I use recipes when I cook only perhaps 25% of the time. The remainder of the time I get an idea (often inspired by what I have on hand, or a recipe in one of my [many] cookbooks) and go from there.
I know that when I started cooking, the idea that it could be easy, intuitive, was awe-inspiring to me. I don't think I would have realized how relaxed and extemporaneous cooking could be if I hadn't had one friend who cooked like that — without a book, without worries, without a 'net' of any kind. And she cooked the most delicious food.
I would now like to be that friend to you, my blog reader. You, too, can cook without recipes. I am going to try and share my thought processes with you.
This dinner started with a partial can of Teeny Tiny Spice Company Vindaloo and unused farmshare potatoes and onions sprouting away in my cupboard.
Sauteeing an onion is where I start a lot of sishes — soups, curries, casseroles, etc. So I diced an onion and put it in the skillet with a generous amount of olive oil and butter. I put in a few spoonfuls of spice mix, and gently cooked the onion and spices together until the onion was translucent and I figured that the flavor of the spices had “bloomed” into the oil. That's a basic cooking premise: you put the spices in with the oil to get the most out of them. This comes up again and again in cooking of all sorts.
I cubed two smallish red potatoes and threw those in the skillet. I opened a can of chickpeas, rinsed the peas, and threw those in the skillet, too.
I opened a can of diced tomatoes, drained off most of the juice, and poured the tomatoes again. I simmered gently for a few minutes until the tomatoes had passed through the even-juicier stage and into the thickening-nicely stage, then tasted for seasoning. Unless I am making soup, I always drain canned diced tomatoes thoroughly. They release a huge amount of liquid even drained. Sometimes I drain them for soup,, too, if I don't want quite that much tomatoeyness in my life.
I tasted, and decided that the whole was too acidic, too tart. Basic cooking principle: creamy fatty things counterbalance acidic things. I wanted cream — we didn't have cream. I considered sour cream — we were out. I contemplated yogurt — decided I didn't want the sour tang. I had a sudden inspiration — coconut milk! — but we didn't have any of that either. (Plain milk would have watered it down too much.)
So I opened a can of evaporated milk (so useful to keep on hand) and added it in increments, tasting at every step. I ended up using the whole can.