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8 Inspiring Places To Find Recipe Ideas

by | Apr 27, 2011
Foodie Inspiration

Foodie Inspiration

Healthy eating and cooking for yourself go hand in hand. If you have the resources it is possible to eat healthy while dining out, but restaurants that don’t use processed foods can be difficult to find and tend to be pricey. They also limit you to a handful of different dishes that can become monotonous if you rely on them for most of your meals.

But keeping your healthstyle interesting can be a challenge even if you cook for yourself. Although shopping in season inevitably rotates you through new ingredients over the course of the year, we can still slip into the pattern of making the same dishes over and over again. And while repetition can be easy and comforting, it can also be problematic.

Monotony and boredom are your enemies if you are trying to make healthy eating a way of life; junk food will be extra tempting simply because it’s more interesting than the same boring meal you’ve had 10 times before.

To keep yourself from getting in a cooking rut you must actively seek inspiration for new dishes and flavor combinations. This is true for both kitchen newbies and seasoned chefs, and it gets easier with practice. The more you learn to outsource your creativity and experiment, the better you get at finding meal ideas in your daily life.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. These are some places I often find new ideas, but you are only limited by your imagination.

8 Places To Cook Up Recipe Inspiration

1. Farmers markets

My number one source of inspiration is always the beautiful produce and other goodies I find each week at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Not only do I often find interesting new ingredients to experiment with, I also find familiar foods that look so fresh and delicious I can’t help but buy them and turn them into something wonderful.

If you are thinking about buying something but do not know how to cook it, ask the vendor for ideas or common preparations. I recommend you get anything that looks new and interesting, since most vegetables are relatively cheap and Google puts a universe of recipes at your fingertips.

2. Restaurants

Most major cities (San Francisco especially) are home to amazingly talented and innovative chefs of all different styles and flavors. Steal their ideas! If you have a memorable meal while out on the town, take mental notes on the flavors and textures that capture its essence. You don’t have to be able to recreate it exactly at home, but you can definitely borrow the concept, simplify it and adapt it to your own skills and needs.

For example, I was recently struck by a dish at a spectacular restaurant that was composed of beets with dill–a flavor combination I had never tried. The dish was technically complicated and I wouldn’t bother attempting to make it the same way, but later that week I did roast some beets and change up my usual recipe to include dill instead of mint (sans chèvre). Turned out fantastic.

3. Food blogs

The number of outstanding food blogs today on the interwebs is staggering, and I love to skim through them looking for wonderful recipe ideas. I can’t even begin to list all my favorite sites here, but I try to highlight at least one mouthwatering recipe each week in For The Love of Food posts.

4. Travel

Nothing inspires enthusiasm for new flavors and recipes like traveling to a different locale. Eating traditional cuisines–the way they are supposed to be made–is one of the most intimate and meaningful ways to engage with a culture. Learn a few of the cuisine’s basic ingredients and cooking techniques and you can bring a tiny bit of your experience home with you. Think of this process as a procedural photograph you can use to remember your trip.

Again, you don’t have to recreate dishes exactly the same way in your own kitchen. Sometimes just a single special ingredient can evoke an entire cultural experience.

5. Friends

We all have that friend who is an amazing cook (love you guys!). Not only does this person sometimes hook you up with delicious treats, chances are your foodie friend also loves to talk about food and cooking. This is a goldmine for new ideas and sometimes even a little help and guidance. Maintain a healthy, food-centric relationship with this person and watch the inspiration roll in.

(Hint: If you don’t have a friend like this come hang out with me on Twitter @summertomato)

6. Books

Cookbooks are wonderful but, to be honest, I rarely use them. The reason is that I’m usually too busy to bother lugging the giant things off the shelf and thumbing through them for something specific. I usually either wing it in the kitchen or search online for what I need.

Literature, however, can be a huge inspiration for me to try out new things in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I read The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie that I really started exploring Indian cooking. The Last Chinese Chef helped me learn to appreciate the depth of Chinese cuisine. And I cannot eat enough Spanish tapas when I’m reading Hemingway.

7. Podcasts and radio

I love Mondays because all my favorite food podcasts are waiting on my iPhone for me to listen to on my commute. Both entertaining and educational, foodie podcasts never fail to inspire me to try new foods and cooking methods. They also make me a better cook by describing tips and techniques I am unfamiliar with.

8. TV

Although I do not watch TV regularly, there was a time when I would catch a periodic episode of Top Chef or other foodie show. What I enjoyed most about these programs was the times they would explain the decision making process that goes into creating a dish. But even if culinary improvisation isn’t in your cards, you can at least borrow their ideas (just like at a restaurant) and make similar meals for yourself at home. The recipes used are often posted online.

You can also get meal ideas from TV dramas and sitcoms. Remember Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi? That’s where I first learned about mulligatawny.

Recipe inspiration can come from anywhere, but if you aren’t looking for it a stroke of genius may pass you by.

Where do you get your inspiration in the kitchen?StumbleUpon.com

Originally published February 24, 2010.

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30 Ways To Slow and Prevent Aging

by | Nov 18, 2009

Darya PinoToday is my 30th birthday and a perfect time to reflect on life, the universe and everything.

Despite being female and thus held to tough and often unrealistic physical standards, hitting the end of my third decade doesn’t cause me anxiety about either my appearance or place in the world.

In my experience, age is not an amount of time but a state of mind. As a child I always wanted to be a grown up, so I acted like one. It freaked my parents out sometimes, but that’s just how I was. In my mind, I still feel pretty much the same in that regard. I love to work hard and I thrive in positions of responsibility. Since both these traits get more important with age, I have actually enjoyed stepping into the adult role I’ve always felt I belonged in.

But that’s only one part of me.

In many other ways I’m as juvenile as ever. If you spend much time with me on Twitter (@summertomato) you’ve probably noticed I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy. I blame my dad for that one. I’m also still shocked every time I hear that friends my age are getting married and having children. In my brain we’re not nearly old enough for that yet! But in reality, it is my friends who are normal and I’m the outlier.

Oh, and did I mention I’m still in school? Up until a couple years ago I carried a backpack with me everywhere, for better or for worse.

Darya's GunsAll these things give me a sense of agelessness, so it is hard to think of this birthday as anything but another day to do things I love. But part of my peace of mind certainly comes from the fact that I’m in pretty good shape physically–probably the best of my life. And at 30 this is definitely something to be proud of.

Summer Tomato readers know I attribute my good health almost entirely to my eating habits. I also spend a good amount of time in the gym, though I don’t workout nearly as much as I used to. But healthstyle extends to more than just diet and exercise.

Here I’ve compiled my favorite 30 habits to slow aging and keep you young in more than just your heart.

30 Healthstyle Tips To Keep You Young

  1. Be happy The physical damage caused to your body by stress has only recently become appreciated by the scientific community. Fill your life with things you love and get rid of almost everything else. Practice stress relieving activities like meditation and exercise, and learn to appreciate joy when you find it. Happiness does a body good.
  2. Eat vegetables There is good evidence that oxidative damage caused by toxins and metabolism contributes to the aging process at a cellular level. Foods (but not supplements) high in antioxidants seem to protect us from oxidative stress.
  3. Avoid sugar Sugar is a direct cause of aging and significantly reduces lifespan in organisms from yeast to primates. Not by a small amount either.
  4. Moisturize The appearance of your skin is largely dependent upon moisture. Help it out by using moisturizers to keep your skin soft and hydrated. Work with a professional to determine what type is best for you.
  5. Don’t raise your eyebrows Credit my mother for teaching me this one, it has been a lifesaver. As a kid she used to warn me about raising my eyebrows, saying it would give me wrinkles and I’d regret it. I thought she was crazy, but still learned to express myself without much forehead crinkling. As a result I have far fewer forehead lines than some people years younger than me.
  6. Sleep For me the most important determinant of how I look (and feel) on a given day is how much sleep I get. Seven hours is my ideal, but everyone is different.
  7. Eat fish Some evidence suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are particularly beneficial to the skin.
  8. Wear sunscreen I love the sun and spend as much time in it as possible, but I never walk out the door without sunscreen on my face. UV radiation from the sun damages your skin and promotes aging.
  9. Don’t smoke Smoking is one of the easiest ways to look older than you really are and shorten your life at the same time. Avoid both primary and secondary smoke like the plague.
  10. Step out of your comfort zone Mental exercise seems to be one of the key elements of quality aging, but this doesn’t mean you should sit around all day doing crossword puzzles. Neuroscientist and cognitive aging specialist Dr. Adam Gazzaley suggests going out of your way to challenge yourself mentally, doing things like traveling and learning new languages even over the age of 60.
  11. Take vitamin D Some research suggests that vitamin D may be particularly important in slowing the aging process. The jury is still out on the value of vitamin D supplements for aging, but they seem to have enough other benefits that it’s worth the investment.
  12. Eat fruit Like vegetables, fruits have an enormous amount of antioxidants and help with hydration. Vitamin C in particular is thought to benefit skin.
  13. No foundation or powder makeup Generally I avoid putting any makeup directly onto my skin. I realize I have a very flexible work environment and this is not possible for every woman, but skipping the makeup does help maintain your skin’s hydration and elasticity. I do wear makeup occasionally, maybe once or twice per week. But in general I find that mascara and lip gloss are enough for most situations.
  14. Hydrate Your skin is very sensitive to water levels. Stay hydrated by sipping water and eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
  15. Whiten teeth I know this isn’t something you can find at the farmers market, but when you drink as much coffee and red wine as I do, minor (and admittedly superficial) fixes like teeth whitening can go a long way. If you don’t believe me, try and remember the last time you saw a 20-year-old with yellow teeth….
  16. Wear sunglasses If you’re a happy person (and I know you are), your wrinkles will most likely be caused by smiling and show up predominantly around your eyes. Block out extra sun (and look super cool) by always wearing sunglasses when you go outside.
  17. Eat beans and lentils Legumes are a fabulous source of minerals that can help keep your skin hydrated and looking young.
  18. Tea Afternoon tea time is one of the greatest discoveries I’ve ever made. Not only is tea full of antioxidants and other cancer-fighting compounds, a midday break can be just what the doctor ordered to sip away stress.
  19. Cardio I’m not the biggest believer in cardio exercise for weight loss, but it is still important for vascular health. Not to mention how awesome you feel after a good session. Cardio doesn’t need to kill you, but you should do it regularly.
  20. Strength training Building strong, toned muscles is one of the most effective ways to look younger than your years. Ask anyone who looks fabulous and they’ll swear by strength training. A little goes a long way.
  21. Eat intact whole grains Intact grains (not fake “whole” grains that are ground into flour) are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and soluble fiber. They are also perfect fuel for those killer workouts.
  22. Olive oil It is hard to think of something more versatile, healthy and delicious than olive oil. It breaks my heart that dietary fat got such a bad rap the past few decades, since the benefits of healthy fats like olive oil are innumerable. Fat isn’t just “not bad” for you, it’s essential.
  23. Kill your television We all have things we enjoy watching (I’m partial to NBA championship teams), but if it takes up a significant amount of your time each week (>5 hrs) it may be time to reevaluate. How many years of your life do you really want to spend on your couch?
  24. Don’t stuff yourself Cutting back on calories is the single most effective way to slow aging and extend life. I don’t advise starving yourself, but it’s a good idea to avoid overeating in any situation.
  25. Eat nuts Nuts are the perfect snack food and are filled with anti-aging fats, vitamins and minerals. They are also great for suppressing appetite–just don’t eat more than a handful.
  26. Avoid dairy Studies of aging skin have shown that milk and milk products are associated with acne, which can lead to scaring and age spots.
  27. Avoid processed meats Processed meats are associated with many different health problems in humans. No need to get too hung up on this, but you may not want to eat deli meat every single day if you want to stay young.
  28. No processed carbohydrates Just like sugar, processed carbohydrates are a direct cause of aging and disease. I eat these things occasionally, but don’t let it happen too often.
  29. Coconut oil Fats come in all different shapes and sizes, and I try to incorporate a good mix of all of them. Medium-chain fatty acids like those found in coconut oil are starting to be recognized as important by researchers, but the evidence is limited. Coconut oil is also a healthy source of saturated fat for vegetarians. I always use coconut oil when cooking Southeast Asian food.
  30. Red wine Red wine has a powerful anti-aging compound in it known as resveratrol. Though it is unlikely that the dosage of resveratrol in red wine is high enough to impact lifespan, drinking alcohol in moderation is also associated with decreased risk of heart disease and other vascular problems. Cheers!

Do you have any anti-aging secrets?

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For The Love of Food

by | Sep 4, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week I found yet another great article on mindful eating, as well as several discussions about what to believe in nutrition science and why. Turns out television is not the best source of information. Crazy, I know.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there.

I also invite you to submit your own best food and health articles for next week’s For The Love of Food, just drop me an email using the contact form. I am also accepting guest posts at Summer Tomato for any awesome healthstyle tips you’d like to share.

I’m also really excited to announce that I have joined the Audible.com affiliate program. Audible, which is essentially Netflix for audiobooks, is my new favorite thing in the world. As a scientist, blogger and all-around information glutton I consume more text by the time I finish breakfast than many people do all day.

Thus it always annoyed me that my commute to work and all the repetitive tasks in the lab (genotyping anyone?) took up so much idle mind time. For years I have secretly wished I could find a way to read while walking and loading gels.

With Audible, now I can and do.

I find Audible to be especially useful for “reading” non-fiction (usually health- and food-related books), because I am interested in simply absorbing the information as quickly as possible (you can set the audiobook speed to 2x in iTunes). Fiction I still prefer reading the old-fashioned way, curled up in my bed before going to sleep at night.

Audible titles I recently finished:

The prices at Audible are fantastic (feel free to shop around), and I have discovered that they frequently have sales that include dozens of great titles for only $5.99 each. During the last sale I stocked up on over half a dozen titles of books I was considering buying anyway. Audible has a selection of free books available for download as well, and with a membership you also receive a free subscription to the audio digest of either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

You can probably tell I’m completely smitten and excited to share this with you. In practical terms what this means is that in addition to recommending occasional Amazon books, I will also be including links to the Audible version. I hope you check out Audible and come back and let me know what you think.


Download an Audiobook to Your iPod for only $7.49

This post is an open thread. Share your thoughts, writing (links welcome!) and delicious meals of the week in the comments below.

For The Love of Food

Have a great weekend!!

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