There seems to be a division in the world between cooks who never make the same meal twice, and cooks who find six or seven recipes, learn them inside and out, and recycle them endlessly without deviating from the ingredient list.
Cooks who choose a new recipe every time they go to the kitchen always have to concentrate and slavishly follow the recipe – not ideal if you’ve had a hard day at work, have somewhere you need to be, or have a tight budget.
On the other hand, cooks who stick to a handful of recipes that they love and know how to make well tend to get stuck in a routine that is, well… a bit boring. I once had a flatmate who cooked the same lamb chop dish once a week for an entire year – it was lovely the first time, but lost its appeal quite quickly when I was presented with it every Tuesday.
That said, the good thing about cooking a recipe a few times is that you begin to build your cooking skills and to develop a creative style. You begin to master the recipe, to know what to do without consulting the book. You begin to make your own tweaks and changes, eventually making it your own. There is something great about this – it’s really pleasing to sit down at the table to enjoy dishes that we know and love. We collect and store our favourite flavours and create hallowed food memories.
That's why I think there’s a happy medium between constantly changing recipes and repeating them endlessly. One way to achieve this medium is to put together a repertoire of dishes for each season – a bit like a seasonal restaurant menu for your own home table. This way, you get to work with what you know, while having the chance to experiment and branch out.
websites and recipe books (this is also a convenient time to actually see what is in your cookbooks. Let's face it - how many recipes do you really use from that vast collection?) and put together a selection of dishes that you like the sound of, and that make the most of what is in season for the next three months or so. I’d recommend choosing two or three desserts, a couple of baked items, some new ways of using vegetables and perhaps four or five star main course dishes. You might decide to recreate the recipes of a single chef, to pursue a single style of ethnic cuisine, or try every possible way with asparagus or broccoli or Jerusalem artichokes.At the beginning of each season, set aside a little time to pore over your favourite
In autumn the deluge of harvests will offer richer, fuller tastes that coincide with the weather cooling, while in winter your list may be a heartier mix of soups and slow-cooked meals, maybe some interesting salads, and winter puddings. For your autumn/winter repertoire you might consider:
- Lamb Medallions with White Bean Purée
- Balsamic Chicken Breasts with Crispy Mint & Pine Nuts
- Lemon Fish Pie
- Braised Oxtails with Red Chilli Beans
- Couscous with Roasted Vegetables
- Crisp Cauliflower and Cashew Salad
- Wilted Bitter Greens
- Chickpea Minestrone
- Baked Apples with Crème Anglaise
- Rhubarb and Yoghurt Crumble Cake
In the spring, you could hunt out recipes that take advantage of fresh new-season tastes such as asparagus, snow peas, strawberries and late citrus, and summer menus will probably feature more barbecues and salads. Your spring/summer repertoire could feature:
- Asparagus, Avocado and Almonds with Sesame Citrus Dressing
- Asian Pesto
- Prawn Salad Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
- Lemon Grass and Chilli Baked Chicken
- Thai Style Beef Salad
- Barbecued Venison Medallions with Mango Snow Pea Salad
- Fish Curry
- Berry Souffles
- Barbecue Spiced Fruit Pouches
- Scarlet Strawberry Jellies
Once you've mastered each recipe from your seasonal repertoire, take the opportunity to mix it up, to shake it round and to leave your comfort zone. Who knows – you might even create a new family favourite that you, your children and your grandchildren will still be cooking for years to come...