Listen to Your Gut

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through my cooking adventures is to trust my gut. The more I cook and the more I experiment in the kitchen, the more I learn and the more comfortable I get with ingredients and equipment. I’m learning what flavors work well together and what flavors don’t blend well. I’m learning that recipes aren’t always perfect and most can use a little tweaking. I’m learning what ingredients can be used as substitutes for other ingredients and when substitutions just won’t work. I think anyone who really works at cooking can learn the basics and be able to put a meal on the table (Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America has helped two TV seasons worth of terrible cooks—people who can’t even boil water—learn to cook delicious meals). However, I think it takes a real passion for food, a love of learning, and trust in oneself (and one’s taste buds) to be a really good cook. If you can take criticism well and pick yourself back up after you make a crappy meal, then that’s all the better.

It’s exciting to feel confident in my growing cooking skills and my knowledge of food, but it’s definitely an ongoing process and there are certainly bumps in the road along the way. Tonight was one of those bumps in the road: by ignoring my gut instinct about the recipe I was following, the resulting dish really didn’t work. I’d found a fantastic-looking recipe for fettuccine with zucchini ribbons and walnuts and I was excited to try it out. It’s a sauce-less dish, but for flavor, a paste-like mixture of anchovies, fresh garlic, and crushed red pepper is added to the dish. Now, I’m in a bit of an awkward position when it comes to following recipes because most serve 4 people or 6-8 people, but I’m only cooking for 3. This means I can’t simply halve a recipe, because there wouldn’t be enough for my family, but I don’t want to make a full recipe (especially one that serves 6-8) because that’s just more temptation to eat bigger servings (and when you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy, that’s no good) and we don’t need leftovers cluttering the fridge. So, I have to go with my gut and decide how much of each ingredient I’ll need. Unfortunately tonight, I didn’t listen to my gut when it told me “the two anchovies called for in this recipe seems like a bit much because they have such a strong flavor,” and I used the call-for amount. The result was a pasta dish with a fairly overpowering anchovy flavor and some light-hearted criticism from my parents. While eating, I thought over how I could change the dish to make it better and I’m confident that, if I made it again, I’d trust my gut and it would work out well.

Looks lovely, but the anchovies in this dish were far too overpowering and it almost ruined the meal

So, now I know what to try next time, but the recipe is tucked away inside my recipe binder for now, because there are countless more recipes in books, on TV and the Internet, and in my head waiting for me to try them out. I just have to be sure to listen to my gut when I make them. Lesson learned.

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