One of the most common thing students at The Chopping Block say they want to master is the ability to not have to follow a recipe. They want the confidence to throw flavors together and be able to work with what they have on hand, rather than following a recipe.
One thing I recommend for beginning cooks is to focus on regional flavors. For example, adding lemon, oregano and garlic is a simple way to impart a nice Greek flavor to any dish you’re making. Another tip is to experiment with the spices and herbs you have on hand to make your own seasoning blends. Keep a jar of your favorite spice blend or “shake” to add a well-balanced flavor to virtually anything you cook!
The only rules are as follows:
- Work in small batches, dried and ground spices often lose their potency after a few months. Work in quantities that you know you can consume!
- Taste your spice mixes before you start working with it! You can always adjust.
- Start with equal portions of each ingredient, unless it’s incredibly spicy. If that’s the case, start with a quarter of the spicy ingredient and adjust as necessary.
Once you find a combination that you really like, you’ve got your own custom spice blend, or as I prefer to call it, secret weapon for all of your cooking. It also takes the guesswork out of balancing flavors. You could buy a premixed spice blend, but I prefer to know exactly what I’m getting. By making your own, you can also control the salt content, and ensure that there’s no sneaky ingredients like MSG.
Once you start experimenting with flavors, you’ll be surprised with the dishes you can come up with without being tethered to a recipe.
If you want to become a more confident cook, use up what’s in your fridge more efficiently, and use recipes less, consider taking The Chopping Block's Culinary Boot Camp 1. Spend a week learning techniques and end the week by using those techniques to make food you’ve always wanted to attempt to cook! You’ll also learn about Knife Skills and Flavor Dynamics in this intensive class, which is the ultimate cure to any cooking rut you may be experiencing.