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Mix until it looks right.

What do work, church and family reunions all have in common?  Potlucks.  If you take part in any of these, you will, at some point, be asked to cook something.  And if you’re any good at it at all, someone’s going to want your recipe.

I’m no world-class chef, but I like to think that I turn a pretty mean spatula.  Like many of you, I’m often asked for a recipe for this or that.  That’s where it gets complicated.  I am happy to give you my recipe, truly I am.  The problem is that I don’t use recipes.  On the occasions that I do start with a recipe, I inevitably tweak it this way or that way to suit my tastes.  I’m far too lazy to write all that down and I’m forgetful enough to never be 100% sure that I know what I added.  The result of all this is a variety of tasty dishes and really irritating recipes to share with my friends and family.

You will get instructions such as:  Stir it until it looks right.  I think I added a few shakes of garlic powder.  I might have put paprika in.  Somewhere between 1/4 cup and 3 cups of broth.

Now, I don’t think I’m entirely to blame for this.  My mother in law was the champ of these sorts of recipes.  I will never, ever forget the day I called to ask her how to make biscuits.  She told me to add some of this and some of that and I would be fine.  Biscuit fail.  It took me quite some time to work through that cryptic recipe.  But since a vast majority of my cooking skills were derived from trying to duplicate her recipes for my husband, I adapted.  And the world gained another “until it looks right” cook.

So I will give you my recipe, but odds are that whatever I tell you won’t be exactly what I did.  It’s not on purpose.  I’m not trying to sabotage you and I’m not selfishly hoarding recipes.  (Oh yes, I’ve been accused!)  That’s just the best I can give you.  For my part, I think there’s merit to playing fast and loose in the kitchen.  You like onions?  Then, by God, add onions!  Don’t like basil?  Leave it out!  Recipes aren’t laws and the best cooks worry more about what tastes good than what they read in a magazine.  You might have a few bad results, but that’s what frozen pizza is made for – emergency rations.  The more you play around with things, the more you will learn about flavor combinations that appeal to you.  You’ll also learn nifty little tricks like using cream cheese for a quick and easy creamed spinach.  (How much?  I have no idea!  Add it til it looks right!)

There’s a lot to be said for cooking with gleeful slapdashery.  It’s not always restaurant quality, but it’s fun and it’s a whole heck of a lot more interesting than eating what someone else thinks you like all the time.  My husband and I discovered a recipe for a delicious mushroom rice soup over 16 years ago.  We make it a couple of times a year and what we make now bears only the vaguest resemblance to the recipe.  Partly because we lost the recipe years ago, but also because now we make it exactly how we like it.

So, by all means, take my ideas and run with them.  Just be prepared to receive a confused look instead of a recipe.  Just add stuff until it looks right and tastes good.

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