Okay, here’s the deal, I’ve been cooking my own meals for over 30 years. I am in charge of the daily ‘care and feeding’ of my family 99.9% of the time. And the truth is that usually I ‘wing it’ when it comes to preparing food. I’ll chop up some vegetables, throw them into a pan/pot/wok, add other stuff like meat/pasta and voila! Dinner is served. I either default to the familiar favourites that no longer require a recipe, or I go by instinct and hope that I come up with something both interesting and edible.
From where I sit at my dining room table/writing desk I have an unobstructed view of dozens of cookbooks. The entire collection of “Cook’s Illustrated” publications, 14 years worth of “America’s Test Kitchen”, “Cook’s Country” and many other fine cookbooks hold a prominent place in my kitchen library. These books and magazines boast that their staff make the same dish over and over with slight variations to discover the ‘perfect’ recipe for everything. I applaud their dedication but I seldom have time for the finesse these recipes require.
I occasionally use two of the cookbooks we own (The Joy of Cooking and The Better H&G New Cook Book), but I only use those for baking which is close enough to chemistry that the recipe actually matters. And I don’t bake a lot. All the rest of the cookbooks we own belong to my husband. He is a fabulous cook, he follows recipes to the letter and the results are amazing. This happens a couple of times a month— maybe more during barbecue/grilling season—otherwise I do the majority of the meal preparation in our house.
The day-to-day meals I prepare generally fall into the categories encompassed by “edible” and “pretty good” with occasional forays into “super yummy” and “Uhm…let’s order pizza”.
It is these two ‘outlier’ categories that bother me, because in both cases, the factors that make a meal over-the-top-delicious or not-fit-for-man-nor-beast are unknown quantities to me.
No, I’m sorry, I can’t give you the recipe for that awesome stew/soup/meatloaf because I can’t remember the particulars of what made that soup/stew/meatloaf so much better than the one I made last week or last month. Did I use different herbs, different vegetables, or add some new secret ingredient that struck my fancy? Maybe. Probably.
Were the onions caramelized or just sauteed? Is that a trick question? I threw the onions into a pan with oil (or butter or margarine or non-stick spray) and cooked them on medium heat (or high or low) until I finished dicing/mincing/grating the carrots (or peppers or celery) and tossed those in with chicken/beef broth and for the sauce I think I used something Asian; oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce (dark, light, low salt, aged and/or sweetened?) Aargh.
Even if I remember the exact ingredients I used for a dish, how much of each is a mystery. One pinch? Two pinches? A dash? Apparently measurements make a difference, as anyone one who has accidentally tossed a tablespoon of salt into a pot instead of a teaspoon will know.
The reckless disregard I have for reading recipes or measuring ingredients might drive some people crazy, but my family has learned that if I serve up the most amazing meal ever prepared, they better eat up and enjoy, it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to offer it up again. And if our next meal turns out to be tasteless swill that even the dog won’t eat…don’t worry I probably won’t be able to replicate that again either. Now where is that pizza flyer?