Our paper has a relatively new weekly column, Diary of a Diabetic Chef, that I've found to be both interesting and entertaining. The author takes a light approach to a pretty heavy subject and its sudden impact on his culinary life, both personal and professional. Though he offers a Beef Pho in today's read that sounds pretty good.. even given my mostly vegetarian approach to cooking... it is his philosophy on cooking that really resonates with me. He says "the more one cooks by recipes the more reliance on them is established." And, conversely, "the more one can break away from them, the closer one becomes to being a real cook." (1)
I had a conversation with a friend recently on the subject of recipes and we both agreed that we don't often use them... and yet, we both have piles and piles of them... subscribe to more than our fair share of culinary magazines... acquire and house far too many cookbooks... and continually dissect and analyze great dishes we've had while dining out, in the hopes of recreating the "recipes" at home. Both of us also regularly supply our children with recipes... and yet, neither of us really likes the idea of writing down instructions.
Given my particular bent when it comes to recipes, and the irony in attempting to chronicle them (as I do here), I do believe they have great value... more to some than others. Most importantly, I feel they serve as a wonderful foundation in learning to cook... particularly important for anyone who thinks they can't. Something strikes you (or your gut), most likely a visual... and voilá... you have specific instructions to attaining that visual. How great is that? Then, over time, you become more adept at connecting the visuals that appeal to you with the instructions to achieving them... basically reading recipes and getting a pretty good feel for how a dish will taste. With more and more practice, you acquire a good working knowledge of ingredients... you learn what you like and what you don't like, what flavors mesh well together, what seasonings appeal to you, etc. And that's when recipes move from being a foundational safety net to being predominantly inspirational. You become a "real" cook.
This little blogging project of mine has proven this theory in that both our girls, thinking they didn't have any culinary skills whatsoever, are becoming quite adept at creating great meals. What started as a complete adherence to the instructions I'd provide has moved more and more to cooking without a "safety net"... trusting their own judgment and palate.
This past Sunday, while our oldest packed her bags after visiting for a long weekend, I put together a little package of ingredients and a note for this simple farro. Basically, it read...
"Cook farro (about a cup or two), clean and blanch sugar snap peas (quick 60 seconds in salted water, then ice bath to cool). Slice/dice sugar snap peas, artichoke hearts (drained of water), red pepper, and green onions; toss together with a small can of sliced black olives (drained) and a good crumble of feta cheese. Add cooled farro to mix, drizzle with a bit of good olive oil and a nice squeeze of fresh lemon juice; toss to combine. Season with kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste."
Not really a recipe... just some inspiration (and a care package with all the ingredients!) for one of my favorite salads... for one of my favorite girls.
(1) "A delicious pho recipe just "fuh" you, dear readers, by Ken Gordon, Diary of a Diabetic Chef, The Oregonian, 7 March 2012, Living sec., D1.