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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: No Recipe

Meal Planning is getting easier, which is funny, because the blog is a lot of work.

I do wonder what the hell I’m doing spending so much time photographing and writing about food, but the problem is, I keep learning stuff so I can’t stop. One of the things I’m learning is that as I wean myself from total dependence on recipes I plan much faster. I haven’t quite figured this out yet. Is it because there’s more information about food stored in my brain now? Is it because it’s easier to imagine a meal than find a meal in a notebook? Leaving one day blank to be inspired by ingredients at the store certainly helps.

Or perhaps, like tonight, it’s because I didn’t come up with the meal at all – my son did! He requested sausage and mushroom pizza which required no thought whatsoever on my part.

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My previous success went to my head; I tried making pesto without a recipe. The problem was not really making pesto without a recipe. I mean how wrong can you go with six ingredients: basil, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt & parmesan cheese? The problem was that I got cocky about it and didn’t really pay attention to what I was doing. I just rushed around throwing things in the cuisinart.

One of the things the blog has taught me about my kitchen foibles is that I’m a rusher. In a frenzy to be over with the cooking I don’t pay attention, and food, like small children, requires a lot of attention. And like small children, food wants you to pay attention with all your senses. But in my blithe desire to prove I could go recipe-free I forgot this cardinal rule and payed absolutely no attention whatsoever. Which was why I poured an entire ball jar of walnuts into the cuisinart and pressed pulse without really considering if I wanted to use all the walnuts. They were just there and I poured them. It took copious amounts of parmesan cheese, salt and oil to bring the pesto back, I can tell you.

I guess the difference between the Unnatural Cook who started the blog and the Slightly- More-Natural Cook I’m becoming is that I won’t go back to the recipe next time, I’ll just go slower.

And the salad idea was nice, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes & olives. That was pretty Natural-Cooky of me.

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My daughter doesn’t accept the idea that I am an unnatural cook. She keeps trying to prove me wrong. When she is a teenager this desire to prove me wrong will be very annoying, but right now it is incredibly sweet. She refuses to allow me to speak ill of my talents and she thinks “unnatural” is an insult. Yesterday, she gave me a challenge: make dinner from what was in the house. At first I refused. No way. It made me incredibly nervous. Then she gave my husband a challenge – he should make a meal plan! He balked too! I realized how much I’d love it if he did make a meal plan and so I reconsidered the challenge. Why not?

Turns out that making dinner from what’s in the house is a great way to clear out the fridge. Duh. I know lots of people do this I’m just not those people. I made pasta with pink sauce. It should have been pinker than it was but one of the creams wandering around in the fridge turned out to be rock solid. I used bacon, leftover shallot, parsley and 1/2 a red onion, sun dried tomatoes (which must have been at least a year old), garlic, chicken stock, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. It tasted good and was on the table fast.

So I have a confession: I think it might be more relaxing to cook without a recipe. Now what am I supposed to do? I didn’t start this thing so I could change my habits. I started it to…well, I don’t know why the hell I started it. I certainly did not mean give up my recipe following ways. But what did I expect? The blog is a way to make the daily habit of cooking into a creative endeavor. A decent artist allows herself to be changed by the process of art making, doesn’t she? Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Tostadas are one of our standby meals. We make the tostadas ourselves because it’s cheap and easy. We just brush both sides of a corn tortilla with olive oil and bake it at 375° for about 10 minutes. The we top them with canned refried beans, chicken or fried egg, jack cheese, scallions, jalapeño, tomato and avocado. I enjoyed making dinner tonight because I didn’t have to think about it (except the part where I poached the chicken breast – I can never remember how long it takes and I always have to look it up.) But it did occur to me that the two meals I’ve enjoyed making most since I started this endeavor were the meatballs & spaghetti and the tostadas. In other words, I was most relaxed when I wasn’t using a recipe. Which sort of goes against everything I think about the way I know how to cook. Does this mean that I really do need to learn technique? It would be weird if the blog ended up changing the very habits that created it….

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