Tuesday, March 9, 2010


By Ruth

It seems like a lot of people I know (and by that I mean 3) who are around my age and write blogs talk about cooking. It always seems very impressive to me. They share recipes and show pictures of their latest baking creation and talk about cooking equipment I've never heard of. It's all very grown-up. So I thought I would try my own hand at it.

Cooking: A Personal History

I really did very little cooking pre-marriage. I was around cooking a lot, since my mom is pretty much the ultimate make-everything-from-scratch, 30 year expert kind of cook. And I was really into baking...brownies, cookies, bread. But cooking did not have the same appeal (probably because it doesn't involve enough sugar or carbs). I know I did eat during the two years I lived on my own in Yangzhou, but for the life of me I can't figure out what I ate. I do recall a lot of eggs and little packets of instant tomato soup.

Enter husband. He also somehow also managed to eat during his pre-marriage years on his own (and I really have no idea what). But somehow crackers and cheese or a bowl of cereal didn't seem quite substantial enough for dinner anymore. So I decided I'd better start cooking.

At first I was hesitant to experiment at all. In baking, I pretty much follow recipes. It's all about having good recipes. Though there has to be some kind of skill involved because somehow my mom and sisters and I all follow the same chocolate chip cookie recipe and they all turn out very differently. Anyway...as I was saying, I was very hesitant about experimenting. Now that I have become more comfortable with experimenting, a whole new world has opened up, and I am no longer able to follow a recipe (when cooking) to save my life.

I will usually start with a recipe. Sometimes I'm not even sure why, since I will disregard at least 90% of what it says. But perhaps it still gives me a certain level of security. For example, today I decided to make some bean soup, so I got out a basic bean soup recipe and proceeded to ignore it completely. Here is what I did instead.

A Not so Useful Recipe

Soak a bunch of beans (I used some unidentified large, white beans) in a bowl of water until they expand to about twice as much as you need.

Cut up a bunch of random vegetables (this time I used carrots, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, and a handful of extra green beans I had sitting in the fridge). Cut them as big or as small as you prefer, or just stop cutting when you get too bored.

Pour these into a crock-pot. Actually, by this point you'll probably have so much that you need two crock-pots. This frequently happens to me; fortunately my teammate has a crock-pot that she uses about once a year.

Dump some “essence of chicken” (something like bullion) into a bowl until it looks like enough. Add some garlic powder (just because I use garlic in everything) and then mix it up with some hot water...somewhere in the range of 4-8 cups, give or take a few. A few bay leaves, a bunch of pepper, a little more water later if it's looking low on broth, any other random spices that happen to look moderately compatible and then....

Voila! A pretty good bean/vegetable soup that is absolutely unrepeatable. It will probably turn out decently the next time you try to make it; it will just taste different every time. I suppose you could actually measure the ingredients you add, but that seems like a little too much work.

And for your future information, I don't highly recommend the large, unidentified white beans. They were too big and kind of bland, since they didn't soak up enough of the flavor. Next time I think I will go for the smaller, unidentified speckled beans.

So, are you impressed by my culinary talent? Are you ready to run try my vague recipe? Well, all I have to say is that if you try my soup recipe and it doesn't work out, you probably just did it wrong.


Nate and Molly said...

okay, now that is funny. I think that doing THAT takes special talent because the 5 times I have ever really tried to improvise on a recipe have turned out BAD BAD BAD. I am a recipe follower and rarely will I substitute more than 1 thing from the list. I think you are a very talented cook! (of course I have yet to eat your beans....;))

Becky said...

I never follow recipes exactly when I'm cooking. (Baking yes, but not cooking.) I'm pretty good at knowing what will work and what won't though, as far as substitutions go.

wynd said...

Things like "or just stop cutting when you get too bored." and "if you try my soup recipe and it doesn't work out, you probably just did it wrong." are PRECISELY the reason I very much enjoy you, Ruth Felt. :)