From Inspiration to Recipe

Heirloom Tomato Salsa Cruda

In our Healthy & Whole series, we’ve been talking about barriers to embracing healthy eating: no timefearlack of inspirationguilt, and judgement. We’ve talked about practices like mindful eating. Now, we’ve moving to something a little more instructional: how to get inspired and create a recipe.

We’re frequently asked how we come up with the recipes we make on this blog. Though we occasionally find inspiration from cookbooks, very rarely do we cook directly from them. Our two main sources of inspiration are: seasonal foods + other food blogs or websites (followed closely by what’s on-hand in our own pantry and fridge).

It takes quite a while to become comfortable with the thought of going to a farmer’s market to find inspiration. It also takes a while to understand how to adapt recipes to suit your tastes. Our biggest advice: practice, practice, practice. Most of what you’ll have to learn will come through practice – trial and error (lots of error, so get ready!). There’s no true “easy answer”, but here’s what we do to come up with recipes.

What We Do To Get Inspired

1. Surf the net. Honestly, a ton of our ideas and inspirations have come from things we’ve seen on the internet, be it other food blogs or websites. You can learn about what foods are in season, and typical dishes made with certain ingredients. When I first started getting into food, I would surf food blogs all the time and then surprise Alex with statements like, “Generally I see oregano used in Italian or French dishes”  or “I’d use eggplant in something like Eggplant Parmesan or rollatini, but I rarely see it in soup”. It’s amazing what kind of knowledge you can absorb.

–> Check out this *new* list of our favorite food blogs we go to for inspiration.

2. Go to a farmer’s market and walk the aisles. Check out what ingredients seem to be the most readily available, and most economically feasible for your budget. Buy a few items, but don’t feel pressure to buy your entire meal in one place (at least, we normally don’t!). If you’re at a super market, check out the fresh items that are highlighted as seasonal or on special.

3. Ponder your new ingredients, drawing from the ideas you’ve seen on the internet or in cookbooks, something you’ve eaten before in a restaurant, or a family recipe. Try to think of ways the ingredients are typically used, and whether you could adapt something you’ve seen. Search Google for ideas.

For example, last time I was at the farmer’s market, I bought the following items:
-Beautiful looking heirloom tomatoes (above)
-Corn (we love corn, and it is in season)
-Eggs (we buy eggs every time we go)

I pondered the ingredients and decided to dice the tomatoes and combine them with fresh corn (and red onion, jalapeno, and lime) to make a salsa, and then scramble the eggs and make them into tacos: Scrambled Egg  Tacos with Heirloom Tomato Salsa Cruda. It’s kind of like Chopped, but in your real life!

Scrambled Egg Tacos with Heirloom Tomato Salsa

4. Test it out. Test out your new idea – maybe it’s completely from your head, or maybe it’s taking an existing recipe and tweaking it a bit. We generally write down what we do — primarily since we create most recipes to share with with you, but also because it’s easier to understand what failed and try it again in the future.

5. Taste it. Is it good? If so, score! You have beat out the odds and succeeded! And if it’s not good, don’t worry! It’s all part of the learning process. We’ve had too many failures to count, though usually they’re still edible enough to satisfy. We will say, however, if you were hoping this meal would feed multiple hungry people, it might be good to have a backup plan in mind (for example, some bread and sandwich fillings just in case).

So, it’s takes a lot of courage and a little bit of creativity, but the more you try it, the more you’ll feel confident in your ability to find inspiration and translate it into a daily meal!

**How about you — is this information helpful? Do you already do these steps? What do you do for inspiration?

Our *NEW* Inspiration List
Blog Roll

Healthy & Whole Series
Intro
Slowing Down
Be Bold
Get Inspired
What We Eat
On Food and Guilt
On Food and Judgement
Eat Mindfully
And more!

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

9 Comments

  • Reply
    Jad @ New South Food Co.
    August 9, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I use all these tips to draw inspiration and also TRY to eat out at a new restaurant once a month or at least browse the menus online of a restaurant I want to eat at. I will either see or try a dish that really catches my eye and then I want to re-create it, with my twist, at home.

    I also “frankenstein” several recipes. I might like 1-2 ingredients from 1 recipe and the seasonings of another. I combine them to come up with my own.

    I recently had a tomato salad at a restaurant in downtown Atlanta. The following weekend I went to the farmers market and found some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes which is where I got my inspiration for this salad.
    http://newsouthfoodcompany.com/heirloom-tomato-salad-with-burrata/

  • Reply
    Lindsey | The Next Course
    August 9, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Great suggestions, here, you two! I have found that the more I read recipes for fun (be it online, in cookbooks, or in magazines) the more I am able to just improvise in the kitchen. I love the way you have broken the process down into easy steps to follow!

  • Reply
    Jordan
    August 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Great post & helpful insight! Love the idea of scanning farmer’s markets, I will definitely start using that suggestion. I typically scan food blogs or try to either re-create or put a spin on dishes that stand out to me at restaurants. I’ve loved reading about your journey to healthy eating, thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Chelsea @ BigBitesLittleBudget
    August 9, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Good tips! I sometimes find that I buy ingredients and am lacking the inspiration to know exactly what to do with them. At these points, I love pulling out old cookbooks and trying a new dish or taking some of my favorite recipes and putting a unique spin on them.

  • Reply
    Shelley
    August 9, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Food blogs like yours are my inspiration. I recommend checking out Dishing Up The Dirt. This is a blog written by a young Oregan farmer. She focuses on seasonal foods, particularly what she grows. I’ve learned to love beets from her recipes! Thanks for inspiring me too!

  • Reply
    Laura
    August 10, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I love that you likened the process of inspiration to concrete, food-on-the-table to a real life version of Chopped. That’s the perfect assessment! So many great tips here too :)

  • Reply
    Ash-foodfashionparty
    August 12, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I love the tips here. I get inspired by beautiful pictures and recipes from all around the web too.

  • Reply
    Fran {The Flavorful Fork}
    August 12, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I definitely think it comes with practice. Once you have made a number of recipes over and over again, you can begin to recreate them without having to look at the printed recipe. You also begin to feel confident substituting one ingredient for another. For instance, if you have recipe for a meat sauce made with ground beef but you happen to have sausage and portobellas on hand instead (because they were on sale or looked good in the market), you can just swap out the ingredients to create something new and just as delicious.

  • Reply
    Marissa | Pinch and Swirl
    August 12, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    What I love about this post is the encouragement to shed the fear of food (and fear of failure!). Going to the farmer’s market without a menu in mind is one of my favorite things in the world. And then to buy, well, EVERYTHING that looks peak then go home giddy with possibility.

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