Sunday, January 15, 2012

Instructions matter... being creative and resourceful count more

Today is the beginning of a food blog where following instructions matters... but being creative and resourceful count more.  I have always been passionate about food and love cooking for family and friends. Our home in VA was the "go to" place for many holidays, parties, Friday-night gatherings, whatever excuse we could come up with .... to get together and for JoAnne to try out some new dish on company. With our move to Maine this year, I thought my passion might wane. Au contraire! We have enjoyed many family and friend visitors, and the wonderful local foods of Maine -– from lobsters, scallops, and mussels to truly wild blueberries and cranberries,  along with fiddle heads and maple cream -- has only fed that fervor. 

Cooking has been a passion of mine for four decades. I started cooking at the age of 12 (more on that in a later blog). Early on, I made few changes to a recipe. As I became more confident, I would find myself reading scores of recipes in my mother’s cookbook library, trying to find the best recipe – the best experiment to run-- for the dish I was concocting. They all sounded good, so I found myself mixing and matching several recipes, taking the best parts from each (e.g., adding Coca-Cola and mayonnaise to the best ever chocolate cake recipe!). Today is no different, except that I have replaced the hundreds of cookbooks with a Web search and I am a bit bolder (though not cavalier) about trying new recipes on company and making changes if something just doesn't make sense. I have also learned what shortcuts are possible to simplify a recipe (e.g., when you can mix all ingredients at once versus adding each one by one).  

As a former lab scientist, I learned that research rarely went as planned (otherwise, why would they call it “re-search”?).  Indeed, some of the best discoveries were a result of “accidental inventions” (e.g., penicillin. Coke, Teflon, potato chips).  For me, the kitchen has a lot of similarities to a science lab. The ingredients are the “chemicals” and the blending, whipping, creaming, etc. are the “reactions” that must take place to reach the final dish (the “test results are in”). 

Through the years that I have been cooking, there have been some accidental inventions that were the result of spontaneous tweaks and substitutions. It is these recipes that have become “keeper” dishes that I want to share in the hope that they become part of your cooking repertoire. My hope is even greater that you learn to use them as a guide and have the gumption to try something different or new… because you were missing an ingredient or just because the culinary “fire in your belly” said I dare you. I hope my passion for cooking helps others learn how to cook creatively and not be afraid to deviate from the instructions on a recipe.   

I’m always happy to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at I encourage you to ask questions and post comments about dishes you are particularly interested in learning to master.

And with that....I'll leave you with this fitting quote:
“Cooking requires confident guesswork and improvisation-- experimentation and substitution, dealing with failure and uncertainty in a creative way” 
― Paul TherouxSir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents

Jo Anne