It seems a bit pretentious to have a Cooking Philosophy. After all, I’m not a professional chef and I only cook for myself (and the occasional fellow student, who is usually impressed by anything that involves more than a microwave). I’ve only had one cookery lesson in my life, unless you count the Food Technology classes in which I learnt how to toast bread and make a cup of tea. I own precisely one sharp knife and couldn’t tourne a vegetable if you paid me.
That’s my point, actually. Everyone has a cooking philosophy, but an unfortunate side-effect of the increasingly popular cookery shows and celebrity chefs is that the philosophy is often “cooking is too hard, takes too long and involves following complicated recipes”. If you open a cookbook you’ll almost certainly find an ingredient list as long as your arm, with precise quantities of each one requiring a perfectly-calibrated set of scales. It’s enough to send anyone running towards the ready meals.
My cooking philosophy has been shaped by watching my parents cook, reading about other people cooking, and trying it myself, and it is as follows:
Cooking is not a science.
It’s that simple. Cooking isn’t a science and it doesn’t matter if you don’t follow the instructions. Baking, certainly, does involve lots of careful measuring and accurate cooking times. If you sling a handful of this and a handful of that into your cake and then open the oven every ten minutes to check if it’s ready, you’ll get a flat, burnt, disgusting lump. But if you do the same thing to your pasta sauce, you’ll create a delicious and unexpected burst of flavours. Baking is a science, cooking is an experiment.
Aprons aside, I really do believe that cooking, and vegetarian cooking in particular, is just a matter of understanding a few basic nutritional principles and knowing a few basic techniques like boiling, chopping and roasting, and the rest is about experimenting. If you flick through some cook books or look for recipes online, you can get some ideas about good flavour combinations and rough cooking times and then just make up your own recipe. If it works really well, write it down somewhere. If it doesn’t, try again. Cooked too much? Freeze it and eat it another time. Cooked too little? Make a sandwich and increase the quantities next time.
This is essentially why my recipes don’t usually have ingredient lists or cooking times. It’s partly because I don’t use them, and partly because they might put people off trying them. It is very, very difficult to make yourself ill by badly cooking vegetarian food – raw egg is about the only risk.
If you’re reading this, you must be at least a little bit interesting in cooking. And if you want to learn how to cook, then the best way is to just do it. That’s what I’m doing!
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