Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Being Brave in the Kitchen: how I learned to cook outside the box

The other day I made a huge vat of venison potato soup with random things in my pantry and fridge that were in desperate need of being used up. I didn't follow any recipe really; I just used the basic building blocks of soup making that I've learned over the years.

I haven't always been able to do this. In high school I worked every afternoon at our local library, which meant that I didn't have any opportunities to cook along with my mom like my sister did. I don't begrudge this, but it did delay my abilities somewhat. In college I began cooking for myself a lot during  my junior year when I was in a college apartment and realized how much money I could save by not using a meal plan. (Plus my introverted self just couldn't stand that cafeteria any longer.) Most of my meals were cooked by obediently following a recipe and I used a lot of convenience food shortcuts due to my crazy busy schedule.

When Ben and I got married I really started to branch out with my cooking. The more I learned about avoiding processed foods, the more I was pushed to stretch my skills and try new things. Ben's cooking style also has encouraged me to add my own spin to recipes instead of just following the recipe to the letter. He loves cooking without recipes, and just kind of knows what will work together.

We started watching Jamie at Home on BBCA a couple years ago. In this series Jamie Oliver cooks from his kitchen garden and each episode is centered around one star ingredient. Watching him cook has changed the way I cook. I have learned so much from his cooking shows about how to mix flavors and what ingredients go together well. Recently his series 30 Minute Meals was also on BBCA and I felt like that series gave me a whole new set of quick cooking skills. One of the best things I've learned from Jamie is to not be fussy about measuring, especially spices. If I have a recipe that I'm using I just eyeball the spice measurements and then adjust everything to taste as I go.

The other huge influence on my cooking has been Aimée of SimpleBites. I have been a faithful reader since the inception of her blog and I realized recently that reading her blog is what has taught me how to be brave in the kitchen and try new things like making soup without a recipe. What I realized was that even though I might not make all of the recipes that come through my inbox, reading all of them has given me a working knowledge of flavor and ingredient combinations. So now on a random weekday when I look in my cupboard to find 8 pounds of potatoes in need of using, I can easily throw together a delicious soup using nothing but things in my pantry and the wisdom I've learned from my cooking mentors over the years.

Being brave in the kitchen doesn't always have to mean cooking without a recipe. It is having the know-how to tweak a recipe on the fly when you've run out of an ingredient. It's being able to google kneading and teach yourself bread making. It's the ability to add your own delicious twist to a recipe to make it truly your own. And sometimes, it's making a huge pot of venison potato soup from scratch with no recipe whatsoever.


  1. This is so encouraging to hear, Becca. You've come a long way and it shows. I just love this.

    Thank you for being such a faithful reader. Really. And keep cooking!

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement! :-) and thanks for reading!