I’ve been cooking for several years now, but there’s something I still struggle with.  It’s not that I can’t follow a recipe and make a dish come out well, but rather the opposite: I follow instructions too closely, hardly ever veering from recipes for fear that the results will be disastrous.  You see, I’m a grad student working in a research lab, and following ‘recipes’ for experiments is part of my daily life.  One pipetting mistake and days of work can be ruined.  My exceedingly careful nature has transferred over to other aspects of my life, particularly cooking.  Recipes are good but, let’s face it, real chefs don’t use recipes or painstakingly measure out ingredients.  Heck, Rachael Ray doesn’t even measure most of the time.

So, I’m on a new mission to decrease my dependence on recipes and increase my reliance on creativity.  This isn’t something that will happen overnight, but in the long run I think it will serve me well- instead of going to the store to buy lots of ingredients that a recipe ‘needs’, I can look at what I have and build a dish from there.

To aid me in this transformation, I’ve been reading The Flavor Bible.  Oh my goodness.  I love this book!  It’s basically lists of flavor combinations that work together.  Here’s how it works: you look up “sausages” and it tells you that apples, basil, bay leaf, beans (white), beer, bell peppers, breakfast, broccoli rabe, etc. accompany sausages well.  Additionally, it grades the flavor combinations, so most things are in regular type, better combinations are in bold, the next best are in BOLD CAPITALS, and the best (or, as the author says, “marriages made in heaven”) are BOLD CAPITALS* with an asterisk.  Awesome!  Also, at the end of some of the lists are “flavor affinities” which will list a combination of ingredients that might work well with the main ingredient.  So, for example, at the end of the “sausages” list one of the flavor affinities is “sausages + radicchio + white beans.”

Now, I know that technically these lists are still somewhat like recipes.  They still give you ideas of what ingredients to combine; however, they don’t tell you how much of them to add or how to cook them.  But this is ok- it’s not like I need to be told at this point how to sauté onions and garlic or use a food processor.  I think this book is actually a really good step towards culinary independence and freedom from recipes.  In fact, tonight I made a pasta dish with a sauce that I made up all on my own (post to follow soon).  No recipe at all!!  The best thing is that it was actually quite good.  I’m sure not all experiments will end as deliciously as this one, but I’m willing to take a few missteps to reach my goal of being less by-the-book and more creative in the kitchen.