Here’s the thing about cooking that people who don’t cook won’t believe: it’s not that hard. Really.
I generally cook from scratch, using very few “cheats” or “shortcuts” and even fewer processed ingredients. Why? Because I don’t have to. There was a time when most housewives could bake a loaf of bread, roast a chicken or make a batch of spaghetti sauce without a recipe. And there are many folks cooking today who can do the same thing. The secret is to learn the technique, not a recipe.
Makes me think of the Chinese proverb:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Indeed. Learning a technique is like learning to fish. The technique can be applied in an infinite number of ways, feeding you for a lifetime. And unlike a recipe with all of its technicalities, a technique is based more on feel and experience, which by my estimation is far more trustworthy than measurements and cooking times.
When I was first learning to cook for myself I had very little to go on. My skill set was small. I had to piece together a culinary education on my own, figuring out not only what to cook (what did I like, what could I afford, what was healthy) but how to cook it. I didn’t know how to bake a potato or grill a hamburger. I had never attended a home economics class because that was never offered. I never really learned to cook at home because I was involved with sports, music, friends, school. A Gen-Xer like me didn’t have time for learning the basics in the kitchen. I was going to college! They had microwaves there.
And so when college ended here I was, a single gal needing to eat. With a tiny apartment-for-one kitchen and some hand-me-down kitchen wares. I got to work on my self-education and before long I realized–I like to cook!
But with so few cooking skills I hit the books, and the websites, and the cooking shows. Anywhere I could find some information. I borrowed cookbook after cookbook at the library. I called my mom! I got recipes from my aunt. I spent some time at the grocery store and explored every section, discovering all the ingredients and imagining how I might use them.
As I cooked, my skill set started to grow. I learned how to chop an onion, how to braise a roast, when to boil vs when to simmer. I had some flops. A lot of flops! But the best thing about making mistakes is that they are so easy to learn from. And so I pressed on.
The real revelation came to me years later, as a new mom cooking for a small family. I didn’t always have all the ingredients I needed for recipes. I had to improvise. Necessity was–as it always is–the mother of invention. And pretty soon old recipes became new recipes. Then those recipes multiplied–out of necessity or creativity. I didn’t even need the recipes anymore, I had learned the technique. As if to say to the recipes: “Thanks a lot fellas, but I’ll it from here.”
Since then I save myself quite a bit of time by learning techniques rather than recipes. Pan sauces, roasts, marinades, risotto, pastas, pancakes, fish, salad dressing, grilling… so many things come to mind.
This growing season, as I’m sharing the many ways I prepare my harvest for our table and share those meals with you, you might be wondering where in the world are the measurements–and how long did I cook that. I might not know. Just think of me as your Italian grandmother throwing in a dash of this or a palmful of that.
I can’t wait to share the many ways I’ve turned my garden produce into meals with you. And when there is a recipe to share, I’ll be sure to do that–either providing a link or typing it out in the post.
Until then, I’m going to brush up on a few techniques and dig out some ideas. When the first items–chives–are ready to be picked I’ll be ready to go with some great ideas. Likewise, when the season closes with sage, kale, swiss chard and maybe spinach, I’ll be ready for them too. Learning a few tricks of the trade has served me well year after year.