At least when it comes to cooking. At least for this home cook.
I have my tried and true savory dishes that I make. Dishes that I've made a hundred times, and dishes that I know are good. My roasted chicken. My beef stew, and curry chicken. My seared salmon and chicken salad. My spaghetti sauce is delish, and my spring veggies with sun dried tomato sauce penne is a favorite.
You see, I'm not a recipe gal. Never have been (as my friend Matt will attest to after the 'Christmas 2008 Biscuit Incident').
It all started when I was young and watching my mom cook. She'd eye ball everything. A pinch of this, a heaping spoon of that, and then oh, some of this. Then she'd taste. And in would go more of this or more of that. She kept on tasting, every step of the way.
I remember being old enough to ask her for a recipe once. She said she didn't really have recipes. It was all in her head. It made me so mad! How was I suppose to remember it all? So then she reluctantly pulled out this spiral notebook, with a dozen or so recipes written inside. All written in her perfect handwriting. All written in Chinese. Useless to me. I could tell, these were recipes she had gathered and written down years ago. By the time I was old enough to even ask her about her recipes, she had mastered all of these dishes and no longer even took this little notebook out. So where did that leave me?
Well now? I do the same. I know what ingredients go into the dish, and I generally know the proportions. I know just enough technique wise, and read enough cookbooks and watch enough cooking shows to THINK I know what I'm doing.
Do the dishes come out exactly the same every time? No. After enough practice, are they close? Yup. And while this method clearly wouldn't work in a restaurant, for a home cook, it's ok.
As I read more and more cookbooks (and yes, I do read them cover to cover, novel style), I continue to find more inspiration. More inspiration in using new and different ingredients. Inspiration to cook foods that are less familiar to me. Or dishes that I've always loved, and just never have made at home.
Have I ventured to tough ingredients such as octopus or offal? No, not yet. But I have started to veer away from my classics.
Some recent dishes I'm feeling confident about and close to perfecting? My butternut squash soup. Oh, and my homemade pad thai. All derived from recipes I've read, but then kind of tweaked into something of my own.
And the first few times? Not so good. What you forget is, cooking is an experiment. Sometimes, the dishes don't turn out right.
What happened when I decided to roast some vegetables with a new salt/thyme mix I had created? Too salty. I had used too much (I couldn't help myself! The green color was just so pretty!). I had a few bites, and tried to get it less salty by taking a big bite of mashed potatoes with it, but I'd didn't help much. Ultimately, the veggies had to go.
And what about this new chili garlic sauce I bought? Spicy! And I do not handle my spices well. So the first batch of a Chinese chicken salad I made with it. Left my mouth on fire. The second time I tried to use the sauce on a chicken? Still too much! Or not enough of something else to balance the flavors out. I'm still working on it.
So you see. Before my food can get better, it's gotten worse. Let's hope I make it past this little rough patch and end up being able to add some new dishes to add to my repertoire.