Ok, perhaps that title is taking it a bit far, especially for a site which specialises in providing you with recipes but I think I need to make my case for instinctive cooking – it’s what all the best recipes are based on after all. The ‘perfect’ set of ingredients for any one dish doesn’t just get plucked out of thin air. Classic cooking is honed from years of trial and error and you can thank this toil for whatever ends up on your plate at dinner time (not to take anything away from your own efforts, of course).
Here at Fiver Feeds, setting a budget dictates that we have to specify certain amounts for your required ingredients, but I think good cooking is about using your own judgement and undertaking your own kitchen experiments, just as much as it is about following a recipe…
A lot of the dishes I cook on a regular basis are from memory, and this isn’t to say I can recall the exact set of ingredients from when I first tried it years ago, but more that I’ve developed an easy way to create dinner with whatever I have to hand – I’m confident enough to adapt a recipe if I don’t have all the ingredients at home and I don’t want to nip to my local branch of whatever mini-supermarket is nearest and pay their rather extortionate prices.
I know a few people who go into meltdown if they haven’t followed a recipe exactly, but I wish they’d take comfort in the fact that no recipe is perfect. Not that it can always be improved but that pretty much everything is subjective when it comes to food. Of course, accidents happen – I’ve forgotten to put sugar in a cake before and it didn’t taste great to say the least – but many can be recused with a bit of kitchen ingenuity.
My favourite example of a recipe that requires minimal measuring out is a basic sponge cake. A sure-fire way to make sure you have all the key ingredients is to weigh out your eggs in their shells, using 2-3 depending on how much cake you want to bake. Whatever these weigh, use the same amount each of butter, sugar and flour. It’s that simple. And if you don’t have any vanilla for flavouring don’t stress it – you can make a lemon cake with some juice and zest instead. Don’t have a lemon either? Then looking through the cupboards for what you do have – cocoa powder, ground almonds, desiccated coconut – all of these can work. And if it looks like the mixture is getting a bit thick then add some milk to it. And if you don’t have any milk… Well then I’m not sure I can really help you with that one.
I don’t claim to know the scientific properties of every single ingredient and the effects they can have on every single dish at whatever temperature you decide to cook it at (Heston Blumenthal looks into that sort of thing so we don’t have to), but I do know that practice makes perfect and if you fail in one experiment then that only sets you even further down the path to culinary greatness when you try the next time.