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08.28.2000

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COOKING without 
C
ookbooks  |
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Iíve got two generous bookshelves worth of lovely, informative cookbooks, but each evening, when the dinner hour strikes, youíll still find my books in their same old spots, spines neatly lined up and covers firmly shut. Itís the rare occasion indeed when Iíll take the time to actually follow a recipe, and when I do, itís generally with a liberal amount of my own "interpretation." You wonít catch me measuring precise teaspoons or tablespoons or ounces worth of any of my ingredients (unless Iím trying to record a recipe to give to someone); Iíll never hesitate to add some of this, omit all of that, substitute ingredient A for whatever ingredient B happens to be lurking in the depths of my fridge. Iím certainly no trained gourmet chef Ė not by a long shot -- so why buck the experts and do my own thing? I could wax spiritual about how cooking without recipes is a form of self-expression (and there might even be some kernel of truth to that), but the real reason? Laziness. Cooking freeform is simply easier and faster. Plus itís a whole lot more fun to kind of make things up as you go along, rather than slavishly adhering to somebody elseís list of proportions.

Recipes are reassuring; thereís no doubt about that. As a novice cook, theyíll walk you through ingredient by ingredient, step by step, kindly holding your hand as you proceed. Theyíre also great sources for inspiration, providing ideas for novel flavor combinations that might never have occurred to you on your own in a million years. But Iíll tell you this: I never felt like a good cook until I realized that I was capable of cooking without precise instructions. Besides, relying on recipes tends to lead to a lot of wasted food Ė because youíve added precisely two cups of this and 8 oz. of that, youíll often have leftover unused ingredients Ė ľ bell pepper, 5 florets of broccoli -- which then go rotten because you can't find any other recipes that use so little a quantity of those exact ingredients. Learning to cook without cookbooks teaches you to make use of whatever odds and ends you happen to have on hand. It saves money, it saves time, and itís just plain liberating to boot. Some tips to help you break free from the recipe mentality Ö

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