I can tell that I learned how to cook from my mom when I am making cream of potato soup and when I recall that the recipe I’d read a while back asked for dillweed, I decide to replace it with a couple dashes of chili powder. I don’t know what dillweed is, and I definitely don’t have it in my cupboard, but everything’s better with chili powder, so why not throw it in? The soup turned out great, by the way.
It’s my theory that the different ways people cook fall along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are those who always use a recipe. These people may be new to cooking, or they may be old hands, but either way, they are rule followers.
On the other extreme end of the spectrum are those who never use a recipe. These are typically professional chefs, grandmothers, or people who simply can’t cook but have no intention of trying to learn how.
Somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum are the rest of us. I know quite a few people who are at or very close to the never-cook-anything-without-a-recipe side. Personally, I am close to the never-use-a-recipe side. I, however, am not that extreme. I do use recipes when I bake, but that’s about it.
Many lovely people gave me cookbooks when I got married or shortly afterwards. These cookbooks don’t go to waste. In fact, I sit down and read them every once in a while, looking for new ideas. But, unless I’m baking bread or cookies, you’ll never see me using the measuring cups and spoons that I also got at my wedding.
You cook the way you are taught, and my Mom never followed a written recipe, so neither do I. Unlike some, I did know how to cook before I got married, though I had never cooked much, preferring to do other household chores while my siblings cooked. When I was going to get married, I did want to write down the recipes for a couple of dishes that my family frequently ate but which I hadn’t cooked often. I still have that notebook. I’ll share with you the recipe for my favorite green bean dish, as copied verbatim from the notebook:
Green beans, turmeric, mustard seeds, chilies, chili powder, salt, and carrots.
The note says that you can replace green beans with cabbage for a different vegetable dish. It’s understood that this dish is meant to be stir-fried and no measurements are needed, because, after all, you’ll probably want to cook different amounts each time, right?
My family never ate seafood, and I’ve never cooked fish in my life, but the other day Angel brought some salmon filets home from the grocery store. I did get online to check what temperature fish is supposed to be cooked at and for how long, but then I just added butter, lemon juice, garlic, onions, pepper, and chili powder to the filets, baked them, and they turned out great! At least according to Angel. I’m not a fan of fish, but I ate them anyways.
Both Angel and I love chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic, and onions, so I find a way to work those into many recipes that may not have included them originally. To me, it’s more fun, and by gum, it’s more American to not be constrained by the boundaries of someone else’s recipes in your everyday cooking.
And maybe because my husband is not a picky eater, I can get away with it.
Where are you on the cooking spectrum? Extra points for anyone who can name the source of my title.