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Cooking Not By The Book by Paul Lindemuth

I grew up in the kitchen watching my parents and grandparents make dinner every night by simply taking the ingredients on hand and cooking them with the techniques they knew. The ingredients were as familiar as the steps necessary to create a finished dinner.

Today, things are different, given the overwhelming array of ingredients available and a fraction of the time we have for meal preparation. I own several hundred cookbooks and I enjoy researching, reading and cooking from them when I have the luxury of time. But after a long workday, we lack the energy to look up a recipe and search for the often long list of ingredients before you ever pick up a knife or turn on the stove.

We can streamline our time in the kitchen by eliminating the search for a recipe and the necessary ingredients. Once you understand that most recipes are only variations on techniques, you can eliminate the need for a cookbook and focus on those techniques.

Master the basics. For example, after learning to sear a steak, you’ll know that the same method works for scallops, salmon and pork tenderloin. You never need to look at a recipe again. You can vary the look and final flavor of these dishes with a pan sauce, salsa and herb butter.

PastaTomUnderstanding quick and easy techniques allows you to prepare fresh, creative weeknight fare.  Think about pappardelle pasta with a fresh tomato sauce quickly prepared while the pasta water comes to a boil.  Jazz up that simple tomato sauce with capers and olives or roasted shrimp.

A quickly prepared appetizer can be put together with three ingredients, like puff pastry spirals with pesto and cheese, rolled up, sliced and baked. Make a few extra rolls and keep them in the freezer. Add a salad of baby arugula, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. You can easily expand the flavors by swapping out acids and other oils or with the additions of toasted nuts and shaved Parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.

Sure, I love to peruse my growing collection of cookbooks and love cooking from them when I have the time. But every night dinner is so much simpler when those books stay on the shelf.

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