We were having a conversation with some friends the other day about cooking. Some of us are intuitive cooks – you open the ‘fridge, see what’s in there, and cook dinner. Others of us need everything in place with step-by-step instructions on what to do and how to do it.
Obviously, I’m the first category. Unless I’m cooking something extremely specific or making something for the first time and wanting to impress – I wing it. There are certain flavor profiles I can replicate fairly easily and if I want to make something and lack an ingredient – I just put in something else. The most difficult part of being an intuitive cook is trying to tell someone when they ask, what you did and how you did it. My standard response is something along the lines of I dunno – I just did it – and then rattle off the Cliff’s Notes version of what I did.
Of course, that is totally meaningless to someone who needs step-by-step instructions – and makes total sense to someone who doesn’t.
The most difficult part of writing this blog is coming up with written recipes. I’m an add water and stir person in a world of how much water and how long do you stir? people. It’s not an easy place to be.
My basic premise with cooking is you just do it. You taste things, you add, you adjust… you look through the spice cabinet and add a pinch of this and a dash of that… You look in the ‘fridge and see what needs to be used up. But what do you do if you honestly don’t know what goes with what? What do you do if you don’t really care all that much, but you need to get something on the table? What if your passions lay elsewhere and cooking is just something you need to endure until you can afford a full-time chef?
And my answer is… I don’t know. My passion is cooking and baking. I do not have a passion for calculus or discovering new stars in a galaxy far, far away. I can look through a microscope or telescope and appreciate what I’m seeing – but it’s pretty meaningless to me in the grand scheme of things. And, I’m going to need printed step-by-step instructions to do it. Pretty much, I gather, as cooking is to others.
So… I guess my revised answer is get a good, basic cookbook – something like Better Homes and Gardens that has a huge variety of good, basic recipes that are pretty no-fail. We have an old copy that I love to go through and get ideas, and the latest edition has been updated to more modern tastes. Learn how to make one dish really well and let it become your go-to when you have no idea what you want or aren’t feeling creative.
And, I guess I would add to try not think of cooking as a chore. And don’t try to replicate foods you had at a restaurant or be upset that your homemade dish doesn’t taste like Stouffer’s. Restaurants get different foods than grocery stores and they have the time and ability to do things that the home cook can’t. Prepared foods are formulated for mouth feel, taste, scent, texture… Even when they’re not chemically enhanced, they’re manipulated. You can’t do that at home, either.
Tonight’s dinner started off with needing to use up some mushrooms.
I took a NY strip steak out of the freezer, let it thaw, and then cut it into strips. I sautéed it lightly in a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and when it was about half-cooked – I took it from the pan.
Into the same pan went the mushrooms. When they were fairly browned, I added about t tablespoons of tomato paste and cooked it a bit with the mushrooms. Then I added about a third of a cup of dry sherry. It bubbled up nicely.
Next went in some beef broth – about a cup – and I cooked it until it reduced a bit and thickened slightly. Then I added the beef back to the pan and let it cook through.
I added some garlic powder, a pinch of thyme, and some salt and pepper.
Served it over some orzo and rice pilaf.
Really simple, really basic, and quite good, too.
Same dish could be made with marsala, red wine, or no wine, at all. The thyme could become oregano – or French herbs or Italian seasoning. Same basic idea, slightly different flavor profile.
Cooking is not rocket science – which is a really good thing, because it it was – I’d starve.