Cook Without a Recipe!

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Good day. My job is recipes, same as Stephen Curry’s is draining threes. But I don’t always cook with them, and I know I’m not alone. In fact, for years now I’ve used some of my space in this Wednesday newsletter to argue explicitly that you should set regular time in your cooking schedule each week not to cook with recipes, but to improvise off themes: stir-fries, say, or salads, braised chicken thighs or pasta bakes. It’s fun to cook that way, and it helps you develop your kitchen skills along the way. I called these exercises no-recipe recipes, and they were both fun to discover and write.

Amazingly, my colleague Mark Josephson kept track of them, clipping the paragraphs into a running file. And not so very long ago we went through them to find some highlights we could photograph, in order to put together a special collection of recipes that we have published today, “You Don’t Need a Recipe.”

Now, for instance, you could make quick-broiled pork chops with peanuts and gochujang, riffing off my words. You could pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home, and make chicken salad with greens and herbs. I like this New Mexican hot dish. And this hasselback kielbasa (above) as well.

You might try speedy fish chowder. And miso-glazed eggplant with rice. Amatriciana on the fly? Or a kale salad that may at this late date convert you to kale!

There are dozens more examples in the section itself, ideas for what to cook tonight and real soon. So check that out and then make sure this weekend to look out for the I.R.L. hard copy, a special tabloid “cookbook” section that will accompany Sunday’s printed editions of The Times.

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In the more immediate future, tomorrow brings Valentine’s Day. It would be sweet to take an early slide this afternoon, head home to make Melissa Clark’s new recipe for chocolate-dipped shortbread hearts. You could deliver the cookies in the morning to your work spouse, send them with a child to school, make dinner for someone special and then have them for dessert. Valentine’s Day may be a holiday of commercialism, a lot of cash exchanged for red roses and cubic zirconium. But you can eat well during it, celebrating excess masked as love. (Or maybe it’s the opposite?)

So! Here is David Tanis’s smart recipe for lazy lobster, a chef’s take on an old fish-house special, the meat swimming in butter and topped with fresh herbs, no bib required. Here is Mark Bittman’s recipe for steak Diane, perhaps the highest use of filet mignon. You could make my recipe for turkey cutlets Marsala, which I adapted from Elizabeth David. You could make Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe for a caviar sandwich instead. I’d like that very much, if you made it for me.

Many thousands of other things to cook for Valentine’s and other days are on NYT Cooking. You will need a subscription to access them, because subscriptions are what keep us in bread. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, though, if you’d like cheap inspiration. And you can write us with complaints or problems or exhortations of joy: [email protected] (For myself, I’m at [email protected])

Now, before you fire up the stove and start cooking, won’t you read this beautiful critical essay about the great old restaurants of Los Angeles? It’s by our California restaurant critic, Tejal Rao.

While you’re at it, check out this ace profile of the American pastry and sweets czarina Christina Tosi, founder of the Milk Bar chain, by Kim Severson. The comments on the article are particularly spicy.

And it’s nothing to do with cereal milk or Dan Tana’s, but if everyone around you isn’t already talking about “Russian Doll,” on Netflix, they oughta be. You should watch and tell them yourself!

Finally, and I know I’m late to it, but you could get started reading Sarah Smarsh’s “Heartland” today, and be done by the weekend.

I’ll be back on Friday. Cook something soon.

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