was cooking in the kitchen with my mom. She taught me the basic principals of cooking. And let me tell you something. When she told me that learning those basic principals would empower me to make nearly anything, she was right! If you know how to make a roux, you can make any soup, gravy, or sauce in the world.
In my twenties, I would hang out with an uncle that is near and dear to me, who was a fantastic chef! He had friends in larger cities who ran successful restaurants and so we would hang out and make killer recipes. In those days, I made many meals that were unique, challenging and fancy.
Today, I cook for my family, which is a little less exciting, but so much more rewarding. I cook every day with my boys in the kitchen. And I try to teach them the same principals my mom taught me, with a little flare from what my uncle taught me.
The biggest lesson I learned from both of them – was that cooking should be fun, not stressful. The second biggest lesson I learned from both of them – was that you can almost always customize a recipe to your liking, as long as you know what you can change and what you can’t change. So I’m going to share three simple ways you can customize many recipes.
These tips won’t help you with baking. But when it comes to meals – pastas, casseroles, and dishes, these principals are a great start.
(1) Cook with a protein your family will eat.
I’ve heard people say “oh that recipe sounds amazing but my kids don’t like salmon.” Then substitute it! It’s as simple as that. Do they like a different fish?
Now when substituting a fish protein – keep in mind that you’ll want to stay consistent with your texture. You can’t always take a recipe for a fish like tuna (which has a steak-like, firm texture) and substitute it with cod (which is flaky and falls apart easily). If you read the recipe, imagine whether there will be any pitfalls with your substitution. In the tuna -vs- cod example, if your recipe calls for grilling, and you try to slap a cod filet straight on the grill, you’ll likely watch most of it fall to the coals and light on fire.
Other than that, protein is an easy thing to substitute. If your family abstain from pork and you find a recipe that sounds divine, substitute chicken for the pork. It’s that simple!
(2) Switch up your cheese!
One of my go-to recipes is a one-pot macaroni and cheese recipe. It’s so simple and creamy and delicious. I use that base recipe to make regular mac n’ cheese, casseroles, and more. I just swap out a different cheese to add variety and if I want a heavier meal, I add a protein and some veggies!
It is amazing how much a different cheese can alter a recipe. Not only can it offer you variety so you don’t get sick of the same old thing every week, but you can customize the recipe to your family’s preference.
My kids are pretty good in the sense that they are not as picky as some kids I’ve seen, but they have their limits. The majority of them do not care for Swiss cheese. So if I find a recipe that calls for Swiss cheese, I use a different cheese that I know they will like better. Gruyere cheese is a great substitution for Swiss by the way. It has a similar base flavor, but without the same bite that Swiss cheese has.
(3) Mix up your veggies
When I was a kid, I thought there were about five different vegetables – beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and peas. Today, I see so many more options in the grocery store. There are different varieties of cauliflower, multi-colored carrots, and so much more! I think part of my awareness came from cooking meals myself.
A great way to push outside your comfort zone is to subscribe to a local farm share! Most share programs will deliver a much wider variety of vegetables than many people are used to cooking with. The first year we did that, I received leeks, beets, and various vegetables I had never cooked with. I wasn’t about to throw them away and waste nourishing food, so I learned how to cook with them.
The beautiful thing about today’s generation is that we have google and blogs and recipes at our fingertips. We don’t have to rely upon the 2-3 cookbooks we have on our shelf! So use that information! We live in an era where opportunities to learn new things are nearly endless!
So there you have it! You were probably expecting some shocking or surprising discovery. But cooking really isn’t all that tricky guys! It’s about diving in and giving things a try. You may not always win. I’ve made 1-2 things over the years that my hubby picked at and unconvincingly tried telling me was “okay.” (I only cried once – haha). But for the most part, they turn out great. And even in my failures, I grew as a cook and learned from my mistakes. That’s what life is all about!!!
I hope I’ve inspired you to try something new this week!