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Master the Basics With 13 Dishes to Learn by Heart

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If you are anything like me, you forgo heavy cookbooks in favor of reading recipes on a lighter, more mobile screen. And maybe your laptop has also survived tomato sauce splatters, or your phone has narrowly dodged a dunk in dressing. It’s a challenge to juggle cooking and reading, all while managing to not place my phone near a lit burner.

Some dishes are complicated enough to need a recipe, but more often I simply haven’t familiarized myself with the steps. Do I really need to read instructions to make marinara sauce? Or to cobble together a compote? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m resolving to learn these classics by heart. No more following a recipe for pancakes or fried rice or chicken stock. And (hopefully) no more close calls with my phone in the kitchen. Here's how:

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How to Make Pancakes Without a Recipe
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How to Make Pancakes Without a Recipe

Cheat sheet: Remember the ratio of 1 cup flour : 1 cup milk : 1 egg. Combine wet and dry ingredients, add your favorite mix-ins, cook on medium heat in a skillet until the pancakes are dry around the edges and you can see bubbles forming on the top, flip, cook until golden underneath. Top with syrup to your heart's desire!

Of Course the Endlessly Adaptable Frittata Needs No Recipe
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Of Course the Endlessly Adaptable Frittata Needs No Recipe

Cheat sheet: Season the eggs before whisking, choose an appropriate baking vessel (a nonstick, oven-proof skillet is ideal), select your fillings (herbs, spices, cheese, meats, seafood, and vegetables are good options), mix, pour and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 300°F.

How to Make Chicken Stock Without a Recipe

How to Make Chicken Stock Without a Recipe by Jestei

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How to Make Vegetable Stock Without a Recipe

How to Make Vegetable Stock Without a Recipe by Marian Bull

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Cheat sheet: Gather your ingredients (chicken bones and skin, or your favorite vegetables and their scraps), combine them in a large pot of salted water, bring to a boil, simmer, partially covered, for an hour or two, then a mesh strainer or a colander to drain your stock. Use for soups galore!

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Follow This Formula, Make Meal-Worthy Salads with Just This & That
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Follow This Formula, Make Meal-Worthy Salads with Just This & That

Cheat sheet: For filling, composed salads, combine leaves, something fatty and rich, a myriad of vegetables, protein, something punchy, and something crunchy. Layer or toss, then enjoy.

How to Make Fried Rice Without a Recipe
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How to Make Fried Rice Without a Recipe

Cheat sheet: Start by heating a wok over high heat, add bite-sized chopped vegetables (carrots, peas, broccoli, and napa cabbage, to name a few) and cooked meat. Move the heated mixture aside and scramble eggs in the open pan space, then stir in leftover medium- to long-grain cooked rice, soy sauce, and sesame oil and heat until everything is heated through.

How to Make Biryani Without a Recipe
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How to Make Biryani Without a Recipe

Cheat sheet: Make a spice blend (combine oil, a root vegetable, and your main curry base), then chop and brown your aromatics, pick a base for your sauce (tomatoes, yogurt, or coconut milk). Simmer for 15 to 25 minutes to cook down the liquid then add your main protein (beef, mutton, seafood, or vegetables) and cook until the sauce thickens, layer with par-cooked rice, cover and steam the entire dish until heated through.

The Classic Soup Combination You'll Riff on 100 Times This Winter
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The Classic Soup Combination You'll Riff on 100 Times This Winter

Cheat sheet: Begin by sautéing some alliums (like leeks, shallots, red onion, scallions, onions, and garlic) in a fat, add liquid and legumes and simmer to combine, then splash in a little acid to deepen and brighten the flavor. Lastly add the greens and simmer until just cooked.

A Handy Guide to Mixed Grain Rice Bowls (No Recipes Needed!)
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A Handy Guide to Mixed Grain Rice Bowls (No Recipes Needed!)

Cheat sheet: Cook some grains, add protein of your choice, something crunchy, something creamy, and something green. Add dressing or vinaigrette then toss!

Make Any Pesto in 5

Make Any Pesto in 5 by Phyllis Grant

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How to Make Any Marinara Sauce in 5 Steps (and 20 Minutes)

How to Make Any Marinara Sauce in 5 Steps (and 20 Minutes) by cookinginvictoria

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Pesto cheat sheet: Make a paste out of one clove of garlic and a bit of salt, add toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, and pine nuts are good choices), grated firm cheese (such as parmesan, asiago, or pecorino) and blend, then add herbs or greens (basil, parsley, mint, arugula, etc.) and purée until you have a thick, green paste, then finish with glugs of olive oil.

Marinara cheat sheet: Mince and sauté the garlic over low heat, add tomatoes (drain them first, if using canned) and turn up the heat to let the mixture reduce and thicken. Finish with fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste.

How to Piccata Anything
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How to Piccata Anything

Cheat sheet: Begin by preparing your proteins (chicken, fish, tofu, or beans), then make a sauce using sautéed onions or garlic, stock, lemon juice, white wine, and capers, add the protein, and pile over a starch (ideally, pasta).

How to Make Granola Without a Recipe
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How to Make Granola Without a Recipe

Cheat sheet: Toss oats and add-ins (such as nuts, seeds, and coconut, but minus any chocolate) into a large bowl, drizzle with a sweeter (brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey), vanilla, and canola or olive oil, mix, then bake on a sheet at 350°F until crispy, golden, and toasty. Serve over yogurt or eat by the handful.

What's your favorite not recipe? Share the meals you've memorized below!

Tags: no recipes, kitchen skills