I got the loveliest compliment the other day. Someone kindly commented that they thought my cooking was 'creative'. I thought this was especially nice since I have the same cooking ruts as anyone else and when I wake up in the morning before I think about organic gluten-free blueberry cornmeal pancakes or steamy hot muffins from the oven, I'm usually already munching on a very benign bowl of cereal with milk.
What I thought was most funny was that only five years ago when I first got married, I couldn't locate a can opener or figure out how to microwave pre-made rice. So, being labeled as creative was quite the improvement. I came from good stock though, my mom is an incredible cook (as most girls think of their moms) but I still laugh at my mom's horror stories about serving raw chicken or a whole artichoke when she first got married. It was always good consolation for me to know that if she improved that much that there was hope for me too.
I think one of the secrets of being a good cook/baker is knowing where to find a good recipe and the other would be using premium ingredients: fair-trade sugar, fresh-ground flour, farm fresh-picked organic produce and raw milk (and so forth).
But I'm a substitution cook. I rarely have all the ingredients I need, so I'm always swapping out things and putting my own little twist on things. For the most part, this usually works and I usually find great recipes that highlight wonderfully fabulous seasonal foods.
But I've had my flops: like homemade bread that came out without rising and was so dense it was only good for cutting up and making croutons or a chocolate cake I made with quinoa that my husband was too embarrassed to take out of the car to bring into the office.
So, one of my final big secrets is that I'm a hail-Mary cook. If dinner/dessert is just for me, I usually don't bother, but if I'm making something for someone else, in the middle of my mess in the kitchen I throw up a quick prayer:
"Lord, I'm trying to bless (so-and-so) and I would really like this (such-and-such) dish to turn out well so it won't be a distraction to our evening. Please let this come together beautifully. Amen."
And it usually does.