Afraid to cook? You shouldn’t be.

Broccoli sautee

Broccoli in a wok. The key to the wok is crazy, crazy, jet-engine heat. But don’t worry about that for now. (Creative commons photo from Flickr’s anotherpintplease)

I recently heard someone say they did well following strict recipes—baking, for example—but that spontaneous cooking, without an exact recipe, frightened them. Maybe they tried it before and it didn’t work out so well, so they assumed it was some sort of magic they didn’t possess.

Couldn’t be further from the truth.

Last night, for fun, I typed up a response to that someone: a starter recipe for the recipe-less. You’re welcome. It’s three paragraphs. Because you’re trying to be a baller, read through it first. Then bring out to the counter all the stuff you’ll need. You don’t need to pre-measure; just get it in arm’s reach.

Bring some grapeseed (or canola or vegetable) oil to a shimmer at high heat in a shallow, heavy weight pan. I like cast iron, but use whatever. Sear some sliced extra firm tofu or chicken breast until it releases easily. Turn down the heat a bit if you’re getting much smoke from the fat. If you’re burning your food, add a tablespoon or two of liquid; it cools the pan. If you want, you can turn over the proteins and do the other side.. or don’t. Time is money.

Next, toss in some smallish green vegetables. Saute a minute or two to soften. Pump the heat back up to high for a few seconds to get the pan really sizzling again, then add stock: veg if you’re veg, chicken if you’re not. If you want to get fancy, add it slowly so you make sure you don’t cool the pan too much. You’re cooking off the stock’s water and leaving its flavor components behind, AKA “reducing.” Congrats. If your vegetables were leafy, cover the pan a couple minutes while reducing to let ’em wilt nicely.

To complete your five minute project, add the following rough measurements for every portion you think you’re making: 1-2 teaspoons of mustard and the same of white wine or vinegar—any vinegar but distilled white or balsamic.. Throw in a dash of salt and a pinch (teaspoon or less) of brown sugar or honey or real maple syrup.. unless you used honey mustard. Then don’t. Pepper just before serving; fresh ground is better but not necessary.

Of course, now that you have a recipe, it’s not a seat-of-your-pants experience.  But dissect its basic components and you can cook any number of proteins and vegetables. Mix it up. Vegetable is good. Vegetable + diced onion is better. Vegetable + onion + garlic is heavenly. That last combo works great with the white wine option, and you don’t even have to mince the garlic. Just crush up a clove or two with some sanitary, heavy thing, saute with everything else, and remove before serving because the flavor will come out in the pan.

Sooner or later you’ll be adding thyme sprigs (remove like the garlic), shitake mushrooms or fish sauce for umami, improvising sous vide with ziploc and a cooler, and picking fines herbs for the next day’s lunch after your wife goes to bed.

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