I started reading The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg and an excerpt from the book really struck me.
“When a recipe is rigidly scripted and blindly followed, it negates the cook’s own creative instincts and good judgement — not to mention much of the pleasure of truly “being” in the moment.”
This is the beauty of feeling like once you know the rules you can break them and make a recipe your own by modifying, tinkering, and discovering. There’s so much beauty in exploration.
Recipes are there as foundation. Building blocks. Sometimes we find a recipe so serendipitous that it speaks to our soul perfectly and we never bother changing a thing because it was a soulmate match. But I’d say 95% of the time we walk away from a recipe speculating and scheming, how could I make it more me? What was it missing?
After reading that excerpt, for a second I thought, to hell with making and writing recipes! Who am I to tell people how to cook their food? Isn’t it their journey to figure it out? My micro exclamations are usually a fleeting huff.
But then the other night when I was assembling a quick 5-minute salad I caught myself holding my jar of Trader Joe’s tahini and completely blanked on what the heck even goes into a tahini dressing — lemon, honey…and was it apple cider vinegar or oil? Or neither? I forgot. A quick Google search for a recipe reassured me and soon I was mixing honey, lemon, tahini, and a pinch of sea salt then diluting it with a teensy splash of water. I’m a new adopter of tahini. I’ve traditionally ever known it as the heart of hummus but lately I’ve been incorporating it into my salads and it is an earthy grounding delight.
I might make the dressing by following the recipe To a T a few more times but taste and experimentation yield me with feelings of wonder. Maybe next time I’ll add a raw crushed garlic clove for spice, fresh grated ginger for a kick, and a dash of apple cider vinegar? And maybe I’ll summon some dill? Or finely minced parsley? The herbs might be too much but one can never know until they know.
So here’s my philosophy on cooking… Cooking is sensual, it’s artistic, it’s free form, and it’s flexible. If you’re brand new to the kitchen it’s fine to follow recipes or find chefs you like because that’s how you learn and set your foundation. I found a few Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis recipes in my mid-twenties that I still cherish to this day. Yes they are TV chefs but their recipes we’re a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Bobby’s Chicken Parmigiana and Giada’s Turkey Osso Bucco (I modified it on the second round and used chicken thighs because I’m not a fan of turkey) both blew my mind. It was like I opened a door to so much possibility and in adopting their styles I created something I might have not known how to on my own.
Baking on the other hand; especially goodies such as cakes, cookies, and bread is in my perception a bit more rigid and scientific. For this reason baking has never really been my cup of tea due to the confinement and restriction on improvisation.
Cooking is so personal. Truly I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do it as long as you’re doing it with intention and love. There are a lot of glorified techniques — I won’t lie — sometimes I chop my veggies psychotically fast just for the thrill of it and to test the ol’ knife chopping skills but it’s not necessary. There are cutting techniques that are efficient and handy to know but not crucial. Then there are the techniques that are actually fundamentally helpful, like marinating your meats in salt, vinegar, and/or lemon for a few hours prior to grilling to help tenderize the meat. You take the techniques you like and leave the ones that seem frivolous. It’s mostly western society that has glorified chefs and elitist gourmet food but home cooking is a very beautiful uncomplicated thing. It’s a nourishing act of self love for yourself and those around you. It’s tradition refined.
Cooking is love manifested.