For most of my childhood, I believed that my dad knew how to cook. When called upon, he could reliably make pasta bolognese, tacos, and hamburgers without much effort and certainly without a cookbook. I never questioned why these were the only dishes he made, though I did wonder why they were all composed of ground beef (this question remains unanswered). As an adult, I’ve realized that most people don’t study cooking at their grandmother’s elbow, or ever fully learn how to cook at all. Instead, they manage to fool the world with a little creativity and a few adaptable recipes.
There are two ways a recipe becomes nestled in your back pocket forever. Either it’s prepared so many times that it cannot possibly be expelled from your memory, or it’s so simple that you can’t possibly screw it up. Think about the recipes you turn to most often: odds are they can be tweaked so they’re easier to remember, or they’re reduced to a ratio, which you can scale depending on the number of people you’re feeding. If it seems sacreligious to fiddle with a beloved recipe, consider how many “classic” recipes were devised to sell boxes of baking mix, cans of soup, and bags of chocolate chips. Don’t feel bad about tweaking your gammy’s apple crisp to better suit your needs—she’d probably just be happy that you’re making it, and that you’re making the recipe your own!
Here are a few “back-pocket recipes” that I turn to in a pinch, always scaling and adapting to suit my needs at a given time. Maybe they’ll become part of your regular rotation.