Most Helpful Tips for improvising with cooking. This page is a work in progress that will be added to when/if I think of more. These are not in any particular order, but I know which one I thought of first…
– When it comes to spices and seasonings, start with less. You can add more if you need to, but it’s impossible to take it out. ESPECIALLY SALT. Too much salt will pretty much ruin any food, in my opinion. Also, if you have a spice or herb and you don’t know what it is, you might be better off leaving it for another time. However, one of the whole points of recipeless cooking is to try out new things, so I guess you should go ahead. In fact, add ALL THE SPICES.
I’m so, so kidding. Don’t do that.
– Stock your pantry. This is a pretty common tip, which I’ve seen over and over in lists of suggestions for more efficient grocery shopping. It’s a simple concept–adding seasonings and such, and keeping basic, versatile ingredients on hand will allow you to get more (flavor/variety) out of simple, staple food items that you always buy. What I’m telling you to do, though, is this: Once you’ve started to learn which ingredients you really like to use (like seasoned salt, or basil, or garlic), make an effort to keep these things on hand. Your go-to items become such because you like them enough to eat them all the time. Don’t deprive yourself. Unless your go-to item is something like fresh scallops or really expensive cheese. In that case, you’d be setting yourself up for bankruptcy.
– The internet is your friend. When you’re trying to find out what temperature and how long to cook your baked apples or what kind of pan you should use to fry up that steak, it’s okay to check out a few recipes. It doesn’t mean you actually have to follow them, but they’ll have some helpful information for you. For instance, I can never remember what oven temperature to use for fish, so I would pretty much always have to look that up.
– Stovetop over oven. I know what you’re thinking now – “Of course the stovetop is over the oven. That’s how they make them.” What I mean is, I find it’s much easier to do recipe-less cooking on the stovetop, usually in frying pans, rather than oven dishes. I think the main reason for this is that it’s there, right in front of your face, and so it’s easier to see if something’s not working and make adjustments. With the oven, unless you’re doing something really, really simple, once you stick it in there, you’re done.
– Unlikely combinations might work. Recipes can be annoying because you can’t make things taste like they’re supposed to if you’re lacking an ingredient. So to skip going to the store JUST to get the right kind of cheese or whatever, I mostly just file away ideas until they’re convenient (or, more likely, I just say “Mmm, that looks good” and move on), and take stock of what I have and combine random things that seem like they might go together. Like one time I just cooked chicken in salsa in a frying pan. So good. Better if you also have cheese to put on it.
– Boiling water always takes longer than you think. I am pretty sure this needs no further explanation.
– If you’re really unsure, don’t make it for a dinner party. I know it’s hard sometimes just to cook for one person, as I am generally only feeding myself and don’t usually want to spend a lot of time and effort on it. It might be really fun to try out a new food experiment with other people, but if you’re trying a dish you’re not familiar with and you are not confident about how it will turn out, you might want to just make it for yourself. There’s no rule that you can’t make enough to have leftovers, or cook it again for your friends or significant other if it came out SUPER DELICIOUS.
– You don’t HAVE to eat it. It might be disappointing to have nothing to show for your efforts, but if you try it and it turns out to be inedible, don’t torture yourself. Either grab something simple so that you won’t end up hungry or order some pizza (or whatever kind of comfort food you’d like) to make yourself feel better. Or, if you have the time, inclination, and ingredients, start over.