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Why ditching the cookbook has allowed me to become a better cook

As a relatively new cook, I’ve struggled to find a balance between following recipes and finding my own style. For a while, I was sticking to recipes that my friends had already tested or just adding lemon juice to everything and calling it a day (hey, I like citrus!). However, the more I’ve started cooking without a recipe and trying out spices and seasonings, the more I’ve become proud of my cooking. It’s actually made me enjoy the food I eat. If you need some encouragement to stop fearing failure in the kitchen and just start cooking, this is it. Read on to hear my reasons for ditching recipes.

A way to express creativity

I love being creative and doing things such as crafting or making art, but when I’m super busy during midterm season, I just don’t have the time do pursue artistic hobbies. In a lot of ways, cooking has become my new way of expressing creativity! When you’re cooking without a recipe, you get to be super creative with what you eat. And because we all have to eat anyways, it doesn’t feel as if it takes too much time out of a busy midterm schedule. Garnishing food and making it look super nice is an underrated practice among college students. To be fair, it’s not as though I’m making everything look super fancy or buying extra sprigs of herbs to put on top of my food. However, it’s the difference between plopping some hummus in a bowl and calling it a day versus pouring some olive oil and paprika over the top. Mixing different spices and seasonings can be super fun, too. I didn’t grow up using a lot of ginger, and I mostly associated it with gingerbread cookies. Lately, though, ginger has become my favorite ingredient in sauces and stir-fries. Trying out various seasonings is a great way to get a little more creative in your cooking.

Stress relief

When I finish a long work shift or day of classes, my favorite thing to do is cook something super yummy for myself. Cooking is great because it often involves a lot of work with your hands, but it doesn’t actually require that much problem-solving or critical thinking (depending on what you make, of course). Putting on some music, chopping up veggies for a soup or gathering ingredients for a sauce can be a great way to relieve stress and tension. And not following a recipe creates an even more carefree experience. After all, who wants to follow rules when you don’t have to!

You’ll find things you love (even if other people don’t)

Trying out really weird flavor combinations can be incredibly rewarding. Even if the spices you’re using don’t traditionally go together, sometimes, you’ll accidentally discover something great. To be fair, sometimes, you won’t: I recently tried making veggie soup, but it ended it up only tasting like celery. (Not exactly what I was going for). But as bad as that soup was, I learned that adding celery to my meals is actually super tasty, even if it’s not a super common stir-fry vegetable on most menus and recipes. 

Cooking is super fun when you’re not trying too hard

Sometimes, trying to make something taste perfect can be a lot of pressure. Ditch the expectations of being a perfect chef and just mess around with flavors you love. Remember, it’s perfectly OK to make mistakes. Sometimes, I cook things that just taste a little gross, or I get lazy with measuring while baking and it backfires. Those experiences are all part of the learning curve. You’ll learn to be OK with buying a spice that you actually hate or overcooking a casserole. It’s all just part of the creative process!

You might be really good

Even though I’m not trying to be a master chef, it does great things to my ego when my roommates walk into the kitchen and tell me the food I’m cooking smells amazing. Even if it’s embarrassing at first, getting good at cooking can be super rewarding, and cooking dinner for your friends and housemates is really fun. Over time, you will get more comfortable with cooking without a recipe and even develop your own style. And, maybe, you’ll even find a few signature dishes, too! 

I’m in no way a great cook, but I feel so much more confident in my ability to make healthy, tasty meals after I stopped trying so hard to make everything perfect and avoid any risks. Stretch your creativity by ditching the cookbook!

Contact Elysa Dombro at [email protected].