Back in January I decided to set 10 food related goals for 2013, mostly to hold myself accountable for trying new recipes rather than just wasting time looking at food on Pinterest. (Update: I’ve made my own bread-it turned out okay-and tried the Strawberry Banana Breakfast bake which was good but not sure it’ll become a staple.)
I really love to cook and bake, but I’m a bit impatient and tend to cut corners. I tend to say things like, “That looks like a teaspoon of salt, right?” or “It says to refrigerate first for 30 minutes, but 10 will do, right?”
If I don’t have an ingredient a recipe calls for, I usually don’t stress. Sometimes my substitutions work out in my favor, and sometimes they’re a complete and total disaster. I’m still learning when to follow a recipe and when to let my creative/lazy tendencies take over.
In addition to being creative/lazy about following recipes, I also don’t do the best job recognizing how certain ingredients, heat, and cooking time can make (or break) certain dishes. For example, I make fish all the time and sometimes it turns out fantastic and sometimes it’s overcooked or tasteless. In an attempt to try lots of different recipes I’ve failed to perfect a few “go-to” dishes that always turn out right, and I’ve failed to acknowledge that little steps make a big difference.
I just finished reading Shauna Niequist’s new book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. (While I have plenty to say about the book, including another blog post in a few weeks, the main takeaway is: pre-order this book! It’s available on Amazon in early April and you’re going to love it. My mother-in-law, a great cook, devoured the book when she was visiting us earlier this month so if my opinion doesn’t convince you, at least take hers.)
In the chapter titled The Chopping Block, Shauna talks about some of the tips she learned during a weeklong culinary bootcamp. Her favorite chef urged the group to be less timid. “He told us that the difference between restaurant cooking and home cooking- and often, too, the difference between great flavor and tasteless food-is two things: more heat and more seasoning.”
The night I read her chapter I cooked basic chicken thighs on high heat with more sea salt than normal. You know what? They were some of the better chicken thighs I’ve ever cooked. I know so because Jonathan actually complimented me and went for seconds. (Usually he isn’t the biggest fan of my too-dry chicken.)
Another tip I learned from Shauna is when you’re making a recipe for the first time, follow the directions exactly. Taste, test, evaluate, then decide what you could do differently next time. The second time you make it, try a few changes or substitutions. Then, by the third time, try to do it without looking at the recipe! As I’ve been trying new recipes lately I’m really trying to force myself to follow.the.directions.no.ifs.ands.or.butts.
I’m curious, for the chefs out there, do you follow recipes exactly or do you make modifications?
If you’re not a cook, but you love food, I’d still recommend Shauna’s book. As she says, “It’s not strictly about food for me. It’s about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories.”
Can’t wait to share a few more of Shauna’s stories and recipes in early April!