Secrets From a No-Recipe Kitchen

It’s no secret that I love cooking. Both of my parents were born in the New Orleans area and raised by mothers who loved cooking. I have fond memories of suppers at my grandmother’s house on Sundays packed with family and hot food. She made cooking look easy and fun. Baked macaroni and cheese, seafood gumbo, jambalaya, squash casserole, oyster dressing, shrimp with mirlitons … I could go on!

Now that my maternal grandmother is 89, she can no longer cook. Her memory has been slowly deteriorating for the past 12 years. Yet, food is one thing that still brings her joy. Luckily, we have many of her recipes so we can replicate the delicious New Orleans flavors that have been in our family for generations.

I have trouble following recipes.

All of this said, I am not a huge fan of recipes. Whenever someone asks for my personal recipes, I sheepishly say “I don’t have one” or “I think I put this in there, but I’m not really sure.” I don’t think I’ve ever made a dish the same way twice.

I cherish the sentimental value of family recipes and I appreciate when others take time to write down their successful meals. But, I am somewhat of a lazy cook. I am not organized enough to meal plan for the week. I don’t take time to study recipes before I cook. I hate measuring things. I don’t stick to my list at the grocery store. And somehow I never have all of the ingredients the recipe calls for.

Pinterest is a revolutionary application and provides me with inspiration and courage to create a meal. But it stops there. Even if I happen to hit the print button, sometimes I don’t get it off the printer. Or I end up substituting ingredients with something better. I have a cabinet full of recipes books that are very lonely because I rarely give them any attention {Marie Kondo would not approve}. I think I’ve learned more from watching Barefoot Contessa and Giada.

So you’re probably wondering how I manage to get food on the table. Here are some tips for cooking without recipes and stress.

I have a subscription to Hollygrove Market where I get local produce and eggs delivered to my door every Sunday. Then I shop for additional items, such as meat, depending on what looks fresh and what’s on sale. I keep staple items in my pantry at all times. I decide what to cook on a daily basis. While this strategy seems a bit unorganized, it works for us. I don’t stress about meal planning or shopping for certain ingredients unless I’m cooking a family recipe for holidays.

Here is a list of items I keep at all times for versatile, but flavorful meals:

  • Vegetable/Chicken/Turkey Stock or Bone Broth
  • Organic Butter
  • Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemons
  • Fresh Herbs (from my garden or store-bought)
  • Dried spices – salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary, turmeric, bay leaves, cumin, garlic powder
  • Brown Rice and Quinoa
  • Whole Wheat or Gluten Free Pasta
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Organic Cheese
  • Fresh Spinach (biggest carton available)
  • Onions
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Curry Paste
  • Tomato Paste/Sauce/Diced Tomatoes
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Canned Beans
  • Frozen Shrimp
  • Frozen Veggies – Peas, Kale, Carrots, Onions, Lima Beans
  • Bacon
  • Canned Coconut Cream

Keeping staple ingredients allows me to cook up just about anything in 30 minutes or less. I don’t spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Instead, I figure out how much longer my toddler will be stay asleep so I can cook without a tiny person at my ankles!!

I keep spices, oils and vinegars next to the stove for convenince. My cutting board and cast iron pots stay on my stove top since I use them daily. I keep my flours and some nuts in the freezer since they are prone to spoiling. If I know I’ve had an item for too long, I’ll come up with a way to use it, such as making a tomato sauce or pesto in the food processor.

This comes to my last tip :: don’t over-gadget your kitchen.

Here are my favorite cooking gadgets and appliances that won’t break the bank:

  • Food Procesor
  • Garlic Press
  • Lemon Juicer
  • Cast Iron Pots (I have 3 sizes)
  • Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
  • Large Wooden Cutting Board
  • Good Quality Knife Set
  • Oil and Vinegar Dispensers

Most of my meals come out pretty good, but believe me – I’ve had some epic failures. Word of advice, don’t try making a pate without a recipe, yikes!

Your kitchen should be a happy place.

While cooking around kids can be hectic, your kitchen setup should make life easier. Don’t be afraid to rearrange things. I firmly believe joyful cooking facilitates tasty food. Make it fun by putting on some classical music, lighting candles, or pouring yourself a glass of wine.

I truly enjoy the impulsiveness and creativity that comes with cooking without a recipe. It has become a fun challenge and hobby to create unique, healthy meals. And if I don’t feel like cooking one night, I don’t. Because as soon as cooking becomes a chore, I will find something else that brings me joy.

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Sarah is a mother of two, wife, and Physical Therapist turned “household manager”. She has a passion for all things health and wellness whether it’s helping moms find simple solutions to everyday health concerns or assisting older adults find affordable ways to improve their quality of life. She and her husband are college football enthusiasts, travelers and food lovers.

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