Saturday, February 23, 2013

Intuitive Cooking -- Who Knew?

A while back my daughter, faced with meal planning for the week, make the statement  that she wished she could just cook -- no recipes, no cookbook, just go to the store, buy what appeals to her and make a meal.  Sounds reasonable to me.  She and I have pretty much the same attitude toward cooking -- a necessary evil and the more  involved it becomes the more evil it becomes. I have two shelves in my library devoted to all manner of cookbook and I never open them.  The only one I have studied at length is Mark Bittman's  How to Cook Everything.

So, I was sitting here today watching Martha Stewart make vegetable stock and I started thinking about what my daughter had said.  That led me to think about my mother who was a fantastic cook and we didn't have a cookbook in  the house.  She would go to the grocery store -- ONE grocery store -- not a day's worth of gadding about with grocery ads in her hand, no gourmet shops, no farmers markets. She went once every two weeks and picked up milk at the convenience store in between.   Her idea of meal planning for a week was seven meats, seven starches, two veggies per night and an occasional dessert.  Then there were the staples -- bread, milk, butter, blah blah blah -- you get the picture.  Same thing each week regular as clock work but she worked magic with those basic ingredients.  At the beginning of the week, usually a Sunday we had a big meal -- roast, potatoes, carrots, etc and leftovers the next day.  As the week would wind down to Saturday we would have what she called our "poor" meal -- usually beans and cornbread or soup or stew and she always had a cake or pie.  Didn't sound too poor to me!  And.....she never used a recipe or a cookbook.  There wasn't one in the house.  She said she remembered how they made some things  in Home Ec in junior high school which was great for Floating Island but she just seemed to have an intuitive knack for cooking, seasoning, and getting everything on the table at the same time -- all done.

So, when I started searching the internet for "intuitive cooking" it dawned on me that that was what my mother did before it became a "style" or "technique".  Then I realized why my daughter gets slightly exasperated with me when she asks me how I cook something -- I simply can't tell her.  She wants numbers, people, in  cups and teaspoons.  I don't cook like that.  I have told her that she needs to decide to cook something, look up how to do it and then, just do it.  The simpler the better.  Learn to make a great salad, roast a chicken, a pork loin -- all simple and good. I no longer cook large roasts because it is just too much for us and Hubs really doesn't care for leftovers -- something I just can't change his mind on.  So, instead, I braise really lean stew meat with onions and garlic, let it cook for a while and voila! beef we can cut with a fork.  My daughter even likes it and she was the only child vegetarian I knew in the 80's. 

So, as I read several blogs on the subject of intuitive cooking -- the rules for intuitive cooking and even recipes for intuitive cooking (????), I realized I had a few of my own so here goes:

Buy the best you can afford to buy keeping all the food groups in mind.  Realize that  shopping at the overpriced, gourmet store doesn't necessarily mean better.

If fresh isn't so fresh, buy frozen.  It works.

Start simple -- learn to roast a whole chicken really well.  It isn't hard and you have lots of meat left over for all sorts of chicken-y things -- like chicken salad.

When you have that done, move on to beef.  Salt and pepper is the best seasoning for beef.

Remember to keep your plate balanced with protein, starch and veggies -- be colorful.  Protein doesn't necessarily mean meat.

Make a simple vinegar dressing and  experiment with herbs and seasoning.

Learn to love olive oil.

Frying isn't your friend but steaming and sauteing is.

Onions, celery, parsley, garlic are basics -- like white underwear.  ALWAYS have it on hand.  Always. You can buy frozen chopped onions or you can do your own -- they freeze very well.

Keeping your junior high school home ec class in mind (oh,  they don't have that anymore, do they?) Well, anyway remember balance and portion control.

Have fun -- cook what appeals to you -- what you like.  You are doing the cooking for you --- do what you want.

None of these rules apply to baking.  However, I don't bake so who cares.

My daughter has perfected a few dishes and is more and more willing to try new things even though she still wants a recipe and that is ok.  At some point, she will discover that she has just gone in and cooked a meal without thinking about it and she will be pleased.

My goal --  to stock my freezer with homemade stock.  I love stock. Now I am hungry for chicken soup.  Damn.