When "cookers block" strikes, think dessert for your next entree inspiration

There are times when chefs (and nonchefs) will beat their brains up trying to come up with innovative new ways to create recipes and presentations with basic food items. Let's call it "cookers block" for all intent and purpose, and everyone who works with recipe creation has experienced it. Haven't you heard your Mom or Wife say, "what am I going to fix tonight? I just don't know what to make." So you go into the fridge or pantry and try putting something together that will suffice enough for the eyes and growl the stomach to hunger. It usually ends up that your lack of inspiration is reflected in your dish. You might have created something tasty; however, you lost the "wow" factor in the process.

This scenario, repeated in every kitchen, is no fault of your own. Let's face it, the thought process of coming up with 1,000 meal ideas every year can be very exhausting and you're not always going the get the praise you deserve as family members tend to take your culinary art for granted and grow to expect good things from you every time. That's the price you pay for becoming innovative, creative, and great at what you do in the kitchen. Thinking of what to create is often the most difficult part of the job of being "the cook".

So the next time you encounter "cookers block", don't crack your egghead, just remember a few simple things. First, think of three primary foods, just like the primary colors in the  art world, protein, starch, and  vegetables. In creating a new meal, you'll want to include one of each. Second, pick simple items in each category, things that won't take a ton of prep work, perhaps something that might be pre-prepared, such as ready made puff pastry as opposed to the time consuming project of making it from scratch. A cut of pork might work better in the protein category as opposed to beef or lamb, where the perfect temperature is a bit more precise and calculated with the latter. A vegetable that might work well is asparagus since you only need to steam for about 4 minutes and it comes out perfect. Finally, pick a well known dessert that you can make with these items. No seriously, pick a dessert, let's say, a Napoleon. This will become more clear in a short time. Read on...

Now you've selected your 3 main ingredients, pork, puff pastry, and asparagus, three simple items that you've work with before. Each is very easy to prepare individually, you've done it time after time. You've also decided how you're going to present it, as a Napoleon. The tough thinking part is now behind you. It's time to dress your idea up and accessorize it, much like you would dressing up before a night out on the town. The dress or suit and shoes are chosen and the jewelry, hair style, and ties are left to be chosen. But we're talking about your entree for now, so let's not digress.

There are a number of ways you can now accessorize your recipe. Perhaps an onion or better yet, a couple of shallots, chopped finely. You like? Why not add some artichoke hearts and pearls of the cuisine, green peppercorns. Are we getting excited about it all? You're not finished accessorizing yet. Let's add some parsley chopped finely, and the same with a few cloves of garlic. The perfume shall be called Marsalla wine, a perfect aroma for your creation. And finally, to make everything shine, how about a bit of olive oil and butter? See how all this is coming together? And to think that it all started with just 3 simple items, look what you've come up with!

To begin with, prepare your puff pastry for use. To do this, thaw 1 sheet of puff pastry, sprinkle it and a cutting board. Roll it out until it's about 1/8 inch thick. With a 3 inch round cookie cutter, cut round disks enough for 2 per person. Place on a non greased baking sheet and brush each lightly with an egg wash. With a fork, poke a few holes in each. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the disks and then another baking sheet over that. This will prevent the disks from puffing big. Place in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes. Next, remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let completely cool.

Now that you've collected all your ingredients it's time for you to put it all together in time for the big dinner. You will start with main ingredient number one, a nice pork tenderloin roast. Dress it up with a rub of olive oil, then coarse ground pepper and coarse sea salt. Give it a nice blush with a bit of smoked paprika. Now saute it on all sides in a large frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Take your time and make sure it's browned nicely on all sides. For the final process of the final look of this great cut of meat, transfer the pork in its pan directly in a 400 degree oven (200 in metric) and allow colors to continue to enhance for 25 to 30 minutes ( providing your roast is about 1.5 lbs).

While your roast is "tanning" and getting beautiful color, saute the shallots and garlic over medium heat in olive oil. Get these jewels to shine before adding the green peppercorns. Next add your artichoke hearts (cut in halves) and continue to saute for about 2 minutes. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter and when melted, douse it all with a cup of that wonderful Marsalla wine. Bring to a boil, stir, and then turn heat down to medium low and allow to reduce by a third. You can add the parsley as well (about 1/4 cup chopped). When sauce has reduced, add a bit more butter, salt and pepper and reduce to low, cover.

Your third ingredient, asparagus are now ready for their steam bath. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and either steam them for about 4 minutes or boil them for about 3. Remove from heat and partly cover. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

When roast is complete, remove from oven and allow roast to rest on a cutting board for about 10 minutes. Pour a bit of the pan drippings into the pan with the artichokes and stir. Once roast has rested, cut thin slices about 1/4 inches thick. Everything is now ready to be put together!

Make sure your dinner plates are nice and warm before plating. Begin by setting one pastry disk in the center of the plate. Now add one or two thin slices of pork, then 2 artichoke heart halves along with a bit of the sauce and shallots. Place another pastry disk over that and repeat the process. Place 3 large asparagus in triangular form around the dish and finish by spooning just the sauce around the plate.

What you have done is come up with a creation that used 3 simple main ingredients and with small accessories, created an incredible version of napoleon that will wow your guests. But wait until they get their first taste! The flavors are most delicious; you have to taste it to understand. And this idea came simply from the thought of a dessert. Who would have known? The next time you experience "cooking block", just let your imagination run wild and step out of the box for your ideas. You'll be amazed as to what you can come up with.


  1. Mmmmmm....that looks good! Mom is lucky :) Love from Tempe

  2. That looks fantastic. I loved reading how you developed the dish from just those first three things. I wouldn't have even come up with the peppercorns or the marsala "perfume." I love it.

  3. I love it! Simply brilliant :)! I love taking something familiar and turning it into something unique. Its fun to even go the opposite way..look for entrees for a dessert. I have a post about a dessert stuffed shell I created. So fun to play a mind trick with foods.

  4. marsala and artichokes is enough for me this is wonderful great photo!

  5. This is a good common sense article. Very helpful to one who is just finding the resources about this part. It will certainly help educate me.