There are many things that inspire me to cook, from TV to friends and family, cookbooks, and more.
For several years I have been watching the Food Network, starting with Emeril Lagasse, and moving on to such master cooks as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Alton Brown. They have a wide variety of recipes including ethnic food, regional American cuisine, and health food that inspires and influences the cooking I do at home. I would also watch local food shows on the various PBS and local channels I got.
There was a point at which the Food Network and other cooking shows I was watching started to repeat themselves a lot, so I began to look to other sources for inspiration. I would look through recipe websites for elaboration on ideas I had. I would also make an effort to buy products with recipes on the label, and if I didn’t think they were sufficient, I would tailor them to my needs. For example, I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years (since the beginning of college, for a variety of reasons) so for a recipe that called for ground beef, I would use one (or more) of several substitutions: ground vegetarian meat, diced mushrooms, cheese, or other vegetables. Sometimes I would find recipes that did well just eliminating the ingredients I don’t eat.
I’ve also always been around people who like to cook: family, friends, co-workers, fellow students. Word of mouth is a great source of inspiration for cooking. Many people have family recipes either handed down through the generations or developed for recent use. I think it’s fun to take those recipes and incorporate them into my own repertoire. People are also a great source of networking for specific recipes. For example, if I want a new pasta dish, I can ask a number of people I know, and sooner or later, I will have my hands on a great recipe.
Recently, I changed my cable TV hookup, and I was fortunate to start receiving a channel called WLIW Create. Create, as it’s called, covers a wide variety of crafts, my favorite being cooking. Unlike the Food Network, Create’s cooking shows feature cooks and chefs who usually have less of a celebrity status and more of a niche following. Many of the shows have ethnic or technical themes: Italian, Scandinavian, and Irish cooking; barbecuing and French pastry baking; and cooking instruction, taped at culinary schools. These shows are great for seeing cooking from different perspectives than the mainstream shows.
Finally, there are a couple methods I use for developing my own recipes. The first one is quite simple. I look in my pantry for a base ingredient (e.g. tomatoes.) Using other ingredients I have (garlic, oregano, cheese, etc.) and the general culinary knowledge and “instinct” I’ve gained from watching others cook, I develop my own recipes, often without even having to go to the grocery store to make additional purchases.
I’ve also gotten into a new habit of trying to recreate other people’s recipes. For years, my father (as well as other people I know) have been going to restaurants, finding recipes they like, and going home to re-create them from memory and sight. While I haven’t quite mastered this technique, I do definitely incorporate what I see and what I remember from recipes I’ve eaten into the recipes I get on TV and online.