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COOKING without
Cookbooks  |
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3 Trust your tastebuds
You know how just about every recipe you read says, "Add salt and pepper to taste"? Ah yes, the old "to taste" instruction that’s caused just about every beginner cook to whine, "But how much is to taste?" Why is it that we assume that just because we’ve never cooked before, we don’t know what tastes good? After all, even if you’re twenty-two and have never used a skillet in your life, you’ve still been eating someone else’s concoctions for the last couple of decades – certainly ample opportunity to develop a solid sense of what makes your tastebuds happy. Taste your food as you cook – too bland, add salt or spices; too salty, water it down or temper with sugar. Simple, no?

4 Get a feel for relative cooking times of various ingredients
Good food has good flavor (see above), but it also has good texture. And texture is largely a result of how long your ingredients have been sitting around in/on the heat. 
Some foods cook more slowly than others – use your brain a little, and you can see that the slower a food cooks, the earlier it should go into the pot/pan/whatever vessel your using to concoct your dish. 
A brief guide to common ingredients and relative cooking times …

Stuff that’s so slow to cook, you’ll probably want to pre-cook before cooking with other ingredients: dried beans, potatoes, eggplant, broccoli
The not-too-fast, not-too-slow stuff (5-10 minutes): carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, roughly chopped onion, leeks, zucchini
Speedy stuff : minced garlic/shallots/ginger/scallions*, fresh herbs, leafy greens, asparagus, snap peas

(* when sautéing, however, you’ll want to put these highly savory ingredients first, to imbue all the other ingredients with that yummy flavor)

5 Let loose
Free yourself from the perfectionist trap: there’s no such thing as the perfect dish. Squashing that little voice that tells you "recipes=success" is the hardest part of learning to cook without cookbooks. Ignore that inner control freak and you’ll find that cooking isn’t so hard as you may have thought. So hide the cookbooks, trust your instincts … Go wild. 

Freestyle Cooking in 4 Easy Steps

First, inspect your fridge and cupboards. Use whatever you have, rather than running out to the store.

Second, decide on a technique: sauté/stir-fry, steam, boil or roast.

Third, choose a flavor combo. (see feeling saucy for some ideas to get you started)

Fourth, pair it with a base: pasta, rice, couscous, bread.


 check out these related articles: 
technically speaking 
feeling saucy 
the myth of the bad cook  

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