Drop the cookbook and put down your phone. (Well, once you're done reading this.) If you're eyeballing a recipe to make tonight or in the near future and looking at ingredient lists, pouring over steps, and making things otherwise much harder on yourself than they need to be, these words of wisdom are for you:
You don't need a recipe for everything. Trial and error is what cooking is all about. For a lot of dishes, recipes are a lot more like guidelines than strict rules anyway. Once you know some basic cooking principles, you can often "freehand" a lot of things once you have an idea for what you wanna make.
A recipe says to you, "Hey, I've done this before, this is how I did it, and I liked it. You might like it, too." And eventually you check it out and give it a try in the hopes that you feel the same way. Not digging a recipe? Change it up. Our review sections are full of users who have done just that. That doesn't mean you failed at the recipe, it means you got creative and/or didn't want to run to the store for that one ingredient you didn't already have on hand.
One of my favorite things to make, and I mean a real favorite, is a big huge batch of toss-in-whatever-you've-got chili. When I have an abundance of vegetables in my fridge, I know that the possibility of a really awesome chili or other stew is on the horizon--no recipe required. It's one of those tried and true dishes that you can't screw up. So, in honoring this spirit of throwing-sh*t-together, I present to you 5 foods that you actually don't need a recipe to make--and make well. All you need is hunger, creativity, and a willingness to taste as you go.
Loaded Baked PotatoesIf you have a bag of bakers and lofty food goals, you're well on your way to some glorious stuffed and loaded entree taters. Stuff and top these spuds with whatever you have for a fun, game day-worthy dinner. For example, if all you have are some random pizza ingredients-- that's perfect. You can whip up something like these pepperoni pizza baked potatoes.
SoupIf you just start with a simple base, whether that is broth, a thicker roux-based situation, vegetable puree, or even water, you've got a great start to your journey toward the perfect soup or stew for you. The slow cooker is truly your friend on this one, because slow cookers let flavors meld for a long time over lower heat, allowing you to get a higher amount of flavor out of very simple ingredients. Suddenly, a simple ragtag group of produce scraps and leftovers from the week come together to form one big pot of deliciousness.
OatmealOne of my personal favorite dishes is a "kitchen sink" style oatmeal bowl. I used to eat one everyday while I was in college, and no, it wasn't because I couldn't afford anything else (most of the time)--I genuinely loved it. It was my daily staple for a long time. I tossed in random ingredients like coconut oil, honey, dried fruit, peanuts, and chocolate chips and it was always the best breakfast ever. Of course, if sweet isn't your thing, you can always hop aboard the savory train. Combine dried oatmeal with the required amount of liquid (you can use water, some milk, or chicken stock for savory), cook until tender and the liquid is absorbed, then stir in your own favorite add-ins and pile on the toppings.
SaladsSalads are typically what everyone thinks of when we talk about not needing a recipe. "Oh, a salad, it's just lettuce and stuff." Uh, no. On the contrary, (good) salads are more than that--they're just lettuce and awesome stuff. Salads have no rules. You can pile a sandwich on top of one. You can toss in cheeseburger chunks or fruit that you might never think to eat with vegetables. You can experiment with different dressings and pile on the grains, nuts, leftover roasted veggies, shaved raw veggies, cheese, etc. to your heart's content. Salads are the ultimate toss-in-what-you-have kind of deal and we love them for it. Salads are a great place to experiment with new flavor combos.
PastaThe pasta category is definitely one that doesn't require extensive recipes for great results. Pasta absorbs the flavors of ingredients around it, so all kinds of sauces and fresh veggies are perfect in a pasta. Some of the best pasta dishes of all times are dressed in the simplest ways--with little more than oil and cheese. Also, because anyone who's ever boiled pasta has accidentally boiled enough noodles to feed an army at some point, getting creative with the leftovers is a great exercise in resourcefulness. You can always add in some fresh ingredients and drizzle on a simple vinaigrette, then chill in the fridge for a refreshing pasta salad the next day. Experiment with different ingredients and you'll find something that you love.
Everyone has that favorite dish or meal up their sleeve that they never use a recipe for. What's yours? Let us know in the comments below.