Cooking Without A Recipe
For some, cooking without the aid of a recipe
might be as appealing as driving your car with a bandana tied over
your eyes. I recently attended a session at BlogHer Food ’11 that
was all about trusting your instincts, thinking of flavor profiles
and yes, cooking without a recipe.
The session was presented by
Sarah Breckenridge, the
senior web producer for Fine Cooking Magazine and
www.FineCooking.com. As Sarah demonstrated, one of the first steps
in cooking without a recipe involves a master recipe, or an idea of
what you’d like to make. With a master recipe (e.g., salads, omelettes, soups), you break down the steps, the method of
preparation, the interaction of ingredients and start to go off on
your own with the recipe.
take a master technique, like say, making chili, you add your own
flavor profile and make it your own. As she pointed out, there are
patterns in the flavors of recipes you see. As you read more
recipes, you can identify things like flavor profiles (e.g., pears
and blue cheese; goat cheese, beets and walnuts; etc.) A
well-stocked pantry is key to playing with recipes. There are basics
that every working kitchen should have: Kosher salt (less salty),
Iodized salt (dissolves easily), Sea salt (great flavor), a handful
of different herbs and spices (i.e., thyme, basil, fresh pepper,
cayenne pepper, cinnamon). One of the great things about riffing on
a recipe is that you can take an ingredient that you want to use up
(is a jar of Chinese Five Spice powder haunting your pantry?) and
base a recipe around that item, (for example, chicken and rice with
Chinese Five Spice and garlic sauce). On another note, refrain from
purchasing large quantities of spices from warehouse stores. Those
massive containers are designed for restaurants to use in quantity.
Often, the home cook isn’t going to need a massive amount of dried
oregano or paprika. It does start to lose potency over time. Five
year old dried parsley isn’t going to help your recipe because the
flavor will be gone.
demonstrated that you want to correct as you go. One universal
correction that is difficult to overcome is over-salting foods. At
serving time, take a clean spoon and have a taste before you plate.
Is there something it needs a little more of? (Food Safety Note:
Don’t put spoons that have gone in your mouth back in your pot; use
a clean spoon to test again.)
The recipe presented in the session was one
www.finecooking.com and their Recipe Maker feature. We started
with a selection of vegetable choices, a few meat options, and
seasoning options. You might wonder if cooking by consensus gets you
anywhere, but it worked. As a group, we came up with some delicious
Thai curry vegetables and seafood.
of Atlanta, Tina Brickley Engberg, is an avid lover of all things
related to food, cooking and nutrition. A former professional
candy-maker, professed grocery store junkie, and organic gardener,
she is willing to take almost any recipe out for a spin. She
graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine many moons ago.