How To Cook Without A Book

Top 7 Rules To Remember To Learn How To Cook Without A Book

Let’s be honest here for a second, cooking without a recipe book for the first time can be scary. That doesn’t matter how many times you’ve cooked in the past as soon as you decide to venture away from the book, paranoia will set in. When you get before the stove, you’ll find yourself weighing scenarios of bad-tasting, burnt or undercooked food.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. This is totally natural. It happens to everyone and most times, it’s unprecedented. The important thing is to ensure that you have a few basic kitchen tips down in your head so, that you can cook whatever you want with or without your recipe book handy. As always, I’ve got you covered where that is concerned.

This post will explore the top 7 rules to remember if you want to learn not only how to cook without a book but do it with confidence.

How To Cook Without A Book

Stock Up On Staple Ingredients

Your main goal here is to buy staple ingredients in bulk so you’ll always have them on hand. These are the foods upon which a meal is often centered around. Think of foods that would generally have expiration dates that are far ahead in the future. So, think of powders, beans, dry items, grains, etc. These will be stored in buckets, airtight containers, dark cupboards, canned, or even cured, if needed, to allow them to last longer.

You want to begin with the basics, assuming you have no special dietary needs or preferences, those would be:

  1. Macaroni (boxed macaroni would be an easier alternative for some meals)
  2. White rice (brown rice could be stored instead if you prefer)
  3. Spaghetti (be sure to include pasta sauce, as mentioned previously)
  4. Oats (regular is preferred, though instant oats would suffice)
  5. Sugar (white sugar, syrup, brown sugar, honey, molasses, etc.)
  6. Beans (black, pinto, great northern, and refried are all good to include)
  7. Fats (butter, shortening, vegetable oils, etc.)
  8. Seasoning & Condiments (table salt, pepper, ketchup, soy sauce, bouillon, etc.)
  9. Leavening agents (baking powder, powdered eggs, yeast, etc.)
  10. Water (filtered water, bottled water)

Seasoning is King

The best way to build flavor when you are cooking is to season after every step while cooking process. Doing this will aid in ensuring that every element of your dish is seasoned, making your finished dish flavorful and balanced. This tip can be implemented in any dish you are cooking. Do, if you are making a pasta dish, for example, you would season the water for the pasta, the aromatics while they sweat, season the sauce as it cooks, and the plated dish. That way every bite you take will taste as it is coming from a professional kitchen.

Consider Adding A Dash Of Acid

Acid, like salt, helps you to brighten the flavors of your dish ensuring that you get a balanced end product. So, if cooking without a book, and you feel your dish is lacking something but can’t quite put a finger on it. Try adding a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, a splash of lemon juice, or even a hint of white wine to elevate the level of acidity in the dish. Every ingredient will react to each acid differently so, be sure to add your acid in small portions if you’ve never tried it with this combination of ingredients before.

Use Recipes You Know To Make New Ones

Believe it or not, most of the recipes you know, and love can be recycled into new and exciting meals. The techniques in cooking are often universal. If you know how to properly sear a steak, for example, chances are you’d be able to sear a cut of chicken breast or fish. As the ingredient, and end temperatures may be different, but the technique remains the same.

So, think back to the dishes you enjoyed preparing. What aromatics or spices did you use to build flavor? Think of different foods that those flavors could also go with, and you may easily find a few more dishes you could cook without a book. Simply mimic the steps you would for that recipe you love and replace the main ingredients with the new ones you thought off and be wowed.

Remember Aromatics and Spices Are Important

I’m not sure if you’ve realized but most recipes start with the same couple of steps, and that’s cooking your aromatics. This is basically setting your garlic, onions, celery, or even carrots in some cases to sweat in some sort of fat. The flavors of these ingredients bloom as they sweat, releasing all the fragrant flavors they have into the oil. Everything cooked in that oil, after the fact, also inherits these rich flavors. The same goes for your spices, such as your peppers, allspice, Cajun, ginger, etc. Adding them in from the very beginning in your oil ensures that everything cooked after is built on a basis of flavor.

Always Add Your Garlic Last

Garlic burns easily, and burnt garlic adds an overpowering bitter flavor to your entire dish. So, never add your garlic too early or in a pan that’s super hot. Remember the finer your garlic is chopped the quicker it will cook. The same goes for garlic powder. So, always set your other aromatics on to cook first. Add in your garlic when they have already cooked give it a stir then proceed with your dish. The garlic will continue to cook as you go.

Not All Oil Are Created Equal

Ever wondered why vegetable oils are often used for frying while olive oils are mostly used for fancy dressings like vinaigrettes? Sure, the flavors play a role in this selection, but the main reason is that different oils vary in smoke points. When delicate oils (like olive oil), are placed on high temperatures they burn producing smoke far quickly than heavier oils (like Canola), proving them to be far less effective when frying.  The same goes for butter, you wouldn’t want to attempt to deep fry something in pure butter as it burns easily. So, be sure to research the oils you have on hand before deciding on the menu you want to create.

Final Thoughts

Cooking without a book, though petrifying when you’re not used to it, doesn’t have to be complicated. Start out with things you already know how to cook and utilize the tips featured above to help you get to the finish line successfully. You got this!

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