When my mother passed away last year a good friend brought over the most incredible vegetable - beef soup. It was full of vegetables and the meat was tender and not at all chewy. It was food for my soul.
About four months later, when I actually began cooking for my own family again, I asked her for the recipe. She laughed, saying she just threw a bunch of stuff in a pot.
What?! That incredible goodness was made on a whim?!
Yes, she confirmed. Nothing is precise or even recorded on paper.
Her whimsy made me feel inadequate in the kitchen. I cook from recipes. I am not in and of myself a good cook -- I am simply a person who can follow directions.
Or was I belittling myself I wondered?
Am I capable of more?
This reminded me a bit of the Karate Kid -- wax on, wax off -- and how he had no idea he was simply developing muscle memory for defensive blocks until Mr. Miyagi took away the waxing cloths.
Aren't we also like that with cooking? We rely so heavily on recipes despite the fact that we have a cooking muscle memory. It is time to flex our culinary muscles and throw away the waxing cloth.
It is indeed time to start winging it in the kitchen I mused. And as we know, I do soup. I do soup a lot. Certainly I've developed a soup muscle memory. After a rousing speech (yes, in my own head) I predicted, this soup was going to be my crane kick.
So here is the list of ingredients I used:
Boneless beef chuck roast cut into chunks (time consuming, yes, but so much better than stew meat)
1 can tomato sauce
1 package fresh okra
2 red potatoes
1/2 onion, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
10 mini carrots, chopped
1 can whole tomatoes
1 can pinto beans
1 can corn
My muscle memory told me to quickly sear the meat over medium/high heat. Then remove from pan and set aside. Saute onion in pan drippings (adding oil if needed). Next, pour in a combination of water and beef broth to desired level and taste. Then, of course, add the veggies that take longer to cook: potatoes, carrots, celery, okra and zucchini. And the tomato sauce so the veggies soak in that flavor. Let it all simmer until the veggies are almost done. Then add the tomatoes, beans and corn. Finally, slide in the meat and accumulated juices to the pot and warm through.
Soul food indeed -- exactly what I needed to eat and exactly what I needed to inspire me to put away the cookbooks and simply do what I know how to do!
What about you -- do you rely on recipes in the kitchen or do you make entire meals on a whim and a prayer?