The other day, I was watching one of my best friend's cook dinner. She was using one of her favorite recipes for a white bean pasta dish from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook that she makes all the time. She got the book out and went about her business, and I asked her how many times she's made this dish. Too many to count, she said. I told her to put it away. Next, I asked her what we had on hand that we could use to play with the recipe a little. We had some leftover guanciale from Christmas dinner (guanciale is pork jowl - basically the sickest kind of bacon ever) and so we started with that. We bumped up the garlic and the arugula, and then we finished with a hit of fresh lemon juice.
This is the resolution that I offer for any beginners in the kitchen looking to learn more about cooking:
As much as you can, try to cook without looking directly at a recipe.
Read the recipe thoroughly (or a couple of them), and then wing it. Following a recipe is a lot like riding in the passenger seat in a car. When you arrive at your final destination, you're not really sure how you got there. The next day, in fact, you can't drive to the same place by yourself without checking the directions. Stay in the driver's seat as much as possible. Use your senses when you cook. Taste, touch, smell. Pay attention to the process. Play with the ingredients. If you really get stuck, go ahead and look at the recipe. But first just try doing it yourself. You might make a few more mistakes this way, but I promise - you'll learn so much more in the end.
Cheers to 2013!