My favorite way to cook is without a recipe. I look in the refrigerator with no particular plan in mind and conjure up something for a tasty meal. It's one of the many reasons I want my kids in the kitchen with me. Teaching them the skill of culinary improv is a gift that will always deliver.
While knowing how to slice, chop, sauté and roast are all important when it comes to whipping up a spontaneous meal, they're not the most critical. It's hard to take any chances, in the kitchen or out, without a certain level of confidence. It's too easy to toss a frozen pizza in the oven if you're worrying that your own cooking might not be good.
One way to gain confidence in the kitchen is to learn a particular technique or basic recipe that you can then experiment with using different ingredients. Roasted stuffed chicken breasts are one that I go to often. Once you get the idea of cutting a pocket in the breast and learn how long to roast it, the stuffing and a quick sauce can take on any number of forms. My youngest son loves ricotta cheese, but it has a fairly neutral flavor, so I like to mix it with more flavorful ingredients such as Parmesan, basil and garlic. The "sauce" is simply chopped cherry tomatoes, more basil and a little olive oil. Easy.
Here are a few favorite combinations to help get your creative juices flowing.
• Stuffing: ham and Gruyère cheese. Sauce: Dijon mustard mixed with a little light mayo.
• Stuffing: goat cheese and chopped canned artichoke hearts. Sauce: sour cream, whole-grain mustard and tarragon.
• Stuffing: spinach and feta cheese. Sauce: chopped tomatoes, kalamata olives, red wine vinegar, olive oil.
While these aren't full blown recipes, they are enough to provide a little inspiration and, I hope, the confidence to go into your kitchen knowing you can make a meal out of whatever you have on hand.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.