My mom and I both love to cook, but we have a very different approach from each other.
My mom has a floor to ceiling bookcase that is built into the wall, shelves drooping from the weight of cookbooks. She then has two large cardboard boxes, organized by file folders, full of newspaper-clipped recipes from over the years. When she feels dreamy or has a specific craving, she looks through her collection to find a recipe she would like to do. If she doesn’t have the ingredients, she will get them from the store.
I am recipe-free! I loooove my mom’s cooking, and sometimes I will look at a recipe for ideas, but I like to think of myself as a “cook by feeling.”
It starts with what I have available. If I am selecting produce, whether that be from a store or market, or from the field, I choose what I bring home by what feels good rather than what makes sense. This is most often what is ripe and in season. Maybe the red chard looks a little brighter than the collards today, or maybe my body tells me that nutritionally, it would really like what’s in those raspberries. Those raspberries smell so goood and I am salivating! Chard and raspberries.
It then goes to the kitchen. I most often cook in one big cast iron skillet. The exceptions to this include when I am cooking something acidic like tomatoes (I will then use a stainless steel pot), dried beans or slow-cooking meat and bones (crock pot), or baking squash, sweet potatoes, or a casserole (the oven rack or a glass pan).
I love using cast iron, and although I cook with a lot of oil, butter, and lard, I still appreciate a well-seasoned pan. To accomplish this, I: 1) Use it often 2) Leave oily remains in it when otherwise fairly clean 3) And, when I do wash it, I dry it on the stove and sweep a tiny bit of oil over it afterwards. Paul Wheaton gives thorough details on seasoning (as well as how to remove old seasoning and start from scratch) in his article, Using a Cast Iron Skillet Ain’t So Hard! (You can find the article at www.richsoil.com)
So! In goes some butter until it is ready to make things sizzle. Then, more often than not, in go some onions (meals just don’t seem right without onions). It is free-flowing from here. I take my spread of options in, and come out with a combo that makes me nod my head and, in my own nerdy way, feel giddy for my creation. I love experimenting with flavor, and I love how cooking time and the use of herbs and spices yield different tastes and textures with the same core ingredients.
I have found the greatest delight in charting new territory for myself. The fact that I cook for someone else for work only adds to the thrill. A dish will harmlessly be coming along, rather average and ordinary…I have to do something different! Bring out the random odds and ends! How about some juice from the pickle jar? or some dried fruit? or some ground pumpkin seeds? The field is wide open. It’s all game.
Playing in the kitchen like this can yield some beautiful surprises, all the while nourishing my inner Creative. I discovered one of my favorite creations while in college, and although it never turns out the same twice, it is a general “recipe” I love that turns would-be compost into something delicious.
Here it is:
Moist Carroty Loaf
Save the pulp from the juicer. My favorite combo is carrot, apple, fennel, ginger.
Mix together some wet ingredients: eggs (I like a lot, like 4, but it depends how big of a pan you fill), some coconut oil or melted butter (not so hot that it cooks the eggs), a tiny bit of sweetener like agave, or honey.
Throw in some dry ingredients: a handful or two of flour (I do gluten free flour, like brown rice flour), a pinch or two of baking soda (optional), a few dashes of sea salt.
Throw in something fun just for the heck of it: Some cut up prunes? Some ground flax? Apple pie spices?
Make sure things are hydrated enough after a few minutes, if not, add some juice or water.
Put in a greased pan and bake! I like to take it out before it gets too dry. Keep your noses alert.
I hope you enjoy the results as much as the process!