Saw the Julia Child movie last night-- actually this morning. Ben had the fun idea to go to the 12:05am showing Friday! Crazy! Loved the movie, though, and especially enjoyed seeing some of Julia's dishes prepared from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. I. Meryl Streep did a great job with the voice, I thought.
More about cooking without a recipe:
Although Julia's recipes are painstakingly accurate to the 1/4 tsp. of herbs, everyday cooking can be a lot more relaxed. Some flavor combinations and basic ingredients work with so many things and make ordinary dishes seem special. Examples:
French vermouth (not expensive, about $7/bottle and it lasts a long time)-- Add about 1/4 c. to the browned bits left in a pan after browning chicken or pork. Let it cook a bit, scraping up the bits as it cooks. Swirl in a couple pats of butter, salt and pepper, and pour over the chicken or pork.
If you make any casseroles with "cream of something soup" add 1/4 cup-1/3 cup vermouth for part of the milk or whatever else liquid is called for. It makes a real difference!
Garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and any fresh herb makes a terrific marinade for just about any type of meat-- beef, pork, chicken, lamb. Fresh herbs that are good to use for grilling are rosemary, tarragon, or mint. More delicate herbs like parsley, thyme, chervil are better in the oven, I think.
Chinese black bean sauce or hoisin sauce comes bottled and is inexpensive. These are real no-brainers. Just saute whatever you like in the way of veggies and protein (chicken, tofu, etc.). At the end, stir in about 1 T cornstarch and mix around with the sauteed stuff. Add about 1/2 c. broth or even water (a little of the vermouth is good here also!), then add a big spoonful of the Chinese sauce. Taste and add more if you need to. Let everything cook quickly to evaporate enough to glaze everything well. You can get pretty close to "take-out"!
Of course, you can add so much more to these basic tips, but if you're in a hurry on a weekday night, just these ingredients can produce a very yummy dish in no time! Food types always talk about "building layers of flavor" and all that, and for sure, they are right. But you can still have a very tasty home cooked meal without all the "building" all the time!