Are You an Improvisational Cook?
I thought I was, until I realized that by “improvisational cook” Sally Schneider doesn’t quite mean the person who leans into the fridge and whips up a stir fry with the crudités that are left from the Super Bowl dip tray. (I will neither confirm nor deny if I have assembled such a meal.) What Sally is getting at in The Improvisational Cookbook (on sale Tuesday as a gorgeous paperback with drool-inducing color photographs) is building a repertoire of recipes that we know by heart so that we can then begin to tweak and adapt them to use for different dishes and meals. It means asking why not, it means pairing flavors courageously, it means knowing when a culinary accident is in fact a happy one. Sally wants us all to be fearless improvisers in the kitchen—and I am touched by her confidence and support. I love these tips she gives to the trepidatious home cook who might be putting his or her toe in the improvisational waters:
- Substitute one set of flavors in a recipe for another.
- Change the traditional presentation of a recipe.
- Learn some versatile “basic” preparations you can use for many dishes.
- Exchange similar ingredients in a recipe.
- Improvise dishes using separately made elements.
- Know a few basic formulas into which you can plug different ingredients.
- View leftovers as raw materials for improvising.
Bragging is unbecoming, but: I excel at this last one. I still hate waste in the kitchen—childhood conditioning by my Nana, who was raised during the Depression—so I am more than willing to experiment with food that might otherwise get tossed in the trash. I admit, some of the results have been scary (barbecue sauce—not my milieu), but others have knocked my socks off (frittatas were born for a fancy-free attitude in the kitchen). I can’t wait to see how much better my improvisations become once I put Sally’s tips into practice.