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WIAW: Improvising

My mom and I share many tastes, but we differ in one pretty significant way in the kitchen: she’s an improviser, almost always making up a recipe based on whatever’s in the house.

Her signature dish? Rice and stuff. Cook whatever protein and veggies are in the house in a large Dutch oven. Serve over rice. Rice…and stuff. It’s cheap, it’s healthy, and it works.

I have no criticism of mom’s approach to cooking, but I simply don’t do that. I just don’t make stuff up in the kitchen. If I’m not cooking from a recipe, I’m usually cooking with the intention of creating a recipe. I have no rational reason to avoid doing so; I’m sure I’d be perfectly capable of coming up with something tasty on the spot. I just don’t.

Since I’ve been home for winter break, my mom’s and my own approach to cooking have been…not really butting heads, in the sense of confrontation, but…the contrast has been highlighted, shall we say.

What we ate on Monday is a good example of this contrast. Thanks to Jenn, Laura, and Arman for hosting the What I Ate Wednesday linkup.It was my parents’ last day of break before they went back to work, even though I’m still here until the 10th. I got up and said: “Pancakes?”

Mom makes a mean pancake. She has an excellent whole wheat pancake recipe, and she’s improvised her own low-FODMAP variation in the past (with my coaching about what is and isn’t low-FODMAP.) Still, as soon as I said, “Pancakes?” I felt compelled to pull up a recipe–just in case she felt the need to follow some guidelines. She did follow the recipe, and they were excellent; Delicious as It Looks recipes always are!

Oatmeal pancakes with blueberries, butter, and mom’s homemade vanilla syrup

After a morning of laundry, closet sorting, blog reading, and piano playing (I haven’t played piano in so long!), Mom made some quick vegetable soup with what we had in the fridge and pantry: ham broth from our Christmas ham, a can of tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, and parsley.

Vegetable soup with cottage cheese

In the afternoon, I worked on a recipe experiment for the blog, and then Mom and I went for a walk and ran some errands. Mom wanted to go to a spin class in the late afternoon, but I was too tired to go, so she put me in charge of making supper.

Afternoon snack: quinoa chips

I wanted to make some of the leftovers we had from our Christmas feasting…but unlike Mom, I didn’t feel comfortable just throwing something together. I remembered that we had some frozen hash browns, so I Googled “hash brown crust.” The first thing that came up was this Paula Dean recipe that, not only did we have all the ingredients, was remarkably low-FODMAP! And delicious.

Hash brown crust quiche

In the evening, I finished up my recipe experiment that I’d started in the afternoon and we sat down to watch an Inspector Lewis mystery. While we were watching, I tried my new recipe.

Not good enough to put up on the blog, I’m afraid. That is the downside, I suppose, of calling your creation a “recipe.” If it’s no good, you have to deem it a “failure”–as opposed to saying, “Meh. That turned out a little weird. Better luck next time!” But it was chocolate-dipped, so I wasn’t going to complain. 😉

Do you improvise in the kitchen, or do you have to have a recipe?

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12 comments

  1. Don’t write something off too soon! If something doesn’t turn out the way I intended it was just never meant to be a recipe ;). And anything chocolate-covered can hardly be a true fail. What were you trying to make?
    Our mums seem to have a similar approach to cooking – as do the two of us. My mum rarely uses recipes. She has a few go-tos memorized (like the gnocchi recipe she swear by) but usually just starts cooking and comes up with her own creations. I, on the other hand, like having at least some guidelines so I know I won’t mess things up completely.
    Also, I want a bowl of your mum’s soup right now. Well, minus the ham but with cottage cheese.

    1. Joyce says:

      I suppose I was being a bit tongue in cheek about my recipe being a “failure.” They were chocolate-and-banana truffles. Or at least, they were supposed to be. But I agree–anything chocolate’s gotta be good.

  2. Cora says:

    I’m still trying to get used to the idea of plain out starting from scratch and experimenting in the kitchen. I’m good with collaborating ideas from different recipes or swapping out this and that, but starting right from a blank slate is a little adrenaline producing. But if there’s chocolate chances are it will be fine.
    Yay for getting back to the piano! Also – how are those quinoa chips? I keep wanting to try them.

    1. Joyce says:

      I like the quinoa chips–they’re a little more substantial than potato chips, and a little more flavor-neutral than corn chips.

  3. I do a little of both. Usually during the week I need something quick I throw things together, usually a sheet pan chicken with random herbs and oil/vinegar. But I like following recipes on the weekend when I have more time. That hash brown crust quiche looks delicious, I definitely need to try that!

  4. Evangeline says:

    My mom does the same thing! Maybe it comes with age and experience…or just getting tired of following recipes after years and years 🙂 I like to have a recipe to follow, but sometimes when I’m recipe testing, I try to go outside the box a little. The pancakes and the soup look delicious. Actually, your whole day of eats looks delicious. I love the idea of a hash brown crust!

    1. Joyce says:

      I think my mom is tired of following recipes–in fact, she says all the time, “I’m tired of cooking!” And of course, she’s a very experienced cook.

  5. Looks like a yummy day of eats! I tend to plan meals out for my own sanity during the week. I don’t want to think about what to make when I get home from work…I just want to have the ingredients and the planned meal ready to be made.
    I do love to experiment when I have the time though. I love it!

    1. Joyce says:

      I don’t blame you! It’s nice that you can come home from work and have everything ready to go.

  6. Alyssa says:

    I want to start improvising more in the kitchen! I try and do a little of both, but I feel like it would be fun to get creative sometimes!

    1. Joyce says:

      I hope you take the challenge!

  7. I admire the courage to improvise in the kitchen! Great recipes usually come by combining different and unexpected ingredients!

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