Another reprint from the old version of the blog in celebration (again) of its first anniversary. I promise, this is the final day!
I am a cookbook cook. I didn’t go to culinary school; I didn’t apprentice with a chef. In fact, I don’t, most of the time, have the confidence to just throw a few things together without measuring. I can, however, read a recipe. I can read a recipe in the same way a musician reads music--I can taste the dish in my head. This is really the only skill you need in order to cook, this ability to read with imagination.
That’s not to say that I don’t make adjustments as I go along because along with imagining a recipe, you also need to imagine improvements as well. Here’s where experience guides you, I suppose. After countless dishes and innumerable recipes tried or discarded, a sense of where a recipe might go wrong (or right) emerges. I have Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated to thank for my obsession with measuring. His unrelenting exactitude and almost pathological precision in cooking produces recipe after recipe that not only reliably work but which are imbued with an air of scientific mission as well. How wonderful to be able to quantify and control the messy business of cooking! How amazing to predict a successful outcome each and every time if (and only if) Mr. Kimball’s detailed instructions are followed exactly! I am helpless in the face of such towering authority.
Yet I still stealthily make minor adjustments to the recipes I read and substitute what I have on hand for what I don’t have. Sometimes I read a recipe once and then can’t remember where I initially found it. So I recreate it as best I can and sometimes my recipe strays so far from the original once I find it again that suddenly it can be considered my original. Yet I still continue to measure (forgetting my somewhat arbitrary decision in the beginning to add a teaspoon here and a tablespoon there) and find myself now tied to a recipe that I’ve foolishly written down and therefore, must follow exactly from henceforth.
And, of course, that makes me feel like a complete nutcase.