I feel like I haven’t been completely honest with you, dear reader. You see, the thing is, this isn’t really how I cook. I don’t cook with recipes. Or really with a plan at all, usually. But I haven’t yet found a good way to tell someone else how to replicate a meal that I just came up with as I went.
Take lunch today, for example. The rain let up long enough to motivate me to rip out the last of my summer garden and spread out my winter greens so they have some room to breathe. (Claustrophobic kale is the worst!) Underneath my still-green tomatoes I found a sad little forgotten basil plant, with a few leaves clinging on for dear life. Mmmm, lunch, thought I.
I had been soaking some garbanzo beans in the fridge for a few days so they would be ready whenever I felt like making them, so I boiled them up with some salt and garlic while I continued to perform transplant surgery on my Swiss chard. My dog frantically sprinting around the yard with tomato branches in his mouth jarred me back from my must-fix-garden-now-tunnel vision, and I remembered the beans. Phew. Only barely overcooked. Went to get some parm from the fridge and spotted some leftover cilantro (which I had used to make the most delicious cauliflower dish a few nights ago - I promise to tell you about it very soon, ok?). Hmmm, cilantro, basil, maybe an Asian-herby stir fry? Pulled some kale leaves from the garden to stir fry up, but decided my granola-breakfast was wearing off rather rapidly and perhaps I should have some grain of substance to put under my emerging meal. Quinoa from the pantry. Perfect.
Fried up the kale, garbanzos, and added a bit of lime juice, salt, and cayenne for good measure. Topped the quinoa with the stir fry, threw on the herbs and some sesame seeds. Lunch!
I’ll probably never make anything exactly like this again. Could I have made rice instead of quinoa? Sure! Could I have used soy sauce instead of lime juice? You bet! Would sunflower seeds have added a different crunch? Yup! Zucchini instead of kale? No problem! In any case, it turned out pretty tasty.
So how would you like me to write that in a recipe?
3 bunches of whatever-you-have-in-your-fridge
Fresh sprigs of whatever-you-have-in-your-garden
1 cup of whatever-you-have-in-your-pantry
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop up whatever-you-have-in-your-fridge. Cook it in a large sauté pan with olive oil over high heat. Boil whatever-you-have-in-your-pantry in a sauce pan with plenty of salt. (The number one mistake of home cooks is to not use enough salt. Call the sodium police! And the split infinitive police while you’re at it…) Combine these into a bowl and top with whatever-else-you-have-in-your-fridge and whatever-else-you-have-in-your-pantry. Garnish with whatever-you-have-in-your-garden. Season to taste. Enjoy.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling like I have a lot to say lately but can’t bring myself to keep leading you on with my “recipes”. So know this; I will do my best to cobble together rough ingredient amounts and some decent directions, but also please (please!) feel free to just use this as a point of inspiration (not sure if it’s kosher to refer to one’s self as inspiring, but I guess I just did) and make it your own as you go. To up the odds of your improvisational cooking success, here are just a few tips to give you a running start.
- Keep a lot of vegetables in your fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic, and they will last a week or two. I usually have kale, carrots, and broccoli at all times, plus whatever else comes in my biweekly vegetable delivery box.
- Keep lots of dry grains and nuts in your pantry, ready to become the calorie warriors of your next meal.
- If you don’t have a garden, don’t fret. Try even a few fresh herbs in some window pots. A little goes a long way.
I should also add: sometimes the things you make won’t taste the way you hoped. Sometimes they’ll taste downright bad. My advice to you is this: keep adding things ‘til your dish tastes better and better, and then serve it, eat it, own it, and take note of what to do differently next time. I think you’ll find, however, that more often than not recipes that evolve on the fly are delicious, and help get rid of the boredom of yet-another-night-of-meatloaf…
I had the opportunity to chat over drinks (well, water for me) with one of my food writing heroes this week. She was just as gracious and well-spoken in person as she comes off in her books. She’s been in the game a long time and had some great advice: just do your thing. (Well, that was basically the gist of it. She made it sound a whole lot better/fancier, just like she did these muffins). So rather than try to turn my cooking into complex, fool-proof recipes, I’m just going to do my thing and hope it works (luckily pretty pictures have turned out to be my thing, too, so there’s always that to lure you back).
I hope you are having a great Friday, wherever you are. I certainly am: cooking, planting, writing, and enjoying the rain. Just doing my thing.