Friday, June 7, 2013

Winging it in the kitchen

Have you ever looked at old cookbooks--the really old ones?  Many of the really old ones are dainty and rather sparse compared to the encyclopedic modern cookbooks.  And the recipes are generally only special occasion recipes.  How did they do everyday cooking?

I know an older woman--Seasoned Housewife, I'll call her--who took over the cooking in her family, which included 9 siblings, when she was 11 years old.  She rattles off recipes for homemade lasagna, (with from-scratch ricotta cheese and homemade noodles, naturally), doughnuts, and stroganoff from memory the same way the rest of us can recite instructions for making a tuna sandwich.  And she makes them all sound just as effortless. 

I recently asked her if she used a cookbook when she cooked.  She scoffed and said she only follows recipes when she makes a cake.  She thinks too many people just follow a recipe and aren't truly cooking--they don't know their ingredients or what combines well with other ingredients.  And, she emphasized, they don't taste enough along the way and show any intuition.

It made me wonder how much time I waste poring over a recipe, double checking to see if the recipe called for 1/2 t. or 1/4 t. of basil.   Seasoned Housewife explained to me how she uses her palm to estimate a teaspoon and a scoop of her hand to measure out flour and suggested I learn what different measurements look like in my own hand.  Although I have good kitchen sense, substitute ingredients when needed, and don't carefully level off measuring cups and spoons, this is a whole new angle.

A few weeks later I had my chance to try out this revolutionary (to me) technique when I called my mother-in-law for her sloppy joe recipe.  She hesitated, and said that she really didn't have a recipe, but could tell me the ingredients she used.  I winged my way through her vague recipe:

ground beef, fried with some chopped onion
ketchup, with a little water (enough to make the mixture "sloppy")
a squirt of mustard
brown sugar (I used sucanat)
a splash of vinegar

It worked!

No cans of sloppy joe sauce, no measuring cups, not even one measuring spoon.  I could get used to this.

This post has been linked to Simple Lives Thursday.


  1. This is a great idea, and Seasoned Housewife (love it!) makes a very good point. I can pick out good recipes to try, but couldn't tell you why some things work and some don't. Hmmm, this would be a challenge but I like it!