When I first began cooking, I was quite the frightened amateur. I followed recipes strictly, frantically running to the store if I ran out of an ingredient. Obviously, this was neither frugal nor practical. I had to find a way to utilize the ingredients that we had on hand while providing my family with a variety of meals. It took some time, but I finally managed to begin improvising when I cooked.
I was inspired to do this partially by my grandmother, who managed to cook for a large family during the worst time in our nation, the Great Depression. She always amazed me in her ability to create meals out of nothing and with no guidance from a recipe. This instinct seemed to come naturally to her, and it certainly frustrated me with my lack of it. I also discovered The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, which provided me with some idea as to how to cook without a recipe. These two influences were crucial in my developing cooking abilities.
How did I begin this type of cooking? I first began studying how basic dishes such as a casserole or a stir fry were put together. For example, a casserole usually includes a carbohydrate such as rice or noodles, some sort of sauce, veggies, and the like. Too, I also looked at the type of spices used for Mexican, Italian, Asian, and similar dishes. Knowing these spices and having them ready at home made cooking so much easier. Learning the basics of cooking is an ongoing process, but it has been worth it.
In addition to studying easy cooking recipes and the basics of such meals, storing a wide range of ingredients at home is necessary. Whether it is a spice, rice, or a vegetable, making sure that you have a good selection for your improvisation will make it that much easier. There are lists of basic pantry items online or often in specialized recipe books. Looking at these suggestions and tailoring them to your family’s tastes and budgets will help you build up the size of your pantry.
And what then? I just learned how to cook as I went along. After I had gathered ingredients for our home pantry, I found myself creating soups, casseroles, and other dishes. These meals vary from time to time, and written recipes look more like suggestions for another person’s creativity. This method for cooking food has been of great benefit for our small family as well as our small budget.
So what do you have to lose? Put that recipe book aside for the evening and give your own creativity a chance for expression in the kitchen. You might enjoy the change!