A few weeks ago a friend and I were talking about the process of cooking, and how much of it is not about the recipe.
Of course the recipe plays a huge role. It has to be detailed and explain things well. Of course it’s about the kitchen materials, about the right temperature, and about having not just the correct, but good-quality ingredients.
But a good chunk of cooking is about a willingness to mess it up before you get it right (I think I can still taste that horrid first rice I ever made) and about trusting your instinct. Like the other day, when I was making a sauce and the instructions said to let it get “thick enough to coat a spoon”. I put the spoon in and out of the pot and yeah, sure, it stuck to the spoon. So I wondered if that was it. Was it sticking or was the spoon just dirty from having been put in the sauce? I looked and looked at the thing and the sauce and felt “hmmm.. no…” and let it keep on simmering. All the while not sure if I was overcooking the thing. I repeated this a couple more times until, about some 10 minutes later, the spoon came out and I had a moment of “Aha!” Because upon seeing it, I understood what “coating the spoon” meant.
It seems like a silly example, but it illustrates the issue completely. So many times have I looked at a piece of meat or a cookie and thought “well… It looks ok to me” but left it in there because the instructions said to cook for X more minutes and ended up with a rock-solid cookie or a dry-like- rubber-tire protein.
It is about the gut feeling. About not being afraid to taste and add even though the recipe says to use only five sprigs of whatever. And trusting you can do it. A couple of years ago, a friend and his husband, who always says he cannot cook at all, invited some of us to their apartment for dinner. It was a pasta dish with salad. And he announced he had made the whole meal, it was not store-bought. I loved seeing the pride of the announcement and the joy when we said we liked it (because it was really good).
It is about trusting your instinct, and knowing that even if you mess up (more than one time, even), you are learning, and the end result will be delicious.