Aggie's Kitchen

5 Ways To Get Out Of A Cooking Rut (and a Recipe for Hungarian Goulash with Peas and Carrots)

It happens to the best of us. We lose our cooking mojo. It happens to me all the time until I finally get to the point where I can’t stand the idea of making another pita pizza for dinner (ok, so this is not entirely true, I am obsessed with pita pizzas) or wasting a million calories on mediocre takeout.

If you are the person in the household that does the majority of the cooking, getting into a cooking rut can really throw you off your game (especially if you are trying to make healthful choices and want the same for your family).Β  It takes a little effort to get yourself re-inspired, this is what tends to work for me:

1. Watch TV

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a plethra of cooking shows on television. All kinds. I try to keep a good variety recorded on my DVR at all times in case of a lack of inspiration emergency. Before my kids took over the television in our household, Food Network was on all the time. All I have to say is thank goodness for the DVR, it’s definitely one of the greatest inventions out there as far as I’m concerned.

Here are a few of my favorite shows that always get me in the mood to cook:

  • Aarti Party (though I think it’s been cancelled, but they may still be airing repeats. My favorite episode is Curry 101)
  • Kelsey’s Essentials
  • Spice Goddess
  • Mexican Made Easy
  • Barefoot Contessa (I want to be Ina’s friend and hang out with her in her kitchen.)
  • Pioneer Woman (not only does she get me in the mood to cook, she gets me in the mood to blog. Her show makes me feel good and my daughter Gina loves it and watches it with me…in fact it’s become our Friday night tradition.)
  • Giada At Home (Gina’s favorite cooking show and also part of our Friday night line up.)

2. Browse your cookbook shelf or the library cookbook section (or magazine pile!).

I have been collecting cookbooks for as long as I’ve been married, so just about 10 years. I have some from way back in the day that I haven’t looked at in forever and some that I have picked up more recently on a whim at Costco or on Amazon that I really haven’t spent time looking through either. Pull a few off the shelf and browse through them while you’re drinking your morning coffee or before bed, you never know what will catch your eye.

The library cookbook section is a total gold mine for cookbook addicts like me. There are a gazillion cookbooks to look through – it’ll save you some money and you’ll have access to so many different types, even ones you wouldn’t necessarily want to buy for yourself.

A few beloved cookbooks on my shelf that need some attention:

3. Clean out your spice cabinet and pantry.

I promise if you set aside a few minutes (well maybe an hour or two) to really clean out your spice cabinet and pantry you will be amazed at how much better you feel. This is usually the first thing I do when my kitchen starts to feel bleh. It’s almost guaranteed that you will find a couple of ingredients or spices that you didn’t know you had. Finding pantry or spice gems could really turn into something super delicious. It’s like magic. And of course it’s always a good feeling and helpful to take inventory and know what you have and donate or discard of what you aren’t going to use or has expired. A clean and organized pantry is a mood lifter for sure.

4. Challenge yourself.

After you clean out the pantry, why not challenge yourself to making a meal using just ingredients from your pantry? Or how about grabbing a spice jar you haven’t used in a while and finding a recipe online or in one of your cookbooks that features it? My husband and I love love love Indian food and recently I picked a few of our favorite dishes out of a takeout menu and cooked them at home for the first time. They didn’t turn out perfect, but it warmed me up to trying something new and wanting to make it better. And it was fun to cook out of my comfort zone.

5. Call out for help.

I called out for help a few weeks ago. I had a little heart-to-heart with my husband and told him how completely and utterly bored I was with coming up with ideas of what to cook for dinner. I know it’s hard to imagine someone who loves food being tired of thinking about food, but hey, these things do happen. Meal planning burnout is a serious thing. So you know what my sweet husband did? On a morning where he left for work before I was up, I found a cookbook on the kitchen counter with a note sticking out of it that saidΒ  – “Make it happen! Blog it!”

That’s teamwork. πŸ™‚

And that’s when this Hungarian Goulash with Peas and CarrotsΒ happened. It was even rainy and dreary on the day that I planned on making it so that I would feel better about making a meal like this in the middle of summer (now that is what I call real teamwork).

Cozy and comforting, this Hungarian Goulash will hit the spot on a cold winter night!

I have to admit, I wasn’t overly excited when I saw that this was the recipe my husband chose – let’s be real, I obviously don’t cook a lot of beef and it’s summer and I’m craving all things “fresh”. But, it was nice to cook out of my comfort zone and to make a meal that I wouldn’t necessarily want to cook for myself. I don’t normally cook with a lot of beef (other than a burger or meatloaf here or there) and my daughter and husband LOVE it so it was a good feeling to have them excited about dinner. I also want to mention that the cookbook this recipe was adapted from is one of the very first cookbooks that I ever received from anyone. I think my mom gave it to me a very long time ago, I’ve had it since I first got married and there are so many smudge marks on the pages from a few favorites that I cooked over and over again. I haven’t picked up this cookbook in years so it was nice to look through it again for ideas.

When making this, be sure you are correctly slicing your beef. Anytime I have a recipe that calls for slices or pieces of beef (for example, in a stir fry) I tend to always cut it the wrong way and it results in very tough pieces. I found this article on Slicing Meat Against The Grain that is helpful if you are like me and just can’t figure it out.

Cozy and comforting, this Hungarian Goulash will hit the spot on a cold winter night!

Print Recipe

Hungarian Goulash with Peas and Carrots


  • 3 strips turkey bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, quartered then sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed then minced
  • 2 carrots, halved then sliced
  • 1.5 lbs top round beef, cut into strips
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 3 big splashes of red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 12 oz package of whole wheat wide noodles (I use Ronzoni Healthy Harvest)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • bunch of fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream


  1. Heat a large Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook for 3-4 minutes until browned.
  2. Add onion, garlic and carrots and saute for few minutes until onions are soft and fragrant.
  3. Add beef and cook for a few minutes until browned.
  4. Reduce heat to low and add caraway seeds, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and beef broth. Cover and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add red wine vinegar, and cook for about 10 minutes more, uncovered.
  6. While beef mixture is cooking, prepare your noodles according to directions. Once cooked, drain and add back to your pot, tossing with olive oil. Season with a small pinch of salt and pepper and gently toss with chopped parsley. Set aside.
  7. Combine sour cream and remaining 1/2 cup of beef broth. Set aside.
  8. Add defrosted peas to beef mixture last few minutes of cooking. Once peas have been warmed through, take pot off heat and add sour cream and broth mixture to pot and gently stir. Let sit until completely warmed through. Serve over noodles.

This recipe was adapted from Family Circle All-Time Favorite Recipes Cookbook

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Do you ever find yourself in a cooking rut? How do you get out of it?

Cozy and comforting, this Hungarian Goulash will hit the spot on a cold winter night!


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47 comments on “5 Ways To Get Out Of A Cooking Rut (and a Recipe for Hungarian Goulash with Peas and Carrots)”

  1. Great ideas about the cooking rut. I find that a rut starts when I’ve had a couple of unsuccessful recipes go bad. Thank goodness it doesn’t happen very frequently.

  2. I’m totally in a cooking rut…
    Love these tips!

  3. I just love this post darlin’!! So many good tips and the recipe sounds delish πŸ˜€

  4. I so agree! I try to go back to my cookbooks when I’m feeling like I’m totally lacking motivation. The cooking shows help too. We have a lot of the same favorites- I just love Giada, Bobby, Barefoot contessa (great recipes- just wish she had more energy…I feel like sleeping during the show), etc! Delicious dish

    • I know what you mean about Barefoot Contessa…she definitely relaxes me, lol. Bobby makes me want to grill!! Love him!

  5. That is so cute. I go through the same thing every so often and that is when I NEED help from the family (other times I am happy to plan it all myself). You’re right though, magazines and cooking shows totally light my fire to get cooking. Now it’s just finding the time to watch/read! πŸ˜‰

    • I am usually happy to plan it myself too, but when it gets to me is when it seems that no one is really “liking” what I’m planning lol. My son helped out too last week by writing out a “meal plan”…Mexican night, Italian night, breakfast for dinner night…it’s been fun to work off his schedule! πŸ™‚ And you have no idea how far behind I am in the magazine reading department.

  6. I love Ina and Giada’s shows, but don’t watch them as much as I’d like to. I find I love if I remember to turn them on while cooking dinner…it’s fun cooking along with someone else. Yes…I would love to be a houseguest at her amazing place (Ina).

    I find lately that as much as I love reading food blogs, I have reverted back to my love of magazines. I get Bon Appetit and Taste of Home, and have been buying Food Network. I’ve perused many others at the bookstore….and need some new subscriptions. Which ones are your favorites, and that you’d recommend and why? Thanks!!

    • I’ve gone through many magazine subscriptions over the years…I seem to cook (or get ideas) the most from Everyday Food, Everyday with Rachel Ray, Food Network and Cooking Light magazines. I love Eating Well and Clean Eating too.

      I love the idea of cooking alongside someone else too πŸ™‚

  7. This is such a great idea. So often I’m in a rut and we just run to our neighborhood pizza place and taking these steps would be so much better for us. This goulash sounds amazing too, so many wonderful flavors!!

    • I could eat takeout way too often if I let myself. πŸ˜‰ We are lucky that enough places don’t deliver near us or I would be in trouble!

  8. Aggie, this looks so good. Keeping up the cooking mojo does take some motivation doesn’t it. I too love Ina Garten, Giada D., and the Food Network magazine as well as Rachel Rays are the best ever to get my creative juices flowing! The hardest thing for me in summer is my kids going this way and that at the last minute…no set schedule…living on the fly. I could make dinner and everyone leaves or I could have 5 extra mouths at my table.

    • I love both those mags a lot! Rachel Rays is always fun to read. Summer is always a killer for that reason! We never know what we are doing in the evenings, no schedule and living on the fly is nice but I’m finding myself missing routine lately πŸ™‚

  9. I’ve barely cooked this summer. These are great tips my friend! If we were neighbors I’d totally come to your house to browse your great selection of cookbooks. πŸ™‚ LOVE the recipe (I’ve never seen whole wheat wide noodles like that)… anxious to try it!!! Have a great start to the week!!!!

    • Wouldn’t it be so fun to sit at the kitchen table together looking through cookbooks? πŸ™‚
      Those noodles are great! I pick them up often for a change!

  10. Great list Aggie! My hubby is Hungarian so I’ve got tot try this and see how it compares to his grandma’s recipe.

  11. I love my cookbooks and cooking shows! I just sit on the sofa with a pile of cookbooks and magazines while watching the cooking shows! lol!! I have been loving Extra Virgin lately too! Gabriela is so loving Debi and you can see their passion for cooking is real! Great tips for cleaning out the pantry. I need to purge mine as well! πŸ™‚

    • haha me too!! I have only caught Extra Virgin a few times…but it’s been so long! Need to set it up to record on the DVR! Oh go tackle the pantry girl, I promise you will be so happy when you are done!! πŸ™‚

  12. Yum! I love goulash! My grandma used to make a delicious Czech version that I still make on occasion. I definitely want to try your version, too!

    I am currently in a cooking rut (and a blogging rut!) and it’s been difficult getting myself out of it. I thought I had gotten out of it on Saturday when I went to a local farmers market and saw all their wonderful produce, but it vanished Sunday morning. I’m trying to get back on track with my meal planning, but sometimes it just gets tough, huh? Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Cooking rut usually equals blogging rut for me too. It’s a bummer when it happens, but it happens. I get the same burst of inspiration like you too! It took some effort recently to get back into it on my part. You’ll find yours soon πŸ™‚

  13. i have been challenging myself to make something awesome each week that i see on someone else’s blog – i think this might be the one i make next week! it’s definitely helped me change the pace a little bit around here πŸ™‚

  14. Excellent tips. I am definitely in a cooking rut right now, but mostly because it is so hot and I have no idea what I feel like eating. Kind of strange πŸ™‚

  15. All. the. time. and I ask Curtis for help too! Reading blogs like yours helps me! And I love Ina and Ree’s shows too!

  16. PS I’m sharing that serious eats article with a commenter who was asking about this. I was even thinking about doing a post on it but they did such an awesome job, I don’t need to! πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  17. I’m always getting into ruts. Then, like you, I look over at my stack of cooking magazines and inspiration hits! Also, I love Ina. I would love to be her friends and hang out at her lunch parties…I dream…

    • Ina is so fun in her own subtle unique way isn’t she? I want to hang out in her garden with her with one of her cocktails πŸ™‚

  18. Most of our meals are beef but I’ve never had goulash like this, I know my kids would love it! Love your ideas for inspiration too.

    • Thanks Milisa! My husband and daughter would love eating at your house πŸ™‚
      I’ve had goulash with ground beef…is that how you usually make yours? This was different for us too.

  19. Great post girl! MIss you and hope you’re well!

    • Thanks Alison! Doing well…summer’s almost over to trying to enjoy the last couple of weeks! hope you are well!

  20. These are great ideas! I often find myself looking at my cookbooks and cooking shows for inspiration!

  21. Terrific suggestions. I’ve found Pinterest to be a fun resource for inspiration too. I have to pass this recipe along to my mom. She love goulash!

  22. Goulash was my Dad’s “specialty” growing up! Good memories xoxo

  23. My mom is Hungarian and this is one of my favorite dishes:) Yours looks fantastic. I love this post and it’s great suggestions. xo

  24. I know what you mean about the cooking rut. We’re in our 50’s and sometimes I ask my hubby what he wants for dinner and he helpfully says, “Something delicious!’. Thanks for that. Being on a diet means that we have even fewer choices. Chicken and Broccoli, anyone?

    I found that having guests over for a couple of weeks helped me out of my most recent rut. Because I was cooking for more people and wanted them to really enjoy it, I got excited about cooking again. So there’s your solution- have more people over! LOL.

    • haha, your husband sounds like mine! And you know what, you are so right on about cooking for others to get out of a rut. I recently made a couple meals to take over to my in-laws to help them out and I enjoyed every minute of cooking! I chose stuff that was all different than what I normally make, it was definitely refreshing! Thanks for stopping by, loved your comment πŸ™‚

  25. I love Debby Mazurka, but the TV show is so damned boring. They say TUSCAN and TUSCANNY again and again. I wish they would sing a different tune.

  26. Sorry, my IPAD typed mazurka instead of Mazurka.

  27. My IPAD has a mind of its own.

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