Kitchen Flair

Bring out Your Inner Chef

By Louise Tutelian for Ideas That Spark

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Here’s some food for thought: If you’re cooking for everyone else all the time, take yourself off the back burner for a minute and think about pleasing yourself when you cook. These fun ideas will help you love what you make and make what you love.

Find your roots Rediscover a legacy family recipe or a dish that reminds you of where you come from. It might be red beans and rice, crab cakes or thick minestrone. “My father made a mean turkey soup,” says Karen Kiefer, creator of Spread the Bread, a grassroots organization that donates home-baked bread to those in need. “It tastes delicious, and it makes the house and my heart feel warm all over.”

Learn something new Take a cooking class, either for a particular cuisine, such as food from Tuscany, or a food category, like seafood or desserts. The class might be for one evening (often held through a high school continuing education program, community college or a restaurant on a weeknight), a weekend or even for an entire week (usually held at a culinary school).

Take the challenge Give yourself a mini “Top Chef” challenge. It might be attempting to make a flaky, buttery croissant or a dish that calls for an ingredient you’ve never used, suggests Alejandra Ramos, author of the nationally recognized food blog Always Order Dessert.

Accessorize Buy fun plates and/or serving dishes. Go for the heavier paper ones or inexpensive yet high-style versions from Target or IKEA.

Steal from the best Study restaurant menus, and if you love a dish, ask what the main ingredients are. At home, take a shot at recreating it, suggests Lynn Epstein, co-creator of the Mama Says Web site and recipe collection.

Cook with the masses Join the online cooking group The Daring Kitchen. Each month, curious cooks challenge each other to make the same recipe. With 2,000 members all over the world, it might be anything from stuffed grape leaves to a Mexican chorizo noodle bowl. One member even serves as tech support, in case you run into a snafu.

Get blogged down Read a food blog -- or two. There are thousands out there. For a laugh-out-loud lift while you’re cooking, don’t miss the one called Bad Home Cooking. Recent post: a defense of serving dinners like canned soup and a roll to your kids.

Get organized Set up a dinner club as you would a book club. Find three or four friends or couples to host on a rotating basis. The host sets the theme. Joyce Smith of Santa Monica, Calif., hosted an Oscars dinner where guests were asked to bring a dish linked to a favorite nominee.

Forget the rest of ‘em! Once a week or once a month, cook a meal that’s for you, with only dishes that you love. (If the kids don’t like it, let them eat cereal!) It could be steamed artichoke and pasta primavera with crusty basil and garlic bread, or broiled tuna, corn on the cob and fresh asparagus. Then pour yourself a glass of wine or mix up a cranberry spritzer and toast the chef.

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About The Author

Louise Tutelian has written for many national publications, including Parenting, Working Mother and Good Housekeeping. She is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

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