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How to cook with confidence and make meals your own

You don't have to have all the ingredients to follow a recipe, or to make a great meal. Here’s some advice for how to make the recipe your own.

Something that crossed my mind when looking back at the year we had was that, with the lockdowns that defined 2020, many of us were cooking every day for the first time in months, if ever.

During the lockdown, and even now after it, while looking for recipe inspiration on recipes.co.nz you may run into recipes that call for things like Crème Fraiche, preserved lemons, or radicchio. Maybe you don’t have those ingredients. Maybe that freaks you out.

It shouldn’t, though the emotion is understandable. At this time we’re all looking for a little comfort and for ways to keep life as normal as possible. But the idea that you’re beholden to your ingredients list and follow a recipe to the exact word is bunk and always has been.

As someone who promotes recipes for a living, I can say without hesitation that unless you’re working a restaurant line, you should treat recipes like you do sheet music. They’re guides - you can play them in all sorts of ways. It’s your kitchen, do what you want with it!

You may not cook often but have confidence in yourself. Use your brain - you’ve got this. Can’t find radicchio? It’s a bitter green, you can swap it out for kale, rocket, or watercress. It’ll still taste delicious. Missing preserved lemons? Mix lemon zest with a little salt. Or sauté a few thin slices of lemon in olive oil with a spray of salt. No lemon at all? Look for lime or try a splash of orange juice. Don’t have crème fraîche? Most of us won’t have it stocked either. It’s just a fancy sour cream. Yogurt will work just as well. Sure, these ingredients all taste different, but they act the same.

Above all, take a deep breath and try not to worry yourself sick about making the correct substitutions. Instead, think generally and taste as you go. That’s the whole point! Kitchens are a place of experimentation, for trial and error, for having fun and making a mess. Just remember: acids swap for acids. Sweets for sweets. Fire for fire. Texture for texture. The results of substituting ingredients can be magical, and they make the recipe your own.

If there was a silver lining to 2020 it’s that we had a few more days to treat cooking as what it should be - something nourishing and enriching, something that you should take your time with and enjoy.

If there was a silver lining to 2020 it’s that we had the opportunity to treat cooking as what it should be - something nourishing and enriching, something that you should take your time with and enjoy. Get the kids involved, I can promise you that they’ll eat it if they make it.

So, with 2020 in the rearview mirror what are some things we should be focussing on in the new year? For me, it's continuing to try new things and expand my cooking repertoire.

Something else you might find useful is this collection of family-friendly recipes to cook with the kids and some advice for getting kids in the kitchen. If you’re a little worried about your health and what you’re eating, here’s a great place to look for some nutrition tips and advice.

Speaking of recipes! Here are a few links that might be helpful:

Posted by Shawn Moodie

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