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May 25, 2010

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for at least a year I have been teaching myself to cook without leaning on recipes like unyielding crutches. Weaning myself off cookbooks and cooking site print-outs, and trusting that if it smells good, looks nice and tastes great in the pot, chances are it will continue to woo once it hits the plate. I’ve mastered pastas and sauces, stews and soups and pastry. I’m fairly good at quiches, and stand behind my cream fillings. Roast chicken? Check. Grilled fish? Mmm-hmmm. Quick meals, patience dishes and all-day cooking marathons? Done and done.

A few dishes remain resistent to my efforts though, and as summer approaches and my meals move outdoors, most will be shelved till autumn. I purchase a CSA farm share that keeps me in vegetables from June through October, and I tend to put meals together based on what each week’s harvest provides; as the weather gets warmer and the vegetables more diverse, it’s not unusual for supper to go something like “tomato, cheese, oil and lemon, shredded fresh herbs, arugula, sugarsnap peas, grilled something-or-other, rosé.”

Old habits are hard to let go cold-turkey, and so in my process of learning to cook recipe-free, I latched onto Michael Ruhlman’s notion of “ratio”; of understanding the proportions that make a dish work, even a complex one, even things that have a reputation for “needing” recipes and rules, like baked goods and detailed French standards. Partly, this was an excuse to indulge my appetite for cookbooks, research and reading; partly, it was like kicking a coffee habit by first switching to decaf. But, “ratio” cracked the no-recipe thing for me, and plunked all the pieces into an order I could make sense of. Just enough structure to trust a dish will turn out ok, with room remaining for chance and happy accidents.

Another kind of ratio informs things that emerge from my kitchen, this one concerning straight-up taste. How much bread to filling in a sandwich? How much sauce over gnocchi? Handfuls of cheese browned atop a casserole? Scoops of ice cream to sundae dressings? Inches of frosting per inch of cupcake? Layers in a lasagna? Height of the frites mountain beside your mussels or bavette? Glasses of wine as you work through a casual Friday meal? How many lattés with your breakfast scone(s)?

I have as many rules of eating as I do for cooking, and at risk of sounding like an insane person, I provide the following Top Nine:

1. there should be 1/2 as much frosting as cake (this includes sides, middle and top).

2. there should be one layer per variety of cheese, and no fewer than three varieties but no more than five, to make a good grilled cheese sandwich. Neither slice of bread should exceed the thickness of your index finger.

3. the portion size of frites should be 2/3 as large as the portion of mussels or steak.

4. one glass of wine per 20 minutes of food and conversation (freely flowing, and not necessarily segregated into courses).

5. pasta should remain visible on all sides, like a noodle border, with a nice mound of sauce on top; any more and you risk creating a flooded moat of tomato sauce and by the time you’re finished, you will just plain need to take a restorative nap.

6. one scoop of ice cream per sundae topping, with efforts taken to prevent mixing and slopping-together in the bowl.

7. two handfuls of cheese to achieve the perfect casserole crispiness with creating oily bogginess.

8. ten layers to a superior lasagne: noodle, sauce, veg, cheese, noodle, sauce, veg, cheese, noodle, sauce/ cheese mixture.

9. at least one large-sized latté per scone, but ideally the scones do not exceed two servings and the lattés no more than 1 litre of liquid in total. Trust me.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. foodandpassion permalink
    May 25, 2010 12:00 pm


    • welltailored permalink*
      May 25, 2010 12:03 pm

      Maybe so, but hot damn do I make a divine pasta and utterly perfect Sunday brunch! Attention to detail always pays off, at least in my kitchen!

      : )

  2. Kim permalink
    May 26, 2010 1:00 pm

    I can relate to this, although my rules have more to do with how I eat things. I have a specific apple-eating technique, strategies for choosing chips from the serving dish, and methods to ensure that when presented with a plate containing multiple elements, that I don’t finish one sooner than the others. This makes it difficult for me to eat while watching a foreign film because I end up missing a lot of the subtitles.

    • welltailored permalink*
      May 26, 2010 2:02 pm

      Ohhhh this is a whole other post…oh my gosh!

    • Kurt permalink
      May 26, 2010 3:33 pm

      Oh, Kim. You know how I love your eating ‘rules’. Sharing a bowl of mixed anything with you is a guaranteed test of our relationship.

      Amanda, am I to take from your response that you suffer from the same affliction. Gah!

      • welltailored permalink*
        May 26, 2010 10:00 pm

        You know it! Imagine the fun to be had when I come to town and you host both Kim and I at once!

  3. May 31, 2010 8:35 am

    T -19 minutes – how did it pass so quickly?? GLUG glug glug…. oh goodness, can someone get the rose out of the ice box? This lady is parched!

  4. Bronwen permalink
    June 4, 2010 3:14 pm

    Kim! I can SO relate to your foreign films dilemma!

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