Play Top Chef at Home to Become a More Creative Cook

Eating at home is in, eating out is well, out. Sometimes, though, you just get tired of all your current recipes, or you let things pile up in the cupboards, freezer, and fridge without thinking about it. If you want to learn how to cook more creatively and use up some of those items, it’s time to play the fun new game: Top Chef at Home. While the results may not always be tasty, you’re guaranteed not to hate the winner. (Ahem.)

Create Your Own Quickfire Challenge
You can play this alone, or with a friend of family member. Look in your cupboard, freezer, or fridge for an ingredient that’s been in there a while or about to expire. Now challenge yourself to come up with a dish you can prepare in 30 minutes with this ingredient. Try to use it all up. You can, unlike the TV contestants, go to the web to find a yummy recipe. All Recipes has a great ingredient search function.

Borrow Cookbooks by Chefs from the Library
It seems like most of the guest judges on Top Chef are there to plug cookbooks. So, why not take them up on that plug? Go down to the local library and borrow a cookbook by a big-name chef. Flip through it to find one recipe you can make affordably this week. Bonus points for using at least one ingredient you already have on hand.

Buy a Random Ingredient at the Farmer’s Market
When you walk through a well-stocked farmer’s market, you’ll see a few items you’ve never seen before. Ask the farmer about it – what is it, what does it taste like, how is it usually served. They may even be able to recommend a cooking method. Unless they say it tastes like monkey excrement or it costs a small fortune, take that ingredient home and find a new way to incorporate into a meal. I’d start with a snack or side dish. It can be risky using a new, untested fruit or vegetable as a main dish.

Ask a Friend for a Challenge
Ask a friend to create a culinary challenge based around an ingredient, an ethnic cuisine, or a theme. Give yourself one week to create the menu around that meal. If you can recruit a third friend to play, you can turn it into a competition. Then have them over to test your new creation and judge the winner.

Pick a Recipe You’ve Been Saving for a While
I have many recipes in my recipe binder that I’ve never actually made. I intend to make them, but I just never get around to it. If you’re in the same boat, get out of those recipes. (Limit it to dishes that are actually affordable and have ingredients that are in season. Preparing a dish that calls for four kinds of berries in the middle of winter will get very expensive.) Now turn them upside down and shuffle them. Pick one from the pile. You have to make that recipe in the next week.

Get a Video Camera and Talk Smack about Famous Chefs
Yeah, all those top chefs working in top restaurants, what do they know? Make yourself feel better when your Quickfire fails by getting out the video camera to record why you think Eric Ripert’s food sucks. You’re completely wrong, but you can at least pretend you’re right. It’s what some of the people on Top Chef do.

True, this won’t fully reproduce the Top Chef experience. You’d need way more arrogance to pull that off. But at least you’ll learn a thing or two, maybe discover a new recipe, and have fun in the kitchen – all for less than the cost of a restaurant meal.

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