Creative Cooking

Do you ever wonder how to be more creative in your cooking? We’re sharing two strategies we use to come up with unique recipes to help get you started on your journey to becoming a better home chef.

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It’s been a whirlwind month for us here at The Candid Cooks! After learning how to level up our food photography and seeing a resulting spike in web traffic, search performance, and social engagements, we gained some extra confidence in both our blogging and our cooking skills. To keep the momentum going, we’ve started challenging ourselves in new ways.

One of our newest and most exciting goals? Competing in recipe challenges as often as we can! We see these contests as a great opportunity to get the creative juices flowing and venture outside our comfort zone. After all, we started this blog to become better home chefs – so we figured it was about time to push ourselves a little more.

So far, we’ve submitted recipes to three different contests:

Strawberry avocado toast with balsamic drizzle

And we’re excited to announce that we were selected as one of three winners for the #MillionWaysToStrawberry challenge for the month of May! All thanks to our Strawberry Balsamic Avocado Toast (get the recipe here!) . This is the first contest we’ve ever won, so we were super excited to say the least. Check out the other entries here.

As for the other two contests, we’re still waiting on a verdict (we did make the Top 5 finalists list for the Food52 contest though – fingers crossed!). We’re going to dive into these challenges in this post to share our thought process and provide some helpful cooking tips! Keep reading to hear more about the recipes we submitted and learn how to be more creative in your cooking, too.

Deconstructing Recipes For A Unique Twist

Here’s a great way to come up with a new recipe: deconstruct or repurpose your favorite dishes into something totally different! For Food52’s recipe contest, we had to turn a classic fork-and-knife dish into a sandwich. So we deconstructed chicken alfredo, a dinner traditionally served over pasta, and repurposed the ingredients into the ultimate cheesy chicken alfredo sandwich.

If you want to take on a similar challenge, think about your favorite meals and ask yourself:

  • What are the main ingredients?
  • How can I combine these flavors in a different way?
  • If it’s a fork-and-knife dish, can I make it handheld? What about the other way around?

And see what you can come up with! Who knows, you might surprise yourself 🙂

A chicken alfredo sandwich with cheese sauce
How We Transformed Chicken Alfredo Into Sandwiches

Chicken alfredo is pretty straightforward: the ingredients are chicken, alfredo sauce, and pasta. Since chicken is a relatively basic protein on a lot of sandwiches, we thought this was the perfect recipe to transform into a sandwich. But we couldn’t stomach the idea of putting pasta noodles between two slices of bread, and we needed some extra oomph besides chicken and alfredo sauce, so…

…we played into the whole idea of an Italian pasta dinner and introduced a “side of garlic bread” to our dish! This took the form of a garlic & herb butter spread onto our sandwich bread, which we lightly toasted before assembling the sandwiches. And although it made these sandwiches even messier than we expected, it was so worth it. Our chicken alfredo pasta with a side of garlic bread had transformed into a deliciously decadent sandwich reminiscent of the fork-and-knife classic.

We will warn you, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. It’s greasy and heavy and cheesy, and you’ll probably feel a little gross after eating it. But it’s super tasty, and if you’re looking for a fun twist on an Italian dinner it’ll hit the spot! Get the recipe here.

Taking Inspiration From Your Favorite Dishes

Another great way to spark creativity in the kitchen: get inspired by your favorite dishes! Whether it’s something you’ve cooked at home before or something you’ve eaten at a restaurant, inspiration can come from analyzing the flavors you enjoy the most.

Here’s a quick exercise to get you started. Think about the last restaurant meal you really loved, and ask yourself:

  • What type of cuisine was it?
  • What were the main ingredients?
  • What flavors could you pick out?
  • Why did you like it? Was it the flavor, texture, presentation, or something else?
  • What didn’t you like about it? (Or did you enjoy all aspects of it?)

This is something we’ve started subconsciously doing more and more as we dine out. Cooking all the time has made us so much more aware of all the different aspects of a dish, and it’s helped us be more creative when we’re brainstorming recipes. By really thinking about these things after a delicious meal, you’ll get a better understanding of what you do and don’t like, and how different flavors and textures play together. Then the next step will come naturally – coming up with a new recipe based on what you discovered!

A plate of gnocchi in tomato sauce with goat cheese and basil
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina + Baked Goat Cheese Tomato Dip

The Bella Sun Luci contest challenged us to create a recipe using one of their sun dried tomato products. So we decided to go with an Italian dish and chose their bruschetta with Italian basil and extra virgin olive oil. While we were brainstorming ideas, we took inspiration from two different (but equally delicious) recipes:

  1. Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, the absolute best dish you can get at Trattoria Il Panino in Boston’s North End
  2. Sara Rose’s recipe for baked goat cheese in herb & tomato sauce, one of our favorite Spanish tapas-inspired dishes to make at home (thanks Sara!)

On the surface, it might seem odd that we turned to an Italian dish and a Spanish appetizer for inspiration. But here’s the thing – Sara’s recipe taught us that goat cheese and a creamy tomato sauce pair incredibly well. And even though that Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is one of the best Italian dishes we’ve ever had and we often dream of recreating it in our own kitchen, we couldn’t just make a typical pasta. We needed something unique.

That’s where the goat cheese came in! Trattoria Il Panino’s pillowy gnocchi are served in a pool of creamy tomato sauce with a few little cubes of mozzarella cheese and fresh basil for garnish. The sauce is so creamy that we suspect there’s some cheese mixed into it. And it’s such a fun experience to watch the mozzarella cubes melt into the sauce as you eat this dish. So we thought, what if we made gnocchi with a creamy goat cheese tomato sauce, and garnished it with some crumbled goat cheese and fresh basil? An homage to our favorite North End dinner, with a Spanish tapas twist.

We were a little nervous executing on this idea, but it turned out even better than expected. The sun dried tomatoes in olive oil made a great base for our sauce, and we incorporated just enough goat cheese to get some creaminess and tang without it overpowering the dish. The result was a deliciously creamy and unique take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina – exactly what we had hoped for! Get the recipe here.

The Takeaway

If there’s one thing we want you to take away from this post, it’s that you don’t have to be a professional chef to be more creative in cooking. All it takes is an open mind, the ability to reflect on things you’ve eaten in the past, and a willingness to challenge yourself. We encourage you to try some of the exercises we shared above and see what you can come up with! You never know what ideas might be hiding in your brain – and sometimes even the crazy ones end up tasting the best.

Let us know what you come up with in the comments below, or share your go-to tricks for being creative in the kitchen!

If you have any questions regarding the information presented in this post, please refer to our Nutrition Disclaimer here.

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Join the Conversation

  1. Linda Wightman says:

    Congratulations on your win! I see many more in your future.

    1. Nicole Author says:

      Thank you! We hope so 🙂

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