Phyllis Good calls the approach to cooking that she captured in her latest cookbook âfree cookingâ or âimprovisation cookingâ. It is learning to cook without recipes, without precise measurements and without a list of ingredients. It’s about learning which ingredients make up a particular flavor profile and which disparate ingredients can be combined in harmony. This is how to build a salad or a soup, a sauce or a protein bowl, and how to make substitutions for the ingredients you don’t have.
This latest book from Good, titled âNo Recipe? No problem ! : How to prepare tasty meals without a recipe âis also, in a way, committee cooking.
One of the foundations of the book, which was published earlier this year, is a group of 14 experienced cooks from across the country and Canada – referred to by first names, only, to protect their privacy, Good says – who offer advice on everything from flavor combinations to cooking techniques, and from how to build a flavorful sauce to the basic ingredients or cookware you should keep in your home.
Good calls the group her cooking circle, which includes five people from the Lancaster area, she said.
With this expert advice scattered throughout the book, Good talks home cooks through techniques ranging from braising and grilling, to vegetable, pasta and egg dishes and through what to combine. in meals in a bowl or plate.
âThis is probably one of the funniest projects I’ve ever done,â Good says.
Good, of Lancaster, has sold over 14 million cookbooks – many of which are part of his hit series “Fix It and Forget It” – first through the old Good Books and later through Walnut Street Books, the two companies she ran with her husband. , Merle Good.
This book was published by a separate publisher, Storey Publishing.
âThey helped me organize this,â says Phyllis Good. “I just had a lot of material … I just had a really good editor.”
We asked Good a few questions about his new book. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Click here to see some excerpts from Good’s book.
Have you ever made a cookbook like this without recipes?
It’s all new. (In the previous books) there were always pretty clear ingredients, amounts, and instructions. Where, in this case, for the most part, if there’s something like a recipe, it’s just a matter of combining ingredients: Here’s how to think of what can go together.
I pledge not to waste food as much as possible. It’s like an ethic for me. And I want to make sure that when people get started on this project, they will be successful. I see it as a sort of road map or scaffolding.
Where and when did the idea for the book come from?
It started, I guess, four years ago, when I was considering doing another cookbook like that I had done in the past, and I was asking for recipes, or testing the idea with a group of people who have been on my list of contributors. And more and more of them are saying, âOh, I’m not using any recipes anymoreâ. And my kids – we have two daughters who are young adults – more and more they just don’t use recipes, and their friends don’t. And then I thought, well, you know, I’d love to cook more that way.
It seemed to me that this was a growing trend. And I think the pandemic was not planned when I started to work seriously on it, but it really showed that people were looking for inspiration. And they needed a little sense of adventure.
Tell me more about how the Cooking Circle was formed? Where did you find them?
Well I have maintained and developed a list of great cooks over the years. So, I am constantly working to attract new people that I know well in the kitchen. And they always know people who cook well. I just asked them, âYou kind of improvise in the way you cook, don’t you? “
I carefully questioned them before including them. I wanted to be really sure that we understood improvisation cooking the same way. And I really have nuggets in this book. It was just everything I hoped for and more.
The only one (circle member), Eugene, is a retired fashion designer, and he said, âWell, I just pick ingredients that I think are interesting, then I Google, ‘stuff with pistachios’ and I watch what’s going on. … I just look at the photos and it gives me ideas. And it turns out he lived a very secular life, but his mother had Amish roots and he credits her for learning to respect ingredients and how formative that was in his kitchen.
One of the big gems here is from a guy who lives here in the city. He said, âWell, we don’t grow lemons in Lancaster, but I really like what acids do for a dish. We grow rhubarb, and I just keep a lot of chopped rhubarb in the freezer, and it’s hot, it tastes different. It will chemically do the same kind of brightening (like lemons) and bring to life a kind of dull dish.
And then … someone else (in the circle) said, if you want to experiment with adding an aroma, don’t just mix it in the big pot, and if that doesn’t work, then all the pot goes. Put it in a small corner of the dish, and taste it. Or pour two spoonfuls into a mug and add a pinch of it, stir it in there and taste it and see if it works.
So, it is practical. I said this book is a road map, it’s scaffolding, but it’s also like hanging out in the kitchen with some of the best cooks you can imagine who are great storytellers, and they love what happens. happening when they work in the kitchen.
What did you learn from your cooking circle and what kinds of tips have been incorporated into the book?
One is the function of sauces, and how redeeming a sauce can be, if you’ve created something but it’s not quite there. Let’s say you’ve made a pork tenderloin, in a sautÃ© pan, and there are those gorgeous brown chunks left at the bottom, add some white wine and just stir it over low heat and it magically relaxes. And then ask, “Do I want to add some tarragon to this, dry or cool?” You can try it and taste it, and soon you will have a nice sauce. Either you can eat it as is, or you can put it on pasta or on cereal, or on vegetables.
We were raised in a tradition here where all you have to do is put brown butter on something. But you can actually sautÃ© shallots or garlic in it and chop a few sundried tomatoes.
And there’s another gem from (Circle Member) Margaret, who is another friend of mine here in town. She said, âI do what I call ‘plan-overs’, not leftovers. I purposely make double the batch of quinoa or black beans, whatever you eat, and they’re like my surety for the next meal. If you are going to do âscheduled revivals,â don’t season that initial batch with everything you’ve done. Because it will limit you when it comes to preparing the second meal.
I learned a lot about replacements. Corn and potatoes are both important carbs, and we think potatoes might be a kind of filling for a stew or a base for something you want to put on top. But if you don’t have potatoes and really care about something that needs good, stable carbs in the center, corn will work in many cases.
Who do you see as the audience for this book?
It’s several audiences. They are people like me who have been cooking for a long time and would just like a little advice. I am not bored with good recipes. But I would like a little help to be a little more free.
Others are people like my daughters friends who think they are really good at it, but if you ask the people who have been at their table how it is they will say, eh, all or nothing . I want to respect their sense of adventure and confidence, but I would just like to give them some advice. (For example) Chicken breasts can be overcooked in a minute. If you use chicken thighs, you will probably have a much more succulent dish.
It is for them that I put in the “reminders” and the formulas to know how to make the grains well, what proportion of liquid and grain, and how long to cook them.
Did your personal cooking style change during the pandemic?
Yes, I was very influenced by this book. I felt such gratitude. It kind of prepared me to do more of what I wouldn’t have done otherwise, I think. It made me more adventurous because of what I had learned; I felt, I can do it. I understand the principles.