There’s something incredibly satisfying about coming home after a long day and digging into a home-cooked meal. But for a lot of people, making dinner from scratch is a daunting task; you have to look for a recipe, make sure you have all the ingredients that it calls for, and hope that you know how to execute the necessary cooking techniques. Fortunately, there are a number of delicious and filling meals that you can make from scratch without a recipe. With just a little bit of cooking knowledge, you can make an amazing meal using the ingredients you already have in your kitchen.
One of the most important things to know when you’re cooking without a recipe is that it’s okay to improvise. If you learned to make risotto using yellow onions and garlic but only have shallots on hand, use them. Don’t have honey to glaze your pork tenderloin? Try maple syrup instead. As long as you use a similar type of ingredient and adhere to the basic cooking method, your dish will turn out just fine. Don’t be afraid to make substitutions that make sense based on your taste, pantry, or budget.
When you’re cooking without a recipe, don’t forget to taste the dish periodically if you can (you should refrain from tasting raw or undercooked meat and raw eggs). This will allow you to determine whether the dish is seasoned appropriately and, if it’s not, to adjust it according to your taste. Flavors change as temperature changes and as cooking liquids are reduced, so taste the dish a few times during the cooking process to ensure that you’re happy with its flavor.
If you’re looking for a few good meals that you can whip up without worrying about a recipe, we’ve got some ideas to get you started.
Fish in Parchment
Cooking fish in parchment paper (or aluminum foil packets) is one of the easiest ways to make a complete meal quickly and without a lot of clean-up. Simply season your fish filet with salt and pepper and then place it on the paper along with chopped vegetables like onions, peppers, broccoli, or potatoes. Add a pat of butter or a drizzle of olive oil and any other seasonings that you’d like (lemon, sprigs of thyme, etc.). Then, seal the paper so that it forms a pouch around the fish and bake the packet in a 375-degree oven until the fish is cooked through, generally about 12-13 minutes.
Making a protein-packed frittata is a great way to use up leftovers. Preheat your broiler and melt some butter in a non-stick, oven-safe pan. Add any leftovers that you have on hand (like sautéed greens, cooked quinoa, pieces of ham or chicken, or roasted vegetables) to the pan and then pour in 6 lightly whisked eggs. Cook the frittata on the stove for 4 to 5 minutes until it starts to set up and then finish it in the broiler, about 3 to 4 minutes more. Serve it with crusty bread or a simple salad for a complete meal.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.