I sometimes wonder why it is that I enjoy cooking, and after all the years I’ve been doing it, and doing it with passion only in the past four years or so, I’ve found the answer.

Or some of it.

When I was in my early 20s, one of my friends’ moms, an ordinarily wonderful, saintly type, gently chided me for thinking that I could actually put together a thanksgiving dinner on my own at my ‘tender young age’. “It takes years of experience to do it successfully,” she told me with absolute certainty and gentle amusement.

My momma taught me to be polite to my elders, though, and I just smiled and didn’t actively disagree with her. But that statement just rankled at me…certainly till several years later when I prepared a Thanksgiving dinner…on my own…for my girlfriend and her daughter.

I did it all, even to rolling my own pastry dough and baking those damn pies…all by my lonesome. Hooray for me. At the time, the secret to being a successful cook was reduced to the capacity to read and understand a recipe and to be moderately organized.

Still, what with an established ability to cook based on my ability to read, adapt, and pull my experience together to be a successful home cook, the greatest moments are when I make up my own recipes.

This happened only this past week–in spades.

It all started on Monday when I opted to make ‘croque monsieurs’ but all I had was some sliced organic turkey meat. So…I bought some brioche slider buns and made a quick roux (butter, flour, milk, shallots and a bit of gruyere cheese), added a few chopped walnuts, some baby spinach leaves, and layered all for a croque gobbler. Even if I do say so myself…very nice.

The next morning, I made some baked eggs. Hollowing out two leftover brioche buns, I started with a laid out bed of wilted spinach, crumbled bacon, and fried brioche crumbs, and put the egg in the bun holes atop the spinach mixture and baked it for about fifteen minutes. Good again!

And you know? I couldn’t have done this myself without having previously learned through trial and error about how to make a souffle, which means making a roux, or that there even was such a thing as baking eggs. A long-time scrambled egg fan, in the past couple of years poaching eggs, baking them…it’s all become another option when faced with…what to make.

Yesterday I made Beth’s Tuna, a delightful and simple combination of canned tuna, celery, tomato, zucchini, bell peppers, and onions, all held together with a simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and an egg yolk. I only had my basic memory as the recipe seems to have disappeared, but all in all, another satisfying make.

Don’t get me wrong–recipes are great, but there is nothing like facing a cupboard and pantry and refrigerator with no plan other than basing one’s meal on what food is available, the Food Network’s Chopped show where chefs are given a basket of ingredients, usually with a couple of odd items, and are instructed to make a dessert, an appetizer, or even a main dish. What do you do with a selection of artichokes, rice flour, and a box of Jujubee candies?

I’m now at the point where I feel very confident in my cooking skills, as well as in my ability to adjust on the fly and make changes to recipes or presentations as necessary, I dare to say that I am at least at the top of my game amidst all my local friends and associates, for whatever that is worth. I may not be ready for Chopped, the tv show, but I’d be willing to test my mettle on Master Chef. I doubt I’d win, but it would be fun to try.

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