I’ve pretty much curated my recipes to the point that I have most of the staple ingredients on hand at all times. But sometimes I do get caught in the middle.
Fortunately, I’ve been cooking long enough that I can usually pivot and substitute another ingredient that will also work and taste good, even if it isn’t the same thing I started out to make.
Like this past week I was going to make pumpkin muffins and discovered the can of pumpkin I just KNEW was in the pantry, was imaginary. But we did have some frozen blueberries, so it turned into blueberry muffins.
For following recipes, it’s the physical transfer from looking away at a cookbook or printout, then back to my workspace, where I lose track of things. I stuck a pushpin in my cupboard door right above my main workspace, and I hang the recipe card from a binder clip. That way it’s at eye level, and I miss things a lot less.
Another tip I got from a productivity book is “mise en place”. This is the way they cook in restaurants or culinary school. I pull out everything I need for the recipe – ingredients and tools – and arrange it before I start working on it. That helps a lot.
You are correct about recipe times. They are total BS and bear no relationship to reality at all. Three minutes to caramelize onions? On what planet?
But my main saving grace is that I rarely cook from recipes. I’ve got a few techniques under my belt, so I read them to get the concept of WHAT it is –
This is a stir-fry with shrimp and noodles.
This is a baked pasta dish with tomato sauce.
This is a pureed soup with a roux base.
And then I just use whatever I have on hand to make it. I’ve made cornbread with cream cheese instead of eggs (it’s protein and fat). Delicious.
I’ve substituted yogurt for buttermilk, or apple-cider vinegar for white wine. Coconut oil for butter in a pie crust. Polenta is basically the same thing as grits.
I’m not feeding America’s Test Kitchen. I’m feeding the hungry people at my table who don’t give a hoot as long as it’s tasty and comes in large quantities.