Culinary Adventures

As we prepare for a new year, it’s a great time to formulate a plan for culinary adventures. Flight cancellations, staff shortages, and everchanging risk assessments may keep many of us home off-and-on in 2022. Culinary adventures are a great way to counter the monotony that comes with isolation.

For me, exploring new tastes seems like a natural progression of adapting to the past two years. I’m already experiencing changes in what appeals. The clothes I bought just prior to the pandemic suddenly feel wrong. They haven’t changed. Styles haven’t changed that much. But I have changed. That sometimes means changes in meal choices too.

Not only have my preferences shifted, much has changed: the flow of my workday, the price of takeout, and the availability of food favorites. Together these create the perfect environment for exploring something new.

What does a culinary adventure look like?

It will be different for everyone. And that’s the great part! It can be whatever you want it to be. Here are a few possibilities:

A Trip Around the World – Prepare favorite dishes from many countries.

  • This can be a great family activity. Decide how often you’ll prepare one of these meals (once a week, once a month…) and put it on everyone’s calendar.
  • Get a laminated world map and a dry erase marker. Draw a path across the continents, choosing specific countries along the way. Pick enough for 6 months or a year at your chosen interval.
  • Have the kids research the chosen locations. Use this research to determine what dish or dishes you’d like to prepare.
  • Locate recipes and gather the ingredients.
  • Prepare and serve the dish(es).
  • Include the history you’ve learned about your chosen meal in dinnertime conversation.
  • Have a scoring system so you can compare favorites later.

One Pot or Pan Meals – Challenge yourself, or your household, to use leftovers to create a one pot meal each week.

If you are already in the habit of doing this, change things up by buying new spice blends and trying unusual combinations. The Flavor Bible can be a great tool to guide your choices.

You can make this a more specific challenge by creating only soups, only salads, or only sandwiches.

Pasta Pairing – Prepare pasta with many different sauces and toppings.

  • Change up the pasta itself by making it yourself or choose some made from unusual ingredients or in interesting shapes.
  • Explore no sauce, red sauce, cream sauce, cheese sauce, mushroom sauce, etc.
  • Use a variety of meat and/or vegetables in combination with each of the sauces. Try combos you’ve never tried before. A search of restaurant menus or online recipes can help spark ideas.

Featured Ingredient – Choose a specific ingredient and build a dish or menu around it.

This can be something simple that you always eat made or served in new, creative ways. We get in such a habit of cooking things in the same manner, a few simple changes can brighten up the menu.

  • Consider turning peanuts into Pad Thai or peanut butter into Satay Sauce.
  • Stuff red bell peppers with spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Serve cheese all day in ways you don’t normally serve it – baked into a pastry for breakfast, as soup for lunch, in cheesy baked rice for dinner, and in a blintz for dessert.
  • Use chocolate for something other than dessert. Make it part of your appetizers by dipping strawberries in it or adding it to bacon wrapped dates. Make it part of your entrée by making a mole sauce or dusting your steak with cocoa.

Change Your Environment.

Perhaps you don’t even need to change the food to change its impact. Experiment with the environment instead.

  • Serve the very same dish but change the background music. Next time, change the tablecloth or the china. Serve it again outside on paper plates. Add fresh flowers. Change the lighting. Make the room hotter or colder. Then try different combinations of all of these.
  • Make notes after each meal to determine the environmental factors that create the best experience for each person in the family. Ambiance will affect some more than others. This can be a fun experiment for learning about each other.

Any culinary adventure can be tailored to fit your family and the choices are limitless.

Creating culinary adventures can be fun. It can be a great focus for family time. And it can help break the monotony when staying at home.