One of my greatest joys in the last year or two has been tossing the recipe book out the window.
Adieu, dear recipe book, you’ve been a wonderful teacher, a darling guide.
But it’s time to learn to cook without another’s advice, without another’s direction. It’s time to learn to cook by feel, by intuition, by heart.
And how fun it’s been! The fingers reach in the refrigerator for this ingredient, this slender carrot, the riveting multi-colored swiss chard, the can of deep dark black beans from a faraway jungle. The hands create dishes based on the dream of the moment, adding some red tomato here, a spicy dijon mustard-lemon-honey-salt dressing, what else might agree? Some chopped cilantro?
A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Who knows what shall arise at the lunch table, on the dinner plate?
Certainly not me.
“What’s the name of this dish?” Barry will ask and I will frown, pondering deeply.
“Braised Fennel Delight with Quinoa!” I’ll announce triumphantly and he will sigh.
“It can never be replicated, can it?” he’ll inquire.
“No, never,” say I, “so enjoy it while you can.”
Like life, a recipe-less supper can only appear exactly this way once. In six weeks something similar may appear on your plate, but it’s not quite the same. You know how life is. Always changing, always trying other ingredients for the curiosity of it.
Some days we don’t like our recipe-less fare. Oh well! After all, our rice-pinto-corn tortilla-peach salsa-enchilada may lack some spark, some fizz, some delight. Some days our cornmeal-crusted tofu might sag, unappreciated, upon our tongues. Alas! Life is like that. Some days we weep into our coleslaw. What can we say?
Yesterday, for the first time ever, I baked without a recipe. Oh the daring! Why must it take 56 years to try this dangerous act of love? It all started with a tub of quark. (What, you ask, might quark be? All you Europeans raise your hands eagerly, as most of us Americans remain ill-informed.)
In Switzerland, a trifling years back, my friend, Suzanne, produced some quark, mixed it with herbs, and served on crackers. Taste buds exploded! I’ve looked for quark ever since on American shelves, never once meeting this tantalizing stranger again.
Until this week. There, nestled at the co-op, innocently lounging between feta and mozzarella. Snatched it up and brought it home–never mind that we very rarely eat dairy products. (Although sometimes we do.)
Quark reminds one of a mix between cream cheese and yogurt. It’s not sweet. One adds sweet or savory to its quarkness and creates.
I suddenly wanted something like a Quark Apple Muffin. Yes! I cruised through Google’s recipe suggestions for quark, muffins, cream cheese and apples and found nothing appealing. So many recipes for quark speak in grams. Or they load up with butter, oil, sugar. Nope, I wanted something healthy with just a tad of sweetness to satisfy.
Here is the non-recipe:
Take several spoonfuls of quark and place in gleaming glass bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of sorghum (gifted to me by Fountainpen, one of my long-term blog readers!) and chop up a delicious (not necessarily the brand Delicious) apple. OK, add some walnuts, to die for walnuts (a gift from my dear friend, Ruth) and what else? How about some oats? Blend up some oats in a blender and there we have some nice oat flour. What else, what else? A dollop of warmed coconut oil.
How about some flax seed? Toss some in the blender and grind, too. Whoops, that didn’t really work well, because it didn’t blend up nicely into a flour. Oh well. Add the partially-blended flax seed anyway. (You astute health types probably know that ground flax seed acts like an egg–like an egg, can you imagine?–and leavens your baking.) Mound into muffin tins. Preheat the oven at, how about 380, just because that sounds like a bold non-ordinary baking temperature?
Are we finished? No. I wanted that coffee cake strudel atop. Even though our white sugar is usually only for the hummingbird food, I took a scant teaspoon and sprinkled it atop the applified mixture. Then some cinnamon.
Bake. Check oven every five minutes to see what the heck’s happening. When it browns deliciously, it’s most probably done.
“What is this?” Barry asked, later that night. Three of the little fellas were missing already, eaten steamy from the oven.
“Apple Stravanja!” I announced.
“Gosh, these are pretty good,” he replied. He–my fellow with no sweet tooth!
How I enjoyed baking without a recipe yesterday. Some more quark hovers expectantly in the refrigerator. Shall I make another batch?
Have you ever cooked or baked without a recipe? Have you fallen in love with the joy of it?
P.S. I haven’t really thrown the recipe book out the window. I still do play in the culinary fields with recipes on certain days when creativity fails or an old favorite rushes in to beg–cook me, cook me!