How To Improvise In The Kitchen

5 Tips on How To Improvise in The Kitchen!

Personally, I do not think that becoming a master in the kitchen means memorizing recipes from cookbooks or making an amazing steak. More importantly, to me, it means being able to look in the fridge or pantry and use what’s on hand to make a meal, replace a missing ingredient, understand the flavors or add something unexpected to an existing recipe for fun. In other words, learning how to improvise!

I know this idea can scare the living daylights out of some people. The trick here, is practice. You might say that those two words – practice and improvise – contradict one another. I can hear you asking, “Isn’t practice the antithesis of improvisation?” But wait…. improvisation is giving yourself time to play around, in the right environment, where you can make mistakes. This process helps build knowledge and confidence, for creativity and future improvising.

The way that I teach people how to cook is not your ordinary, run-of the-mill way, like following a recipe verbatim. Yes, you will get recipes here, but you will also learn how to cook without them. It is not as scary as you think!

I don’t use recipes myself, and I never did, so giving you some specific recipes and measurements doesn’t usually come naturally to me. I like to teach you how to improvise recipes and use whatever you have available at home. This way, I can empower and encourage you.

I want you to be confident in your own kitchen. I wish you not to be intimidated by ingredients or by not having the right components. I want to show you that, when you open your pantry, cabinets or ridge, and you gaze over the contents therein, you can make up a dish from what you have…. right then and there!! Improv! Voila!

You don’t need to be a professional chef or an artist. You just need to work on your skills a bit. If you are not a chef, many times you may find that you don’t have the ingredients for a given recipe at home. Confession… I don’t always have everything either!

Too often, perhaps, you are disappointed that you are missing certain ingredients…and THAT IS IT! NO MORE COOKING! You quit before you’ve even gotten started (I’m guilty of that too. I’ve done it in the past…). I want to show you that, instead of quitting, you can just modify a recipe, using what you have, without putting in the
extra effort of NEEDING to go shopping again.

Most people, if they don’t have all the necessary ingredients on hand, will order takeout – guilty as charged! But I avoid ordering takeout like the plague, as it is usually bad food. Because of that, I like to encourage people to use what they have and go ahead and make the recipe anyway… OR… be creative and substitute the ingredients they are missing. Improvising recipes is a powerful tool, once you get the hang of it, because you can make whatever you want and it WILL taste good. I promise you!

Did you know that you actually have to cook to be well and healthy? Michael Pollan is quoted as saying in his movie “corporations have convinced us that they can do the job of cooking for us better than we can do for ourselves.” No matter what Big Food Inc. says, the stuff you make from scratch at home will almost always
be healthier than the things you buy.

People have forgotten how to cook; they have forgotten the connection to home cooking and what’s happening at the table. I will always remember the relationship my family had around cooking, food and eating together. Those are the best childhood memories I have. Going to the farmers’ market every day, foraging for mushrooms, blueberries, hazelnuts, pine nuts and herbs, preparing fruits and veggies for winter, fermenting and more. Cooking was a community event – so much fun and filled with laughter and joy! For me, cooking is not only about the food, but
more importantly, it is about what happens around the table.

Making good food accessible is really crucial to me, and any little way that I can do that makes me happy. I love to invite a bunch of friends over for a simple meal, making them help out in the kitchen – that just underlines my intuition that good cooking is within reach for everyone.

My ultimate goal is to make people comfortable around food, so they can just enjoy the moment. Cooking for them and with them just happens to be the easiest way I can do that and connect with people. Use your intuition to guide you to delicious food. If the dish doesn’t turn out the way it should, it’s OK. You can always try again another day.

The fact that we have forgotten how to cook is one of the reasons that we’ve become so collectively unhealthy. Why don’t we focus on food, especially healthy food where we get the best nutrition, instead of searching for a magic pill or supplement with the hope that it is going to save us and make us healthy without any work? We are hoping that the newest shake mix, essential oil, supplement or something else will help us reach our health goals.

Nothing is further from the truth. Without learning how to cook basic food and nourish yourself with fresh, home-cooked meals, the breakthrough in your health is hardly ever likely to happen.

I know, I know! I have been raised in such a way that cooking is essential to me. Believe me, fresh food is one of the main ingredients that has kept me healthy all these years. I honestly don’t think that I would be healthy without it. Sometimes, when I go to Whole Foods and see the ingredients in the dishes in the hot bar, I’m horrified…. like canola oil, soybean oil, etc…. and they charge so much money for non-organic, unhealthy ingredients!!! Wouldn’t it be easier to just buy 5 ingredients and fix a meal in 20 min or less, so that you know what you are actually eating?

Yes, I do love to cook. Yes, I’m a chef. And honestly, I always come back to food. I strayed from it for a while when I returned to Poland to get my Master’s Degree in writing, but food is my passion, and it was this passion that led me to study nutrition and to take my choices surrounding my health into my own hands.

When you think about it, wouldn’t you rather eat a fresh, homemade meal, instead of taking a pill? Be proactive, learn basic cooking skills, take a cooking class or watch a YouTube video – cooking can be fun!

By learning your way around the kitchen and how to improvise, you’ll find more ease and enjoyment in your own cooking environment. You’ll know how to make food with what you have on hand, as well as how to use leftovers — which can help you save money in the long run.

Here are your 5 tips on how to improvise in the kitchen:

1. Build Your Skills

Learning about ingredients and where they come from, improving different techniques, and understanding different flavor combinations will help you be more comfortable in the kitchen. Education is a crucial component in kitchen
improvisation. No need to sign up for a fancy culinary school to acquire skills. There are so many websites, TV shows, blogs and magazines about cooking; you can find everything you need there. Media paralysis of choice? Just go to YouTube – you can find everything you need online!

2. Stock Up on Ingredients

You won’t be able to cook anything, even if you are a chef, if your pantry is empty. Read some cookbooks and make a list of the most used ingredients in them… and GO SHOPPING! Later you’ll just need to get some fresh veggies, and you will be all ready to go!

3. Fail-Free Zone

The rule of thumb is not to improvise for the first time when you’re hosting guests! Pick a day when you are not so busy and don’t have anything to lose or anyone to entertain. This will guarantee plenty of time to enjoy the process and have some fun.

4. Start Small

I would take small steps before making an entire recipe. Play with different ingredients, a single spice or vegetable, or start with a recipe that doesn’t have many ingredients, such as pesto. Choose an ingredient you don’t usually cook with and use it throughout the week in different recipes, to become more familiar with it. If you need inspiration, use Google for ideas. You can also get the book ‘Flavor Bible’, my favorite reference book. Although it might be too much at first, you will learn a lot of combinations of flavors.

5. Switch-It Out

Many times when we go shopping, we forget to buy that one thing, and then we give up. Now it is the time to improvise and switch out that particular ingredient. You can also plan for this moment by purposefully leaving something off your shopping list (ground meat) and then substituting in something else you think might work
(ground walnuts).

The more you practice this, the more you will understand how different ingredients may successfully be substituted for one another. Remember not to be hard on yourself and have some fun! If something doesn’t come out the way you wanted, you can always try it again on a different day!

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