Intuitive Cooking

2015-01-12 18.08.57

Happy New Year! Sorry for my absence. I still owe holiday feast recipes.

A valuable thing I learned from watching my mother cook (on festive occasions) was how to cook intuitively. SueG had an expert grasp on what would make a recipe work for her and taste just as she wished. As with everything else, she was fearless in changing out an ingredient if it didn’t make sense to her or she didn’t like it or she didn’t have it on hand.

This knowledge of how to cook intuitively was transmitted to me tacitly, as opposed to being something that she described explicitly. Now I think of it, isn’t that the best way to teach your own child? Children so resist instruction.

Intuitive cooking starts with looking at a recipe, evaluating it as a possible fit for one’s taste, lifestyle and needs. When I read a recipe I imagine myself making it to see if any individual task looks too onerous or if any ingredient too difficult to obtain at my rather plebeian grocery store. (I am willing to order ingredients or go out of my way to buy things for exotic recipes I really want to try, but for the most part I want to be able to make it easily.)

Once I can see myself working through the recipe, the next thing I imagine is the taste of it. What ingredient or ingredients are the engine that will drive the flavor of the dish? If none is obvious, it will be too bland and I put it aside. This is not to say every dish has to be “spicy” (though I do like heat), just that it needs to have clear and compelling flavors.

After that, I look at the individual ingredients to see if they make sense to me in the quantities and combinations prescribed. I find most recipes warrant some kind of adjustment by my lights. I also estimate quantities for things like chicken broth in a recipe. I only measure things that will be significant (the amount of liquid when making risotto, for example, or the ratio of flour and butter when making a roux). SueG resisted exactitude, and I do, too.

Let’s see how this works with a recipe I made last night, Weeknight Lemon Chicken from Cooking Light magazine (see photo, top). See my notes within. Here’s the page:


  • 12 ounces baby red potatoes, halved (when we are watching carbs, I would not use these. The presence of a lot of other veggies means it will work without them.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided (because it’s Cooking Light, the recipe calls for a small amount. I used at least 2T.) 
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 3/4-inch thickness (I use super-thin cutlets.)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 4 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered (or whatever kind of mushrooms you like, I used more than 4oz.) 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup whole milk (doesn’t have to be whole)
  • 5 teaspoons all-purpose flour (I measured to get the proportion right for the sauce)
  • 1 3/4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson) (I eyeballed this. If you only  have salted stock, reduce somewhat the amount of salt you add.)
  • 8 very thin lemon slices (I adore lemon, so this dish was a go for me.) 
  • 1 (8-ounce) package trimmed haricots verts (French green beans) (my store had only regular green beans and they were fine. Haricots verts would certainly be more elegant.)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil, and simmer 12 minutes or until tender. Drain.

3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan (I used more). Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken and thyme sprigs to pan; cook 5 minutes or until chicken is browned. Turn chicken over. Place pan in oven; bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until chicken is done (if you use super-thin cutlets, as I did, you will not need to oven-roast them to cook through). Remove chicken from pan.

4. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Add potatoes, cut sides down; mushrooms; and 1 tablespoon thyme (a whole tablespoon of fresh thyme! Along with lemon, these are the flavors that drive the taste); cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring once. Combine milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk (stir very well in advance or you will have flour lumps). Add remaining salt, remaining pepper, flour mixture, stock, lemon, and beans to pan; simmer 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Add chicken; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until beans are crisp-tender. Sprinkle with parsley.

General note: Most of the specified cooking times above were too short. I added a few minutes to each; be careful not to overcook the beans, which are delicious a bit crisp.

SueG would approve of this dish, but not on a weeknight (too fancy for that!). It’s tasty, pretty and healthy. It requires a fair number of ingredients but is quick and only two pans to wash. Thumbs up!


One thought on “Intuitive Cooking

  1. I’m so excited to find your blog! Reading it brings back special memories of my mum. She would adjust a recipe then when father would ask about it she would start by saying “it is the same except . . .” which for sone reason would cause father to have an apoplectic rage. He was a bully and a drunken lout. He would rail on that she should not say “IT’S NOT THE GODDAM SAME IF YOU CHANGED IT!”


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