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Primer: Cooking Sans Recipe

02.2.2010


Since I was a child, I have loved to cook. Most of all, I loved to experiment. This is mostly attributed to my mother. She loves to cook, and we grew up with full stomachs and plenty of leftovers. She would say, “if it is gross, we can always go to McDonald’s”. We never did. Her spirit of experimentation passed on to me. I can only count one time living at home that my cooking warranted a trip to the local fast food chain restaurant. I can count only 2 times during my married life that warranted a trip to McDonald’s. The first time during my married life, my cooking was so spicy that it gave my wife gastritis. The second time was a Dutch oven Ham Hock and Beans that was completely inedible. Other than that, I’ve created (mostly) delicious food, most of which was done without a recipe.

Cooking sans recipe can be a bit daunting at first, but if you follow some basic rules at first, it will become much easier for you.

Rule #1: At first, modify existing recipes. Don’t like the parsley in the cream sauce? Try some dill or oregano. Take an existing recipe that is proven and tested and modify it to suit you. Many great recipes can be had at sites like Allrecipes.com. I like this site because it not only is a storehouse for great recipes, but also has visitor ratings. You know on a scale from 0 to 5 stars if a recipe is going to taste good. Remember to modify safely; don’t change the cooking time for meats, for example. Nobody likes food borne illness.

Rule #2: Do your homework. If you want to create authentic italian, research italian cooking. You wouldn’t put bananas in spaghetti, so find out what core ingredients are in the type of food you are cooking. Many times, the regional food tastes are based on what ingredients grow locally. At first, stick with the local tastes. For tex-mex, you would see spices like chili powder, cumin, cayenne, cilantro, etc. You would see limes, black beans, cheddar cheese and tortillas. You wouldn’t see pasta. However, a tex-mex pasta with chicken wouldn’t be too bad. (See rule #1.) Try it!

Rule #3: Combine 2 tastes. This is where it starts to get risky. You may be eating at McDonald’s a lot during this phase. That curried ice cream did not taste so good. Get back on the horse and try it again. If done successfully, this can really be good and totally break all the rules. This is where foods like Barbecue Chicken Pizza comes from.

Rule #4: Throw away your measuring cups. Ok, don’t actually throw them away, because you will still need them to cook recipes. You will notice in my recipes, I don’t often post quantities. If I do, it may be something like “1/2 the parsley” only because it is reserved for 2 parts of the recipe. You will commonly see this as “divided”. (1 cup parsley, divided) When I cook, I estimate the amount of each ingredient. Even when I use a recipe (gasp!), I greatly estimate each portion. You see the pros do this on cooking shows. 1/4 cup oil becomes a few seconds drizzle, or something the size of a pancake. Estimating your ingredients and “winging it” are the first steps in become a recipeless cook.

Rule #5: Grab a few ingredients and just go crazy. The Dutch Oven Duel was a great example of this. Mark Hansen and I challenged each other to use 3 core ingredients that were picked by the other competitor to create a dish and the results were awesome. This is the final stage, the “enlightenment” of cooking sans recipe. The ability to create something completely original is sought after. This is how I cook most of the time, and I love it. This is why I write this blog, to share my cooking experience with our 6 readers.

So get out there and try the 5 steps, you might be surprised. Just remember to be safe and have fun! Post up in the comments if you’ve had any experience cooking sans recipe!

Bon Appetit!
The Outdoors Start at Your Back Porch!

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One Comment
  1. Great post! Full of good advice. I was going to post a simple comment, but I had too many things in my head, so I wrote a response blog post over at Mark's black pot. The name on the comment here should take you to the post.

    We need to do another challenge? You up for it?

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