I grew up surrounded by excellent cooks, I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I know my way around a kitchen. I’m not a chef, by any means, but I haven’t had many complaints. I love cookbooks and probably have many more than I need. I love going through them for ideas but tend not to follow the recipes exactly. I’m not a measurer by nature (which is why I don’t bake), and I like to improvise.
Recently, though, that changed. It started when I bought a Le Creuset dutch oven. You may recall I blogged about that not too long ago. Of course, one thing led to another, and the new pot required a new cookbook. Not really, but that’s the way my mind works. Or, more to the point, the way I justify buying another cookbook.
The one I bought is from America’s Test Kitchen and the title of the book is “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven.” Just to be clear (and honest), I didn’t need it, every cookbook has lots of recipes that can and should be cooked in a dutch oven. I just wanted it. Period.
Don’t know what you’re like, but when I have something new — anything — not just pots and cookbooks — I have to use it or wear whatever it is right away. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Using only the dutch oven — and working my way through the new cookbook as well.
So far I’ve tried four different recipes and love them all. What’s odd, though, for me is that I’m following the recipes to a “T.” I am changing or adding nothing.
All I can say is, so far so good. Every recipe has turned out to be delicious and I’m very happy I’ve followed them so precisely. Which brings me to the topic of this blog post — that, after all the years I’ve been cooking, I’ve learned something.
Normally, because I don’t follow a particular recipe, I tend to choose ingredients based on cravings, taste, colour, texture, whatever I think will taste and look good together. I just eyeball quantities, add ingredients on an ad hoc basis and in no particular order and taste and adjust as I go. And I haven’t had a disaster yet. Well that’s not true. Many years ago in Montreal I overdid the garlic once when I had friends coming for dinner and the food really was inedible. I dumped it and we ordered pizza.
And the aromatics is where I’m finding the biggest difference with the recipes I’ve been trying from America’s Test Kitchen. With the seasonings, the herbs and spices. They only add them part way through the cooking process (not at the beginning like I do) and they stir them for about 30 seconds, until they become fragrant, before adding the additional ingredients and continuing with the prep — and by that I mean the myriad of steps leading up to the moment when you finally put the pot in the oven for the long, slow cooking that can take anywhere from an hour to two or even three.
It is amazing what a difference that makes to the overall taste of the dish. It is really significant. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. My meals were fine before, or at least I thought so. Now I know better.
Vive la difference!