Monday, November 16, 2009

Five Things I Know How to Make Without a Recipe

One of the few things I don't like about my current lifestyle is how little cooking I do. I like to cook, but it's no fun to cook only for myself, and my apartment is not set up for entertaining. I'm looking forward to heading south for Thanksgiving, where I can get in the way while my sisters cook, and maybe chop some stuff up myself.

I've been too distracted to do much cooking lately, anyway. Last week I tried to do some baking for Gaslight's performances of Rabbit Hole; I forgot an essential step of a recipe I know by heart, and wound up with a pan of burnt shortbread covered with burnt chocolate. It came out of the pan in one big charred slab, and Dizzy was sad to see it go.

Here are five things I know how to make without consulting a cookbook:

1. The four basic sauces. For the record, they are Béchamel, Veloute, Brown and Hollandaise, and they all involve creating an emulsion of liquids and fats, with or without flour to bind them. My mother was no good at gravy, and decided when I was very young that the gravy would be my responsibility; years of trial and error have taught me that all sauces are just a matter of patience and paying attention. Some years this is harder for me than others, which is why the Thanksgiving gravy has sometimes had lumps.

2. Spaghetti sauce. If you can't figure out how to make a basic spaghetti sauce without looking it up, you have no taste buds.

3. Toffee bars. This was what I was trying to make last week. I got the original recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook, but it's so easy I no longer need to look it up. However, the chocolate chips don't go on top of the shortbread until five minutes before the pan comes out of the oven. Just so you know.

4. Creamed spinach. See #1, above. Actually, this is cheating; once you can make the four basic sauces, you can make an almost unlimited number of things without having to consult a cookbook. I just like creamed spinach. It's important to squeeze all the water out of the spinach after you cook it, and before you add the sauce.

5. Potato-cheese soup. I love potato-cheese soup so much that I pretty much lived on it for a year or two right out of college, because it's cheap to make and it keeps well. I haven't made it in years. Might be time to pull the soup pot out again.

What are the "go-to" recipes that you know by heart?


Anonymous said...

I can make a Gumbo without a recipe. I like things spicy so I don't have to worry about overspicing it.


JIM LAMB said...

I know what you mean about cooking for one. I can always fry a burger or nuke a hot dog and I miss my George Forman for making melted cheese sandwiches with cold cuts and vegetables. There's another one in the Jack Rabbit but it will take a major feat of digging to find it.
I don't know what happened to some of the things I tried to put on facebook, but my car and all my "stuff" came through the storm fine.

Karen Olson said...

I make a killer meatloaf.

I used to cook a lot, but then my husband took over. He makes his own spaghetti sauce.

Claire said...

I just found an awesome and super easy has brown recipe, but though I'm trying to cook more, I'm still resorting to books and the internet to help me out. I bought a roasting pan this weekend, though, so tonight Elizabeth and I are trying to make a roast chicken. Wish me luck!

AnswerGirl said...

Good luck! Roasting a chicken is easy. Peggy and Scott do a beer can chicken that is great, too.

norby said...

Hmmm, my spaghetti, chicken tortilla soup, quite a few things in my slow cooker, bubble pizza, I don't really use recipes much anymore, I just toss stuff together, something that just mystifies my roommate. Her mother claims she would starve if I didn't cook.

Kieran Shea said...

sauces to have in your mental go-to folder, sweetie:

creme anglaise
beurre blanc
vinaigrette (any and all)3:1 ratio always

remember, italians invented everything...the french just stole it.

AnswerGirl said...

Ugh, can't stand hard-boiled eggs! Irrational, I know.