What does “life beyond recipes” mean?

In my book, it means being able to do all of this:

  1. Know Yourself as a Cook.
  2. Understand Ingredients.
  3. See Recipes as Springboards (as opposed to “join-me-or-die!” decrees from the Powerful Cooks That Be).
  4. Become a Substitute Boss.

All of which leads to: Embracing your power in your kitchen.

Le Chou Fou* is here to help you do all of that, to show you life beyond recipes, and to help you become a Powerful Cook That Is.

Here’s what the points above mean in a little more detail:

Life Beyond Recipes Step 1: Know Yourself as a Cook

Life Beyond Recipes: Know Yourself as a Cook

Set aside about 20 minutes to start a page that you add to through the week. If you want something ready-made and fun to write on, sign up here for my mailing list, and you’ll get a super cute worksheet and all future downloads, exclusively available to subscribers. (See Step 4 for a preview of the substitution list currently in the works). Or just take some scratch paper and write down the following:

  1. Foods I/we love. These are the things you return to again and again, probably things where you’re already living beyond recipes.
  2. Foods I/we hate. Whether you’re cooking for one or for you and other folks, list your quirks.
  3. Foods I end up making a lot  but are kind of meh.
  4. How often I try something new.
  5. How often I’d like to try something new.
  6. If there’s a discrepancy between the 2 above items, what’s the issue?
  7. My routine. Everything from “I Hate Mondays and Never Want to Cook Then,” “Crazy Schedule Day,” to “Taco Tuesdays: non-negotiable.”
  8. My top kitchen goals. Pick one thing you’d like to do more than anything in the kitchen. Maybe it’s “try one new vegetable a week,” or “get my family to eat more salad,” or “make a killer meatloaf without cracking open a cookbook.” Star the top priority.

Once you understand yourself and what you eat, the right cooking path—one just for you—is a lot easier to define.

Life Beyond Recipes Step 2: Understand Ingredients.

If you know how a particular ingredient works, you’ll know how to prepare it. In the “Ingredients” section of this site (under “Kitchen How-to” in the main menu), I’ll be adding posts about how to put the building blocks of great meals—vegetables, sauces, spices, and more—to work for you. And please feel free to get in touch with any how-tos you’d like me to cover.

Life Beyond Recipes Step 3: Engage in Recipe Improv.

Recipe Improv: Be Inspired, Not a Slave to someone else's great idea

Life beyond recipes does not mean you never look at a recipe again. I love to look at recipes. I do it all the time: blogs, cookbooks, magazines.

But they’re not scripts. They’re inspirations.

I will follow a recipe fairly closely if it’s for something new, because that’s how you expand your repertoire and learn new things. I follow them very carefully if I’m baking, because baking is precise. But for our mains 80% of the time, I’m just cooking stuff.

This post, Recipe Improv, shows you how to get inspired by someone else’s great idea without being enslaved to it (hence the subtitle). The recipes you find on this site also invite you to adapt as you like, telling you what you can expect by switching it up.

Above all, have fun. Give yourself permission to fail. I cook a lot, and at least once a week, I’ll say to whoever I’m eating with (usually Steve, sometimes my son Henry), here’s what I’ll do different next time. Perfection is dull. Live it up.

Life Beyond Recipes Step 4: Become a Substitute Boss.

Life Beyond Recipes: Become a Substitute Boss

One of the most valuable things you can know in your kitchen is how to substitute. Coming soon: the handy Master Kitchen Substitution List (free when you sign-up for my email list, along with the “Know Yourself as a Cook” cheat sheet, available now).

Key to making the most of substitutes is the “everything out” rule before you start cooking. I doubt there’s a cook on the planet who hasn’t gotten halfway through a recipe, only to find that the one thing that basically makes or breaks the meal got eaten or tossed or just wasn’t there. This is pretty bad when you’ve hit the “point of no return” and you’re not prepared.

But with the “everything out,” even when you don’t use a recipe, you’ll be in great shape. But if you don’t have, say, BBQ sauce or salsa, a good grasp on substitutes helps you figure out how to fake it.

So Dig In.

Le Chou Fou is here to help you experience Life Beyond Recipes and total Kitchen Confidence. Because I want you to know that, with a little basic knowledge, you can cook faster and have a lot more fun while you’re doing it.

Shine on, crazy cabbages.

*Le Chou Fou is French for “the crazy cabbage.” “Chou” is also a term of endearment in France, usually used for children.