How To: Cook without a Recipe

My mom is an accountant. All day at work she stares at spreadsheets, calculating numbers and making sure everything is in order. If one number is wrong, then she risks drawing incorrect conclusions. Because of her job’s strong emphasis on numerical accuracy, for a long time she avoided the kitchen. As an accountant, she had this idea in her head that anytime she cooked from a recipe she had to follow it to a T. This meant dirtying multiple measuring containers, buying the exact listed ingredients and avoiding any recipes with complicated directions or unfamiliar items. As a result, simple foods like chicken fingers, hot dogs and tacos dominated the family menu.

Then my mom had an epiphany. After stopping her channel surfing on the Food Network one day, she stumbled upon cooking shows that appealed to her busy-mom lifestyle. From watching the channel and reading recipes in magazines she started challenging herself in the kitchen. While at first she viewed recipes as strict sets of directions, she gradually began to embrace her creativity. No longer did she view recipes as firm rules, but rather as guidelines to suit one’s tastes. As she spent more time in the kitchen, recipes became a method of teaching about possible substitutions and changes to suit one’s palate.

Of course, sometimes drifting from the recipe too far can cause problems, but cooking is all about experimenting and learning from mistakes. For many, the fear of being in the kitchen comes from a fear of failure. Like my mom and her job, college students are just as obsessed, if not more, with numbers. From GPAs to financial aid and potential starting salaries to graduate school admissions rates, these figures represent measurements of college life. Yet, we all know that these measurements are never perfect. As my mom has taught me both in the kitchen and in life, you do not need a precise recipe in order to cook a good meal; rather, all you need is a few guidelines to point you in the right direction.

Bethany Imondi, a junior studying Government and English at Georgetown University, credits her mom and her no-recipe approach for inspiring her to get creative inside and oustide the kitchen. Read more…


No Recipe Lo Mein
1-6 servings, depending on amount of pasta and vegetables used

This is not meant to be a recipe, but rather a guideline for how to create a hearty, healthy meal. Adjusting the quantity of ingredients makes it easy to prepare this dish for one, or big enough to feed a crowd. This dish also can be tailored to suit carnivores and vegetarians alike.

Long cut pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine
Assorted Vegetables, such as peppers, scallions, mushrooms, shredded cabbage
Choice of protein, if desired
Any neutral oil (vegetable, canola, etc.)
Garlic, if desired
Ginger, dried or fresh (depending on what you have on hand), if desired

For the sauce:
Soy Sauce
Hoisin Sauce
Hot Sauce, if desired

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once it reaches a rapid boil, liberally salt the water and add your choice of pasta. Cook according to package directions.

While the water comes to a boil, begin to prep the vegetables and/or meat. Chop vegetables into bite-size pieces and set aside. If desired, cut up your choice of protein on a clean cutting board into slightly larger pieces.

Prepare the sauce using equal amounts of soy sauce, hoisin and water. If desired, add hot sauce to taste.

Once done chopping and the pasta has been added to the boiling water, heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When the oil ripples, add the meat and stir-fry until cooked through (or no longer pink). Push the meat aside, and if desired grate in a few cloves of garlic and/or fresh ginger. If using dried ginger, add to taste.

Add in the veggies and stir fry everything together for a couple of minutes. Allow the ingredients to continue cooking as you drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the skillet, then pour sauce over mixture. Turn off the heat, and toss everything together to allow the sauce to absorb into the pasta.

Recipe Index Keywords:

Categories: Campus Cooking, Cooking 101, How To, and Recipes.
Cooking Method: On the Stove.
Mealtime: Dinner.
I Don't Have Any: Cooking Skill, Money, and Time.
I'm Cooking For...: Easy Dinner.
Type of Food: Pasta and Vegetarian.

Originally posted on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

2 Responses to “How To: Cook without a Recipe”

  1. 8 Lifestyle Links to Stalk …

    October 19th, 2011

    [...] How to Start Cooking Without a Recipe — Small Kitchen College [...]

  2. Brent | Cookapalooza

    October 21st, 2011

    What your mom taught you is great advice for any student who is just starting out in the kitchen.

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