Thursday, December 31, 2015

How Do You Cook?

Well folks, I don't know about you, but I feel like I've done nothing but cook, eat, snooze, and watch movies for the past few weeks...

OK... with a little bit of yoga thrown in there so my poor little body doesn't turn to complete jelly until I can get back on the bike again.

Seriously though, the combination of the bitter cold (the mercury hasn't climbed above freezing in over a week) and with it being the holidays... well, it all pretty much has me in hibernation mode.

Anyhow, as I was cruising the blogosphere earlier today, I came across an interesting post by Kristen over at The Frugal Girl. The post was basically about these new "ingredients in a box" services like Blue Apron.

As usual, the part I found really fascinating was all of the comments.

What really struck me was the number of people who said something to the effect that one of the selling points of these services is that they provide everything you need for the recipe and no more, so you don't end up with extra ingredients that will go to waste. For me, this was sort of a baffling idea, because if I ended up with extra amounts of something that I'd purchased for a special recipe, I'd just use up whatever it is by making something else.

Anyhow, in reading the comments, and in thinking about all the cooking I've done over the past few weeks, I'm coming to the conclusion that there are very different schools of thought when it comes to preparing food.

Maybe this is crazy or maybe it falls under the category of Captain Obvious, I'm not sure, but I'm starting to think that some folks are "recipe followers" and others (like me) are improvisational cooks.

Once I thought about it that way, a lot of things I've run into on the blogosphere started to make sense.

I've always been baffled by people who are deeply into meal planning, and who claim that the key to success in the kitchen is to decide what you're gonna cook for the week, make a list of all the ingredients you'll need, stick strictly to your grocery list, buy no more than you will use in a week, and aim for an empty refrigerator by week's end. Honestly, I can't imagine trying to cook (or shop) that way - I think it would thoroughly exhaust me.

My technique is to keep a well stocked pantry (I don't have an actual pantry, but you know what I mean) as well as a freezer full of staples and a refrigerator filled with an assortment of fruits, veggies and dairy products. When I shop I look for things that are in season or on sale, as well as stocking up on the basics.

When I cook, I often don't exactly know what I'm making until it's done, I just choose a nice assortment of ingredients, a general flavor idea (Mexican, or Chinese, or traditional American, etc.) a cooking method that suits the weather (reserving things that require long hours in the oven or on the stove top for days like today) and then I have at it.

I seldom make the same thing twice, and if I do, it almost never turns out the same because I vary the ingredients based on what's on hand and what I feel like eating. The one exception to this rule is when I'm cooking for CatMan because... well... let's just say that the man values predictability over all else where food is concerned. I actually really struggle to cook for him because I find it to be hideously boring, but we've managed to settle on a system that works for our weekly movie & dinner nights.

It's not that I NEVER use a recipe when cooking for myself. I mean, I think recipes can be a great source of inspiration especially if you've got an odd collection of ingredients that you're trying to figure out how to combine, or if you're trying to recreate some dish that you've run into elsewhere, or if you're just bored and want to try some new flavor combination. But even when I use a recipe, I tend to view it as a rough guideline, not a set of instructions that must be followed precisely.

Perhaps this sounds crazy, or like I'm putting down the idea of following a recipe or something, but I sort of think that these ingredients in a box services are to cooking like a paint by numbers kit is to art.

I mean I think that following a recipe to the letter like that may help you to ensure a decent result, but it also seems like it just takes the joy out of the entire process and fills it with a bunch of rules.

Because to me, the whole fun of creating - whether it's art or food - is the process. You start with a blank canvas, you mix, you chop, you stir... and then you get the enjoyment of seeing what you come up with. Am I just totally crazy?

Anyhow, thinking about all of this got me curious about how other people cook? Do you follow recipes? Do you shop with a specific ingredients list? Are you an improvisational cook? Do you cook differently for your family than for yourself? Inquiring minds want to know!!


  1. I'm a partial planner. I have a menu on the side of the fridge so that everyone knows roughly what to expect for dinner. However I buy more than would be needed for the menu so that breakfasts and lunches can be spontaneous. I tend to cook more than we need for dinner and freeze a portion or two (which can be eaten for those spontaneous lunches). I don't tend to follow recipes any more, so sometimes the menu might say goulash but you might actually get chilli, or bolognese sauce (as the ingredients are pretty much the same just the herbs and spices differ). My adult children are vegan but hubby and I are omnivores. When the kids are home more vegan meals are cooked (but most of my meals are stews anyway so I just leave out the meat or fish). If I was home alone I'd probably eat all the frozen meals in the freezer then live off crusty bread and fruit and Indian takeaway because I don't actually enjoy cooking!

    1. Well, that's a nice middle of the road approach. If I had to cook for a family I'm sure I'd have at least a rough idea of what I was gonna prepare. Although, to be honest, if CatMan and I lived together, we'd probably eat separately - mostly because of conflicting dietary restrictions. Seriously, if I had to make something that both of us could eat for every meal... well... we'd be eating a LOT eggs! :-)

  2. I think at least part of it is how you have been taught or learned how to cook. I grew up following baking recipes relatively carefully, but both of my parents varied recipes for general cooking and I certainly experimented myself. This combined with moving overseas and having to deal with measurements that weren't the same as in the USA ( why does every recipe talk about a stick of butter, not the actual measurement amount). Now I follow the recipe carefully the first time I make it, to ensure that I understand how it works. If I like it, I will play with it the next time, and I have a number of techniques/ideas to use.
    My stepson (who came to live with us at age 18) was not allowed to be in the kitchen much when younger I think. He does recipes, but doesn't always think about how to use ingredients well. He had a new recipe that called for two tablespoons of tomato juice, he bought two litres. No one in the house drinks that. He would benefit from a recipe box because it would help him learn new things.
    my husband alters recipes all over the place. His baking always has issues (baking need more precision) and he can't understand why it doesn't work as well as mine. But his general cooking works well.
    I try to have general meal planning because both of them are of the type who will overbuy at the supermarket (perishable stuff) and I would end up eating the same steak and potatoes meal forever. Or we end up with takeaway.

    1. Those are some interesting points. Nobody really taught me how to cook, it was something I learned out of self preservation - though I'm sure that the fact that I had to learn to cook because of multiple food allergies had an impact on my improvisational style. I don't think I've ever come across a recipe that I could make without altering it for allergic reasons.

      But beyond that, I don't think anyone in my life ever used recipes. My mother just didn't cook - if Banquet frozen dinners didn't make it, we didn't have it! My grandmother, on the other hand - my father's mother, ran several restaurants in her lifetime and I never EVER saw her use a recipe!

      You do make a good point about baking though. But to be honest, when you live at altitude, baking is pretty much a crap shoot any way you slice it!

  3. I tend not to follow recipes to the letter although I try to the first time, so I understand how I might want to alter it next time. However, I like to cook best when I have the challenge of using up an odd assortment of ingredients.

    I think someones method of cooking depends a lot on experience. You are more likely to not follow a recipe if you have prior experience in what flavors work well together and in basic cooking methods.

    Also, I think planning is more important if you are trying to feed several people every night. If there's not a plan, it's hard to wing it at the last minute when you are trying to coordinate food for many--especially if you are trying to avoid eating out for health or budget reasons.

    What I found most interesting about the food box was not having an excess of ingredients--spices particularly. More than once I've bought spices I didn't use regularly to try a new dish. Then the dish wasn't that big of a hit and I have extra expensive spices. And spices aren't as easy to use up as say extra potatoes--especially if you're not that fond of their flavor.

    1. Good points. I'm chuckling about the spices. I spent many, MANY months trying unsuccessfully to recreate the Kung Pao from CatMan's favorite Chinese restaurant - seriously, I read EVERY recipe I could find and nothing even came close. Well... it may have been because I had to alter all of the recipes because of my allergies.

      Anyhow, at one point I ordered some Szechuan peppercorns because we thought that might be the "missing flavor." Holy Moly - those things are disgusting!!! My step-mother was happy to have them though.

      And you're totally right about knowing what flavors work well together. I tend to think of "families of flavors" - but it did take me a lot of trial and error to figure it all out.

  4. I just started reading here a little while ago, so partly I'm just saying: hello! Thanks for an interesting & funny blog!

    Like you, I tend to just throw things in a pot. I like to give my dishes names involving places or seasons of the year to make them sound real. One of my daughter's friends came over for dinner and asked what we were having. "Pittsburgh Pasta" I said. "I can't believe I've never had this before," he said. "It's so good!". And of course we thought it was very funny, because as soon as I made the dish we forgot what I'd put in it, so he'll never have it again, either!

    1. Hi Miser Mom, and welcome to my crazy little corner of the interwebs!

      I totally LOVE your approach, and I'm giggling because CatMan is notoriously unadventurous when it comes to food. The only way I've ever been able to get him to eat anything different is to sneak it onto the table as an optional side dish with a catchy name. If he thinks it's a "real dish" he'll try it, but if he thinks it's just something I made up... not a chance! :-)

  5. Well, I really hate to cook and don't do it often. I mostly heat something up for dinner. But if I do cook and I'm trying something new then I follow a recipe. Most of the stuff I make is so simple though,that I don't need recipes (tacos, stir frys, etc.). And if I do have meals in mind then I'll take a list of the ingredients to the store. I'm with you on the meal planning though, that sounds way too painful to me.

    1. Simple is good! I think people have a tendency to make cooking WAY more complicated than it needs to be, and it puts people off from wanting to cook... like it has to be really difficult in order to "count" or something like that.

  6. I tend to follow recipes- though I will leave out things I don't like (celery, yuck) and adapt them a bit if I need to.

    I find we eat better if I meal plan, because if I just buy random ingredients I can't be bothered to think of a good combination when I am tired and hungry. I think of meal planning as getting all the thinking done when I am feeling awake so when I am not I can just blindly follow instructions!

    We had pizza tonight because I had failed to plan anything...I actually prefer cooking big pots of food a few times a week and then reheat stuff on other nights.

    I agree with those who say it is related to how you learnt to cook- my parents are definitely recipe followers!

    1. You know, now that I think about it, I suppose I do sometimes make a rough plan, but usually it just happens when I'm at the grocery store. Like if I find mushrooms on sale I might get inspired to make something in the Stroganoff department, so I'll pick up some sour cream.

      I also think that some of it may depend on how you view cooking. I was once making dinner for a friend who hates to cook, and she made an interesting observation that people who like to cook do it when they're not hungry. I laughed and said something to the effect of "waiting until you're hungry to cook is sort of like waiting until you're cold to start knitting a sweater!"

      I think if you wait until you're hungry to start cooking, you're totally doomed! I mean, if I'm hungry I just want to eat NOW - I view cooking as more of a hobby, so I do it when I've got free time, instead of because it's dinner time. This means that I live on leftovers but that's fine with me.

    2. Although I LOVE eating, and don't mind cooking when I actually do it, I definitely regard it as a chore not a I am very tempted to put it off until I am hungry!

    3. I've actually been known to start cooking right after I eat - like I'll have a sandwich or something because I'm hungry and then go prepare a roast chicken or a casserole or something for later. It sounds a little bit crazy when I think about it, but it seems to work for me. :-)

  7. I'm kind of similar to you, Eco Cat Lady, in that I don't really plan out meals or recipes. For baking, I follow the recipes, but often tweak them a bit. You know what it's like when baking ingredients have to be changed, according to the pantry!

    1. You're right... cooking is more like art, and baking is more like physics - it requires more precision. Although, I don't generally use white flour, I prefer whole wheat, so I'm always substituting even in baking recipes... which can get interesting sometimes! :-)

    2. What about 1/5th white flour, 3/5th's whole wheat, and 1/5th brown rice flour, and throw in 3 tblsp. milled flaxseed for emphasis? Just a thought, for muffins or bread. Substitution rocks!

    3. Holy Moly... sounds like you speak from experience! For muffins I generally use one heaping cup of whole wheat flour and one heaping cup of whole oats where it calls for 3 cups of white flour, and it seems to work OK, but I may have to give your system a try. I've never tried brown rice flower or milled flaxseed, but I'm betting both would add a different flavor and texture. Thanks for the suggestion!

  8. My wife is an improvisational cook, and I am more of a recipe-follower. Guess which one of us is the baker in this relationship. I do throw together my own recipes, but they are usually inspired by something I know works. I hate the recipe box idea because it allows no room for creativity.

    I try to only buy what I will use up in a week, at least for fresh produce. If I overbuy, things eventually go to waste. Since I usually can't find a way to cram small bits of unrelated things together, I'll try to use things up. Like right now I have half a can of crushed tomatoes left. That was a mistake only using half the can.

    1. Hmmm... half a can of crushed tomatoes. Well, you could add some onion, green chili and avocado and make a nice dip for New Years. Or stick it in the blender with some oregano and basil and use it to make a home made pizza sauce. Or just toss it into some sort of casserole dish. Anyhow, good luck using up your tomatoes!

      I'm a bit of a fruit and salad fanatic so I don't generally have any problem using up that sort of thing. Apples are the one that usually trip me up because I don't like them once they get old. But... that generally just means it's time to make apple pie!

  9. I'm more like you. You'd think it'd be the opposite since I'm not a very laid-back person, but for some reason, recipes often stress me out. I might use them if I feel inspired to, but that's not very often. 8) And as I'm becoming more aware of what (I believe) works for my body, I often wish to alter the recipes anyway (like I would prefer to soak grains, nuts and seeds, which adds moisture that the original recipe didn't call for etc). It doesn't always end up well, but often it works out.

    I think of myself as a decent cook (but my grandmother is Sicilian, and her stereotypically divine cooking makes mine look kind of shabby in comparison). I have some general sense of how to balance flavours, and often a good meal comes down to that and time and effort - if you make several things that are easy and tasty, that's a good meal and not hard, but put together that's still often a lot of time. And then there's the dishes. Sigh.

    But my skills with seasonig is quite limited. I can do italian-ish and traditional Norwegian-ish tastes quite well, but Indian, Thai or Mexican? Nope. Maybe some recipes would be handy for when I feel inspired in, a decade or something. 8)

    I'm thinking of writing down some general recepes that I like for baking staples and things like that - like a chocolate cake recipe that I could refer to. I wouldn't want to screw it up if it was for some sort of occasion, even if that occasion was just me wanting to eat it. 8)

    I'm curious, what do people eat? I'm working on a general meal plan that I can make for dinner and have as lunch the next day (ish- don't want to be too anal about portions etc). Here are my thoughts so far for meals that are pretty healthy and tasty (for me), without too much hassle. I try to make things from scratch and not eat too much grains, and I don't like fish very much.

    1. Chicken (wings or thighs, seasoned in different ways) with oven roasted potatoes and whatever veggies are on hand.
    2. Meatballs (maybe with some soaked oatmeal) and veggies
    3. Porridge (rice or oats), maybe with seeds/nuts for proteins
    4. Duck with sweet potatoes or pumpkin (I find those a tasty and easy combination!)
    5 Shrimps or store bough fish cakes with good quality (but store bought) crackers or something like that, veggies.
    6. Soup with gelatinous meat, peas and veggie/salad with legumes or grains and veggies in summer
    7. Good quality hot dogs/omelette in oven (I tire easily of eggs)

    I want to eat more locally and plant based (though I need meat in my diet), but it's a work in progress. Not doing well with much grains, wanting to make things from scratch and not wanting too much effort complicates things. Veggie burgers are tasty, but if I have to soak and cook and purée and seans the beans and then fry them or whatever - AND do the clean up after all that? It's suddenly very time consuming.

    And one last thing, I don't really freeze much stufff that I make. I just leave leftovers in the fridge and eat them within a few days.

    This was long I know. Hope you don't mind. :)


    1. Recipes stress me out too - just too many rules and expectations! If you're following a recipe there just seems to be a lot of pressure to make it turn out "right" whereas if you're just making something from scratch, however it turns out is the way it's "supposed to be!"

      Your list of meals is totally making me miss Norwegian fish cakes & fish pudding! Oh, how I wish I could figure out how to make those from scratch because I've never found anything remotely similar here in the states. It's the smooth texture... served with potatoes, carrots and white sauce... yum!!!

      My grandmother was Italian and she was an AMAZING cook - maybe there's something in those genes! :-) It's so funny how these days the goal is always to create something as good as you can get in a restaurant. Well, when my grandmother was still alive, we always considered restaurant food to be a let down because it was never as good as her home cooked meals were - especially her homemade pasta and red sauces... mouth watering!

      Anyhow, I think your list looks delicious! Although I admit I've only eaten duck once or twice in my lifetime and never prepared it myself. I don't even know where one would purchase duck meat here! And shrimp & nuts are all off limits due to allergies...

      One of my standard meals for days when I'm in a hurry is the "anything skillet." I usually start by sauteing an onion, then I toss in some protein - meat, eggs or fish... or maybe tofu or some canned beans, but I have to be careful with both because they tend to give me headaches. You could always add nuts since you're not allergic. Then I'll add some veggies. The key though is the sauce or seasoning. I have some very basic sauces and seasoning groups that work well to make the meal taste differently... like:

      Italian: basil, oregano, garlic, parsley -if I wasn't allergic to it
      Mexican: cumin, oregano, garlic, chili peppers, lime, liquid smoke, cilantro - if I wasn't allergic
      Asian: ginger, rice wine, hot peppers, garlic, soy sauce, thai basil or cilantro - if I wasn't allergic
      Indian: Cumin, cardamom, ginger, cloves, garlic, turmeric, coriander - if I wasn't allergic
      Basic: Salt & pepper, paprika, dried mustard

      I'll usually serve it with rice, pasta or potatoes, or sometimes I'll just add some extra shredded cabbage to the skillet and call it good.

      Anyhow, I find that recipes are good for giving you a good idea of which flavors will go well together, but I can't generally be bothered to follow them very closely.

  10. I am not as free-flowing as you are with meal planning, but I don't have a weekly menu, either. I feel suffocated when my life is over-scheduled and over-planned, and that includes meal-planning. Like you, I keep staples on-hand. I find that having what I think of as a neutral starch (potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) available allows me to go a lot of different directions with meal prep. If there is a good sale on meat at the grocery store, that will find its way into my meal planning during the week, but we keep a stash of protein foods in the freezer so I almost always have something to grab. We also have frozen fruit and veggies from the garden available, so it's just a matter of thawing those and adding them to a meal.

    I love to bake and as many have mentioned before me, you do have to be more precise with that, although I often substitute whole wheat or oatmeal for some (or all) of the white flour and I have learned the proportions my family prefers for me to slim down a recipe (less fat/sugar) and still have it be palatable, so I do play with my baking recipes somewhat. One of my favorite blogs is and I sometimes find myself shaking my head at some of the comments--people get all weirded out about whether or not they can substitute white chocolate chips for dark chocolate, or if they can leave out a spice they don't like--I know not everyone has a lot of cooking or baking experience, but that seems like a no-brainer to me.

    There used to be a commercial in our area "justifying" eating out instead of cooking a meal--a family is grocery shopping and purchasing the ingredients for a meal and it comes to more than the cost of the restaurant food ... I always hoped people were smart enough to figure out that to find out the true cost of the meal, you need to figure out the proportion of the ingredient you are purchasing and not use the whole price to determine what a meal costs. But ... if they ran the commercial, it must be because some people truly think that way.

    1. Holy Moly... I think that commercial would have had me uttering unkind words at my television set! Of course it's possible to spend a ton of money making a home cooked meal, but it's generally much, MUCH cheaper - plus you get to control what's actually in your food! I haven't really been trying to be frugal with food this year, but it's truly amazing how cheaply you can eat if you need to - I'm thinking of Lili & her family!

      Anyhow, I'm not a big baker... mostly because I don't eat a lot of baked goods. They tend to go straight to my hips if you know what I mean!

      But recently I've discovered that I actually am able to tolerate yeast breads. For years they had been on my allergic no-no list because I tested positive for a yeast allergy in a skin test.

      But apparently there's new research showing that a positive skin test doesn't necessarily mean you'll react to eating the food, so I've been experimenting with some of the more questionable (and inconvenient) things on my list. So far I haven't had any reactions to yeast breads which is really encouraging! I'm not a big fan of American fluffy bread though, so I may try making some of the dense stuff that I fell in love with in Europe. Got any tips for me?

  11. I have a bread cookbook (my hubby gave it as a gift a few years ago--I think it was the gift that gives back to him!) and that has a few European recipes that are more dense, although I've never been able to re-create the crusty breads I ate in England. I could send you a couple of recipes to try. The one thing I have found is that they typically are a more dry dough and it's more challenging to knead it (I do it by hand--if you have a good mixer, it might work to knead it in there but I can't speak from experience). A favorite is a Russian potato bread, which uses boiled potatoes, and that makes it dense but tender with a crusty crust, if that makes sense (the potatoes add a bit of moisture). I don't have the patience to try sourdough or anything that takes several days to complete. Do you have reactions to baking soda or baking powder? I wonder if you would like Irish soda bread (somewhere I have a whole-grain recipe ... ). We like this quick skillet bread recipe if you want a side with your soup:

    Does discussing bread recipes show what a party animal I am on New Year's Eve???? Ha!

    1. OK... I'm gonna have to give that skillet bread a go! Maybe even this evening. I don't have any buttermilk, but I think I can make do with regular milk and yogurt. And the potato bread sounds amazing! Somewhere I used to have a bread cookbook, but I may have gotten rid of it figuring I'd never use it again. I see a treasure hunt in my future! :-)

    2. LMK if you want recipes.

    3. I'd LOVE to have the recipe for the Russian potato bread! :-)

    4. Did you try the skillet bread?

      Russian Potato Bread:
      8 oz potatoes, peeled and diced (1 large potato should do it)
      1 packet yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
      3 cups unbleached white bread flour
      1 cup whole wheat flour plus extra for sprinkling
      1 cup grated cheddar cheese (original recipe calls for 1/2 tsp caraway seeds but I use the cheese instead)
      2 tsp salt
      2 TBSP butter

      Makes 1 loaf

      1) lightly grease a baking sheet. Add the potatoes to a pan of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain and reserve 2/3 cup of the cooking water. Mash and sieve the potatoes and leave to cool (I just mash them well).

      2) Mix the yeast, bread flours, cheese or caraway seeds and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in (I was unfamiliar with this term--it means mashing the softened butter with your hands into the flour mixture). Mix the reserved potato water and sieved potatoes together. Gradually work this mixture into the flour mixture to form a soft dough.

      Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic (I find it takes awhile to get the ingredients to meld together before I can knead it--this is the hardest part of the recipe). Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

      Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, knock back (punch down) and knead gently. Shape into a plump oval loaf, about 7 inches long. Place on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with a little whole wheat flour.

      5) Cover the dough with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400* F.

      6) Using a sharp knife, slash the top with 3-4 diagonal cuts to make a criss-cross effect. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden and sounding hollow when tapped on the base. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

      This was from The Practical Step-by-step guide to Baking Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter. It has a lot of European breads in it--I've made a few recipes from it and they have all turned out well but many recipes are more labor/time intensive than I want to make.

      Good luck! BTW, I'm thinking about your post from today ...

  12. It also depends on what ingredients are available where you live. I grew up in California and northern new mexico( so very familiar with high altitude baking). My mum is English, so a lot of my childhood faves come from that, and she had vegetable trauma from childhood, so I grew up with mostly raw/lightly cooked veg and no broccoli, cauliflower or spinach.
    So a lot of my early easy cooking was based on what was available in NM- lots of fresh tortillas, spicy food and corn. Then my family moved to England and then Australia. The next chance I really got to cook was my junior year when I was in Geneva. That's when I learned to roast a chicken- because that was a cheap option.
    I spent three years in Japan as well, and cooking there was also very different. I now live in Australia, and thing change again. I am lucky to have access to mangoes and other tropical fruit, but blueberries cost $5 for 125 grams and raspberries and blackberries are insane. So a lot of my cheap or casual meals I learned when younger are no longer that, because the base ingredients are so difficult.

    1. Now that's an interesting point that I hadn't considered. When I lived in Norway as an exchange student, dinner always consisted of a big batch of boiled potatoes with ____ fill in the blank with whatever protein and veggies were available.

      And I'm totally laughing at the idea of "vegetable trauma!" I have a dear friend who suffers from this affliction. I find it hilarious because she loves to garden, but hates to eat veggies! One would think that at her age she would have made peace with them, but no, she still considers vegetables to be punishment. I keep trying to convince her that she should try a cooking method other than the pressure cooker, but she's afraid it will be too difficult. Sigh - childhood "issues" are like that, aren't they?

      Anyhow, I'm pondering the foods that are readily available here vs. other places in the world... tortillas anyone? :-)

  13. Happy, healthy 2016! I don't measure anything exactly, but it usually works out.

    1. And a happy, healthy 2016 to you too! I'm totally with you in terms of measuring - way too much work for me! :-)

  14. Rules, who wants more rules? :-) I thought everyone just winged it when making meals until I was visiting a friend one afternoon and she spent ages searching for a particular cookbook for a soup she wanted to make that night. I learned that she rarely cooked anything without a recipe but that by doing so she often had to run to the store for ingredients she didn't have on hand.

    I'm more of the improvisational cook. I look to see what's available and then throw it together. If it can all go in one pan even better. And soups, I can't picture making a pot of soup with a recipe. How hard is it to make soup?

    As for the meal in the box thing, I heard they are pretty expensive compared to what my food bills are.

    Happy New Years.

    1. Rules schumles!!! I totally agree, the idea just makes me tired. And soup... well, in my world soup is what you make when you have a bunch of random ingredients that you need to get rid of! Perhaps this is about how "goal oriented" on is where food is concerned! :-)

      And Happy New Year to you too!

  15. Happy New Year! I don't much enjoy following recipes. I tend to just go with what I have and wing it. That's my hesitation with these box services, but also with joining a CSA - I don't like that I get so much spoilable food that isn't necessarily what I want to cook or eat. :)

    1. I think the CSA thing sorta depends on how much you want to experiment. But since my adventurous spirit in the kitchen is limited by food allergies, I don't CSA anymore.

      Happy New Year to you too!

  16. I always enjoy your point of view, and I enjoyed reading about your "blank canvas" approach to cooking. I guess I employ a combination of planning and seat-of-the-pants cooking. My son is at an age when he likes to know what we are having for dinner each night, so that pushes me to plan a bit more. When he's with his dad, I love to improvise. Thanks for a great post, which I shared on Happy Simple Living this morning. xo

    1. Aww... that's so sweet of you to post a link. I think that cooking for a family is probably a lot like cooking for CatMan - you have others to please. Actually, I was thinking about that whole topic the other day when I was getting sick of making lasagna (which is his favorite) I love experimenting, but since I am the cook, my experiments generally have my taste built into them. I suppose if you're just at the mercy of what someone else serves you, it might be nice to have some sense of what you're gonna be served. :-)

  17. What a fun topic!

    I think I'm a mix of strictly following the recipe and experimenting. I tend to follow the recipe exactly when baking because it seems to be less forgiving than cooking.

    I love to experiment with cooking. The less familiar I am with certain styles/flavors the more likely I am to completely adhere to the recipe. I've recently taken some cooking classes for Middle Eastern food, and I tend to follow those recipes more closely since I'm not as familiar with the spices, and therefore not as comfortable making judgment calls about how something will turn out. I'm getting there though!

    With more familiar types of food (like Italian or southern) I almost never follow a recipe. I think the words most uttered in reference to food at our house are "So, I had this idea". Fortunately hubby is up for most of my experimentation.

    I've never tried any of the services like Blue Apron, but they seem like they would be boring. Plus, I actually really like grocery shopping. I hate most other shopping, but buying groceries is actually kind of fun.

    1. Ha! I love grocery shopping too! CatMan always says how wonderful it would be to have your groceries delivered, but I couldn't disagree more. Maybe I'm just crazy, but I enjoy picking out just the right apples, and looking for bargains in the day old bakery aisle, and just seeing what inspires me. Crazy grocery nerds unite!!

  18. Sorry to be late. I'm one of the recipe followers. With substitutions. (My substitution for all-purpose white flour is whole wheat pastry flour.)

    The exception is leftovers. I sometimes mix random leftovers together that sound like they will/might go well. (I'm just feeding/punishing myself, so I don't mind experimenting.)

    Otherwise, I guess I have a few dishes that I often use to get rid of leftovers from recipes. For example, leftover meat and veggies can go into macaroni and cheese or fried rice. Leftover fruit and dairy products can go into shakes or quick breads.

    It's been very interesting to read what's correlated with preferring recipes versus winging it. Like other recipe followers, I'm not a fan of cooking--I'm a fan of eating, of not having to go out, of frugality, and of tasty/healthy subs. (Whole wheat pastry flour tastes just as good as white. I don't need any sugar at all in my savory foods. Etc.)

    I also don't like shopping. I also tend to wait until I'm hungry to start cooking, which often means putting off cooking something bigger (spaghetti) and settling for something quicker (grilled cheese, scrambled eggs). Which means things go bad (just tossed the mushrooms meant for today's spaghetti). But not leftovers from the recipes--love those. The spaghetti I finally got around to making today will all get eaten.

    The way I'm different is that I have way more food in my pantry than I have current plans for. I stock up at sales. And I make sure that I always have all the ingredients for certain dishes (spaghetti, taco soup) as well as many staples (milk, flour, chocolate chips).

    1. "feeding/punishing" You crack me up.

      I totally love your correlation observation, I think you may be onto something... distinct food personality types or something like that.

      And I'm pining over your lost mushrooms... When I've got something that's about to go bad like that, I generally just toss it into a pan and start adding things & tasting until it seems edible. I've had a few dramatic fails (curried collard greens come to mind) but generally it at least turns out edible!

      I think the fact that I tend to view all meals as a potluck helps. I'd be perfectly happy just sauteing the mushrooms in butter maybe with some onions and having it as a side dish with whatever else was on the menu. OK... now I'm totally craving macaroni & cheese with mushrooms! :-)

    2. Usually only the things I don't like that much go bad--while I'm not even noticing. Although I have highly enjoyed mushrooms sauteed in butter by other people (but it wasn't that good the time I tried it--yes, I should try again sometime).

      Now I'm remembering that we never liked it when we asked Mom what was for dinner and she answered "Whatever you want." No! Not that! Because it meant foraging in the fridge!

    3. Ha! It's funny, I don't remember there being a lot of leftovers hanging around when I was a kid. Kinda puzzling when I think about it through adult eyes. I wonder if my mom tossed them, or took them to work for lunches or what.

      Anyhow, when we were left on our own for food I was generally overjoyed because it meant I got to have spaghettios!

    4. Ha, spaghettios! Oh, no we didn't get to open new things!


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