Yesterday I told you that cooking is the habit that has had the biggest, most positive impact on my life. But unless you’re already a regular cook you probably thought this was super depressing.
People who don’t cook inevitably groan when I suggest that cooking is the solution to their problems.
Cooking? Ugh. Something about it just makes it sound like so. much. work.
Even struggling your way through one meal is a pain. Taking the time and effort to actually learn to cook regularly? That’s just nuts.
Or at least there’s no way you could do it right now. Maybe you’ll do it this summer or something. (Translation: it will never happen)
But I also told you yesterday that there was something deeper lying underneath your aversion to cooking. Because the truth is that if you really found cooking rewarding, then you’d figure out how to make it happen day after day.
So what is it exactly that separates those who cook from those who don’t? What is it that can transform cooking from a tedious, burdensome chore to a fulfilling, creative endeavor?
I did months of research, talking to people about their experiences in the kitchen. It was clear people understood the value of cooking at home and truly wanted to develop the habit, but something hadn’t clicked.
Over and over I heard that grocery shopping was a pain. That it took too long and often required multiple trips to different stores.
I heard that meals didn’t turn out well, and would result in criticism from family or flat out refusals to eat.
I heard that cooking was too much effort after a long day’s work.
That deciding what to make was too much of a burden and required too much planning.
That lots of food would go to waste, either through not being used or from dishes being too large.
I heard that cooking for one wasn’t worth the effort, and that cooking for a big family was too much effort.
Over and over people told me they don’t understand how to make meals taste good, how to get themselves and others excited about what they cook.
But I also spoke with people who DO have a regular cooking habit.
For these people (myself included) grocery shopping is easy, and takes only about 20 minutes a week.
They are confident that they can make delicious food, and find it easy to throw something together in a pinch with pretty much anything they have on hand.
They know intuitively what tastes good and how much food to make, so waste isn’t a problem.
For cooks, deciding what to make is a fun, creative process and not a crushing burden.
The whole process, including cleanup, is only mild to moderate effort, and the reward is real and tangible.
For them, cooking is totally worth it.
What makes it so easy for these people to maintain their cooking habit?
They have learned to cook without recipes.
When you can cook from your intuition instead of from a recipe you can make something from almost anything you have at home. And you can certainly improvise if you are missing an ingredient or two.
It means you know what tastes good together, and how to fix a dish that is a little “off.”
You develop a sense of how much food is appropriate to cook for your family, and can easily adjust how much you make according to how much you’ll actually use.
When you’re bored of a dish always tasting the same, an intuitive cook knows how to change it up just enough for it to feel fresh without reinventing the wheel.
Grocery shopping is easy when cooking is a regular part of your life, because most of the things you need are already in your house.
And when cooking is a habit, it feels natural and doesn’t require a ton of extra willpower.
Learning to cook without recipes is the secret to building a lasting cooking habit.
This isn’t to say that cooking from recipes is innately bad. Recipes can be a great source of inspiration and guidance for things you’ve never tried to make before.
I often use a recipe (sometimes several recipes) as a template for making something new.
But I am not a slave to recipes. If I want to swap out the spices or the meat type, or add a sauce, or put an egg on it, I know exactly what to do.
Knowing how to cook without recipes is another way of saying I have developed a cook’s intuition. And this is a skill you can learn.
Cooking feels difficult because it is a combination of several different skills that must be used together. But anyone can learn to cook without recipes with the right strategy.
Tomorrow I’ll explain how I taught myself to cook without recipes after not touching a stove for the first 25 years of my life. I’ll also show you how you can learn to do the same.
Do you think recipes make it harder or easier for you to create a cooking habit?