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Liberation From Recipes: Cooking Without A Map

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    Steven e

    I’m just like David. what he said. I have learned that I’m better off using recipes or proportions for most baking and bread goods though. If the fat content of pie crust isn’t just right, it doesn’t seem to work. Same for biscuits and lots of other baked stuff. People used to bake in pinches, teacups and egg’s worth. one finger to three finger pinches, lard the size of a hens egg, etc… I always wanted to learn to do some standard baking that way. Otherwise, it’s very difficult for me to follow a recipe and it brings anxiety or discomfort instead of making me feel safe or whatever recipe followers get out them. And, like David, I have some real failures and some stuff that’s amazing. Usually it’s just pretty good to really good.

    I used to eat pretty basic, mostly grains and veg. Then I got interested in cooking and especially making really good stirfries. I grew up around crunchy hippie stirfries with big chunks of everything barely cooked and probably some burnt onions. I wanted to emulate the stuff I was eating in good chinese restraunts. I got a few tips from a real live chinese girl, the best of which, cook each ingredient separate, or at least ingredients that cooked well together in batches. But I learned largely by imagining what different ingredients would taste like combined. I also learned the importance of how food is cut, mostly what size, and the different ways you can cook it. I’m sure you could take the exact same ingredients and make radically different dishes by just cutting a cooking differently. The size that veggies are cut to can make a really significant difference to me. I also cook from the garden a lot, so I have to innovate to use what’s there. Soups are good for that. Lately minestrone. I usually use meat stock, whatever I have (I think real minestrone might be vegetarian). Onions and any of: peas, carrots, parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, potatoes, green beans, celery, mushrooms, peas and ? all cut in small pieces, roughly cubes, about 3/8 inch to 5/16 average. Some home canned tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, salt, pepper (always fresh ground), parsley, a little coriander, bay leaves, some oregano and maybe a little thyme and or rosemary. Finally a handful or two of macaroni. Now I’m salivating. I think I’ll make that today with the stock I made yesterday.

    I do want to actually do some recipe following for curries for a while. I find that my spice combinations just don’t add up to awesome. I want to make curries that are amazing and I think I need some guidance to get in the groove. Hopefully I can go intuitive from there.

    I find that one mistake I’ve made a lot (and still do), and other people make, is adding as much stuff as possible, as if that was more gourmet. That’s another attitude I grew up around. Like these kind of pseudo gourmet breakfast places with gigantic omlettes with 20 ingredients. Less can be more. In some cases, like minestrone, more often is better, but frequently, maybe mostly, it doesn’t work out so great. I also find that, using stuff as a crutch, as in drowning everything in strong flavors like garlic and or soy sauce also doesn’t always turn out for the best.

    Steven e

    More minestrone notes, definitely summer squash! Zuchinni and crookneck if I have them. And vgetables should be cooked well, without being totally mushy and falling apart to the point that it makes the soup murky. That’s a preference of course. I’m generally averse to eating half cooked vegetables and it doesn’t taste the same as getting all those flavors mixed up in there. There is definitely a limit though. I’ll also mince up very fine any meat or yummy connective tissue from stock bones.


    My grandmother made the BEST biscuits. I asked her once for the recipe. It started out with a measure of flour (don’t remember how much), then you “put in lard until it feels right”. I gave up at that point! :)

    Steven e

    Awesome. I always flail when I try that, but I’d like to be able to. How cool to be around a paradigm where that kind of fresh baking is so everyday that it’s intuitive.

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