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COOKING without  
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1 Read recipes as templates, not rulebooks
Now, just about everyone starts out cooking by using recipes – whether in the form of a book, or scrawled on a piece of notebook paper from Mom. But recipes should serve merely as suggestions, points of inspiration, ways for you to get started thinking about what tastes appeal to you and how you might achieve that taste. It used to drive me bonkers when I’d ask Mom for her recipes and I’d get responses like: "Marinate in some soy sauce and cornstarch, for awhile. Cook until done." But these days I’m thankful that from the very beginning, I learned to cook (necessarily) by my own interpretation, because it’s the only way to understand the actual techniques behind cooking.

Treat each recipe you read as a guide to a technique, with a suggestion for a flavor combination. Don’t bother memorizing the recipe for Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms, Roasted Bell Peppers and Julienned Zucchini … instead, realize that the basics of making risotto are essentially this: sauté veggies/flavorings in oil/butter, add rice and stir, add wine and stir, add warm stock gradually until the rice no longer has a hard white uncooked center. You can now make all sorts of risotto dishes – risotto with asparagus, risotto with fresh herbs, risotto with italian sausage and mushrooms, risotto with whatever the heck you can manage to scrounge up in your kitchen. Understand the techniques and you’ll find that you actually know a lot more "recipes" than you think you do.

2 Save the measuring devices and timers for baking – Estimate!
Baking is a science (which is not to say it’s not creative), in which precision and proper proportions do matter, and quite a lot. The same is not true of cooking. You’ll find you can whip those dishes together much more quickly once you put the measuring devices aside and learn to eyeball. True, it takes some experience to be able to confidently assess whether this small pile of onion will provide sufficient flavoring for that amount of peeled, cored tomato. But the key is to train yourself to be able to gauge relative amounts … and the more you cook, the more naturally this will come to you. After cooking spinach just once, you’ll rapidly realize how a huge bowl of leafy greens shrinks down into a tiny little portion once cooked. You’ll notice that generally, two cloves of cooked garlic provides a good amount of flavoring to most dishes, that raw garlic is many times more potent, and must be used with considerably more restraint. And of course, hand in hand with learning to estimate …

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