When I started being able to make certain dishes without pulling out a recipe, I felt as if I had reached a new stage in being a home cook. It felt great.


I knew I’d come a long way from calling my best friend very early on in my marriage to ask what to do with the boned chicken breasts I had bought when the recipe I wanted to make called for boneless chicken breasts. She told me I should have bought boneless to begin with. “They make them that way?” I asked. Yep, I’ve come a long way.


Last week, The Kitchn had a list of 12 Recipes to Know by Heart that was compiled based on reader feedback. Tomato sauce, chili, chicken soup, roast chicken, frittata, risotto, biscuits, pancakes, no-knead bread, pesto, salad dressing, and fruit crisp or crumble made the list.


Some of the foods on the list require specific recipes like the no-knead bread or the biscuits, but others are techniques that once learned become jumping off points for cooking without a book. I’ve been learning lately that as I can become comfortable with techniques, like roasting a chicken, the cookbooks come out less frequently.


The Kitchn’s list is a good one; I can make several of those foods. I’d like to add a few dishes that are great to know by heart.


  • Hash – I recently started making this dish, and I’ve found it’s a great way to use up small amounts of leftover meat (but can certainly be meatless). It’s never the same dish twice, but it’s always savory and well-received. Learn the basics of hash, and you can throw it together for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Flat Bread Pizzas – I’m not sure if pizza is really the right word for this, but it’s the best I can come up with. I buy fresh Naan at the store and create pizzas with odds and ends from the refrigerator for lunch. You can put almost anything on top (like the rice and curry in the photo above). Last week our pizzas consisted of a light drizzle of garlic-infused olive oil, baby spinach leaves, slices from half a leftover red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and melted cheese. Pop in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes and lunch is served.
  • Slow Cooker Applesauce – Couldn’t be easier or yummier. I buy apples for about 50 cents a pound on the deep discount rack at the grocery store and make this delicious sauce that needs nothing added. My kids call it awesomesauce.
  • Salsa – I make this weekly (sometimes more) in the summer, and it gets devoured quickly.
  • Hummus – If you have a food processor, homemade hummus is easy to make and less expensive than store bought. Once you get the hand of basic hummus, you can start to customize it by adding roasted garlic, roasted red peppers (my personal favorite), eggplant or just about anything.

When you start to learn basic cooking techniques and recipes that you can put your own personal spin on, you’ll find that you’ll have fewer evenings of looking in the refrigerator and saying, “There’s nothing to eat.” Instead, you’ll see odds and ends of food and say, “I can make something with this.”


What are the recipes and techniques that you know by heart?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Cooking by heart
It's a great feeling when you can reach into your pantry and fridge, pull out the ingredients, and throw together a dish you know by heart.