Recipes. We all use them, right? Each family dinner we spend it crouched over looking diligently at the recipe to make the best casserole dish on the block. And suddenly, half way through the step by step process, you realize you’re missing an ingredient. Do you leave it out, and risk your casseroles end product? Or do you run to the store and quickly grab that final ingredient?
I remember before I began my culinary career, I depended off of recipes for almost everything. I looked up the best tomato sauces for lasagna. I looked up the best recipe for potato salads for summer. I was afraid to ever veer away from that Martha Stewart recipe. The thought of adding another ingredient scared me half to death, thinking that it would compromise all of my hard work. Even throughout culinary school they had us work off of recipes, which seemed a bit discouraging. However, as time passed, I realized that I didn’t need to depend off of recipes, I just needed to research and learn what ingredients would go well together.
Excluding baking recipes (cakes, cookies), I recommend everyone to slowly wean away from those pesky recipes. Start off by adding extra ingredients to that recipe you love. Add green onions to your favorite potato salad recipe. Think of substituting an ingredient you don’t have on hand for something you want to get rid of.
Personally, I feel the best way to start this process is investing in The Flavor Bible. It is truly a wonderful book for any level of home or professional cook. Rather than recipes, it has a wide list of ingredients that are paired with other items that go well with that flavor profile. Even to this day, I look at it at least once or twice a week, if not more. I use it for when I cook at home and when I’m at Webster’s. Every time I read The Flavor Bible, I learn something new.
Once you’ve done a little research, the next step is to pick a dish you’re familiar with, and tweak it! Slowly move away from recipes you’ve become familiar with, and add new and exciting spices or other ingredients. The more frequently you practice this, the more comfortable you’ll get, and soon you’ll be able to brave a dish without that recipe card.
Not using a recipe towards well thought out dishes is exciting, but it also helps towards using up items around the house. I remember after cooking a meal for friends, I had way too much cooked asparagus (who knew that possible?). The next day, I decided to throw the asparagus, some thyme and rosemary in with milk and water. Once I added a roux (equal parts flour – butter mixture), I had made an easy, but tasty creamy asparagus soup!
Remember to take everything slowly. I highly recommend The Flavor Bible, and start from there. Don’t be discouraged if everything you create isn’t as wonderful as you imagined in your head. With mistakes comes lessons learned. I’ve had ideas in my head both at work and at home that don’t turn out as delicious as I would have hoped. So then I would run back to the drawing board and think of how I could fix my mistakes.
Even before I began working at Webster’s I was afraid to steer away from a recipe given to me. I had been so dependent off of measurements, combination of ingredients, that I was out of my comfort zone when given the reins to create what I wanted. Working at Webster’s has been a true blessing for me. Every day I’m given those reins that I feel much more comfortable holding now. If you’ve ever eaten at our restaurant, you’ll notice that our seafood dishes change almost daily. We have fresh produce at our fingertips, and I’m able to help brainstorm new and exciting dishes every day. My creativity with food has expanded leaps and bounds than what it was ten months ago. It’s all thanks to Webster’s and our team for believing in the freedom to be creative!
Webster’s Line Cook