July 9, 2011

How all the cool 23-year-olds spend Friday night...

I have never liked recipes. The tsp and tbls, the sautéing and the broiling, the waiting for water to boil and the planning ahead for room temperature butter. I always found the whole thing constricting. I am the kind of person who has the stick of butter in a dish in the microwave because I forgot to put it out a few hours before. I am also the kind of cooking rebel who seasons my own chili (none of those mild prepackaged mixes), much to the alarm of everyone else in my family. Sour cream, anyone?

But more than my forgetfulness, my adventuresome spirit is what has driven me from recipe cooking. I like to start with a main ingredient and open up the fridge and cupboards to see what comes out. When this type of cooking goes right, everyone is impressed at your creativity. The trouble is, you can never make the same dish twice. My famous "Fresca Beef" began with whatever cut of beef was on sale in a marinade of Fresca grapefruit soda. From there, I could never quite remember what I had put in the original version, and each time, the Fresca beef was less enjoyable because it lacked the serendipitous combination of the first.

Now that I am in total control of what stocks my cupboards, my attitude is changing. Grandma Irene gave me Betty Crocker's Cookbook and lots of cooking supplies to help me get started in Flagstaff. After successfully following Betty's recipes for Chocolate-chip Cookies, Oven-fried Chicken, Tuna Salad and Blueberry Cobbler, I am a changed woman.

Recipes make things so much simpler! Sure there is measuring and planning, but the results are worth it. Besides a consistent outcome, planning ahead to follow a recipe creates a shorter grocery list with fewer processed foods. Instead of frozen chicken strips, but a fresh whole chicken. Betty will show you how to separate and cook the pieces and make several economical servings at less than the cost of processed chicken. On the other hand, I was given a large tub of blueberries, a food I don't usually like plain, so I popped open the cookbook and found a recipe for delicious cobbler that depleted the nutritional value of the berries, but delighted my pallet.

Now that I'm trying to figure out adulthood, I want to develop my household skills. Learning how to cook (for real) is important to me. To make a meal from scratch is cheaper, healthier, and more satisfying than opening a bag and turning on the microwave. To follow a recipe is not to give up creativity; instead, it is to create something consistent first, then to fine-tune as needed. You never know, maybe I could take one of Betty's beef recipes and sneak in a little Fresca.