Along with the cat pictures and the porn, the internet is stuffed with recipes. Our bookshelves are heaving with them. When we turn on the TV, oh look – more recipes. Yet fewer people cook now than at any point in history. Ironic, no?
I bet you have at least a dozen cookbooks at home. Honestly now, how many meals have you actually made? I’m just as guilty. I read cookbooks in bed, dog-earing the pages like it's some kind of erotica. Maybe it is. Yet I hardly make any of it. And here’s why.
Recipes aren’t fun. And they aren’t fast. They’re entertainment.
What we love is the idea of a recipe. We love the sexy shots. The enticing blurb. We love watching our favorite chefs whip up something decadent under a tree in a Tuscan landscape. We love filling our Pinterest boards and scrolling through Instagram. But most of us make the same five dishes over and over again. Right?
We live in warp speed, and recipes are a relic from another time — a time when Sundays could be spent flicking through the recipe library, planning meals for the week, writing a grocery list and making sure nothing gets forgotten (because one vital ingredient inevitably always does, every single time). And even if you can do this, finding the energy after work, when you’re stressed and starving, to read and follow a recipe line by line, is often unrealistic. It creates kitchen havoc. And it’s simply no fun.
You know does have fun in the kitchen? Kids and grandmas. Kids take flour showers and get cookie dough up their noses. Grannies hum a tune as they add a dash of this, a sprinkle of that. Neither care much for recipes. They’re creative. They love it. And they learn through experience.
And that’s the key to becoming a good cook — liberating yourself from recipes and embracing kitchen adventures.
Without recipes, fiddly food becomes a thing of the past. Instead you’ll find yourself cooking simple, hearty food with flair (eventually). And you’ll likely become healthier as well. Cakes are out (baking is notoriously unforgiving); raw desserts are in. Gooey sauces are gone; chuck-everything-in-a-food-processor dressings win every time. Soups. Salads. Stews. All the easy stuff is the healthiest.
So here’s how to let go of recipes and become a better cook:
1. Laugh at your mistakes.
Disasters happen. Experiments go wrong. This is how you learn. And you’ll be surprised at how forgiving people are if you’re feeding them.
2. Learn a few flavor pairings.
Tomatoes – garlic – basil. Ginger – coriander – lime. Chocolate – chilli – orange. When you know what goes together, stuff starts tasting right.
3. Buy the basics.
Onions and garlic are the foundation for so many dishes. Fill your spice rack and buy a fresh herb or two every week.
4. Taste as you go.
Start tasting your cooking. Sometimes all that’s needed to take a dish from good to great is a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon.
5. Make it fun.
Cook with someone. Or to music. Cook what you like to eat. Try stuff out. If you love it, you’ll do it, and then you’ll always be healthy.
Recipes will never die. I still love them and they certainly have their place. I tend to use recipes at the weekend – which, when you have some time and energy, is a great way to learn new tricks and add to your repertoire – when I want something special and when I want something new.
But most of the time you’ll find me dancing around the kitchen, searching the cupboards for that special something to make dinner really sing. This is how you become a cook. This is how you make food with love. And love really does taste sweet.