Where are the recipes?

People have often asked me to provide recipes for dishes I post about here, and while I do have some original recipes online (many collected over at food52), as a rule I tend to cook by taste and feel, not by using standard amounts and measurements. And as I’ve learned over the last few years through my involvement with food52 and elsewhere, creating a good, reliable recipe takes a lot of time and repetition. Right now my day job, my commute, and my young son don’t leave me much opportunity for that kind of cooking.

There are so many variables to consider when you cook. What tastes balanced to my palate may taste too spicy or acidic to yours. The stock you use in a dish may have an entirely different level of seasoning than the stock I use, which will have an outcome on how much other stuff needs to go in. I can’t provide exact measurements for many things because I add seasoning as I go, tasting and adjusting until it tastes right to me.

Cooking also provides me a much-needed creative outlet. I love experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients, or rethinking standard ways of preparing familiar ones, and even the dishes I repeat often are constantly evolving – things I’ve made over and over again, like mac and cheese or enchiladas or chili or chicken stew are never exactly the same twice. And in our house that’s okay – I like playing with a favorite dish to see if I can improve it. That means that sometimes, I end up with a less-than-satisfactory result, but those results are rarely inedible, and they provide good lessons for the next go-around. I am constantly learning.

One of my biggest influences over the years has been Chef Caroline Fidanza. On the subject of recipes, she wrote the following once in an issue of Diner Journal:

“It is always my tendency to write recipes with very little in the way of instruction. This is not meant to be difficult, I just find it pointless to measure out the amount of oil, wine, lemon or salt in a recipe when it usually comes down to the question of how much does it need? How can I ever answer that question for you? Worse, when will something be done? The answer is, when it’s done. The truth is cooking defies instruction (this is not true for baking). So why do we insist upon having exact measurements and procedures? Mostly all I can attribute this to is fear. Fear of cooking in the first place and fear of screwing it up if we do. If we have measurements there is a paper trail and someone to blame. We have lost our culinary instincts and now must rely on books and pictures to tell us what to do.”

–Caroline Fidanza, from “Ribollita: The Meticulous Recipe and the Ghost of Elizabeth David,” as published in the Winter 2008 issue of Diner Journal (No. 10)

Last Night’s Dinner was never intended to be a recipe site – there are many, many good ones out there. Rather, what you see here is a peek into our lives by way of our kitchen, a culinary record of sorts. And I hope that the lack of recipes won’t drive you away; I’d love nothing more than to inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, to taste, to trust your instincts and your palate, and to find your own unique way of creating beautiful meals.

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