The Anti-Cookbook

I have a love/hate relationship with the kitchen. It’s a place I’m learning to enjoy more with each passing year. Lately, it’s been on the positive side. When I’m alone, it’s harder to convince myself to cook for just one person. As a book lover, I thoroughly enjoy browsing the pages of cookbooks– admiring all the gorgeous food and pretty place settings. Although my food never looks like it does in the books, I aspire to write my own cookbook one day. The problem lies in the fact that I don’t really think it’s necessary to follow a recipe to come up with a great creation in the kitchen. Some rules in the kitchen are meant to be broken.

Now this first: there is a distinct difference between cooking and baking. Baking is a more precise science than throwing something together in a sauté pan to cook on the stovetop. However, if I’ve learned anything from Alton Brown, it’s that there’s room to experiment and to fail in the kitchen. The hard part of my kitchen relationship stems from my many failures but in those failures were also many learnings such as: rolling pins help knead out the air bubbles in pie crust, knowing the difference between baking soda and baking powder, and cheesecakes are baked in springform pans for a reason.

So how does one create a cookbook without recipes? You really can’t. It’s just a book otherwise. The idea is to offer guidance to your everyday recipes like muffins, cakes, casseroles, and pies but give the reader the chance to explore. Maybe leave out an ingredient or two? Maybe skip the temperature? I realize these are critical in some recipes but with fair warning, I’d want my readers to gain experience through failure. What better place to do so in the kitchen (given you have proper ventilation and fire extinguishers).

My suggestion is to find an ingredient you have never used before. Two days ago, my ingredient of choice was canned guava in syrup. Think about what you’ve seen the ingredient in before. Have you ever made that? Would it make sense paired with something you already considered cooking/baking? It doesn’t have to be an exotic fruit but you get more style points this way. Logic is your friend. Consider logical substitutions like honey for sugar or additions like nuts and berries. It helps to know your basics (see Alton Brown again). Feel confident in the basic cookie mix, cake batter, or cornmeal crust. Adding to those is what’s going to make your “recipe” stand out.

Have fun and eat up!


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