The Un-recipe

Last week, I wrote about how to make a sauce using an “un-recipe”. An un-recipe is a list of ingredients, estimated amounts, and steps.  Un-recipes inspire creativity, spontaneity, and freedom. Just say no to tedious exact measurements and instructions. Use artistic license and become a liberated and joyful cook in your kitchen.

Thinking about un-recipes shot me back to the time when I used recipes as formulas. I didn’t have the courage, experience, or creativity to put my own spin on recipes by switching up or out ingredients. I was loyal to the unspoken recipe “shoulds and musts”. Sometimes I would read a recipe and pass on it because I didn’t have all the ingredients it called for. Or, I would buy that one ingredient, use it, and forget I had it.  By the time I needed it again it had expired and end up in the trash.

What did I do to break free from the chains of recipe bondage and transform my cooking experience into one of freedom, ease, and joy in the kitchen? I began to create a pantry stocked with what I call “Master Ingredients”. That is a list of basic staple ingredients that serve as a foundation. Then I added in a few deluxe extras called flavor bursts. Those are concentrated flavorings that kick up my cooking a notch. I keep my panty simple; ironically, this carefully curated list of foods spawns great creativity. I store my food in pretty glass jars on open shelves; there is truth in the statement “out of sight, out of mind”. The food on display gives me ideas about what I can create. The show of jars is more appetizing than a mish-mash of cluttered bags and boxes. The food almost seems to jump off the shelves and say “cook me”! I’m yours!

The un-recipe evolved slowly but surely. Eventually, I was able to open up any cookbook, magazine, or website and know I could make almost anything without going to the store. I had options. If the recipe called for something I didn’t have, I had enough experience and courage to try certain substitutions.  For example, maybe I didn’t have chopped dates, but I did have figs, prunes, and dried cherries. I started to feel like an artist in my kitchen! I mixed and matched, added some of this and a little of that to my heart’s delight. I describe un-recipes like this: it’s painting in front of a blank canvas with a palate overflowing with color versus painting by numbers.

You too can be an artist of flavor and presentation and create your own pantry of Master Ingredients.  Un-recipes are fun and then some!