…..seems a strange phrase to imply improvisation. The metaphor captures the fabricated, responsive, performance of cooking. Despite recipes, despite directions. There is an element of surprise to cooking that is both challenging yet satisfying. For example, yesterday I cooked two batches of brownies (Betty Crocker Mix….I’ll address the use and abuse of prepared mixes in another post). At the appointed time, one batch was almost overcooked while the other was still runny. Same oven, same temperature. Hhmmmm. Assuming I measured and followed directions (which is a huge assumption) I can only guess that the top shelf got too little heat, while the bottom shelf got too much. Now….. know I would’ve needed to exchange the pans half way. Maybe. Maybe the brownies would be runny, or burnt anyway. Cooking is an activity where concept and execution, ideality and reality, recipe and dish are in constant negotiation. I have often cried, “but I followed the recipe.” As if the failure was the recipe’s fault and not my own. Granted there does exist the occasional bad recipe. Ironically, the only way to test a recipe is to use it, to confront the directions however faulty, to challenge and change the recipe. Cooking is fundamentally, non-fundamental. That’s why its so much fun. While my brownies did not fulfill the image on the box, to my surprise, my moment of improvisational rice side dish worked!
I cooked finely chopped onions, carrots, red bell pepper and celery (about 3/4 cup total) in butter until roasted and glowingly golden. Added sliced mushrooms (a small carton). Added a cup of left over jasmine rice. Heated all through. Added a half a cup of shredded cheese and about 1/2 of cream. Tossed in a 1/2 cup of peas at the end. Once warmed through the made up rice dish was wonderful with pan roasted lamb chops. Fake risotto. I savored that improvisation. It worked. I have doubts that I can make it again. In most home cooking, the recipe is an afterthought. Success and failure in the end depends on taste and not a meticulously followed theory. Something we cook up.
What have you cooked up lately? Did it work? What did you do when it didn’t?