It seems that no matter how many exotic pantry ingredients I have (and I have items from the far corners of the globe), I am always missing something. ALWAYS.
Although this is frustrating and generally leads to the purchasing of even more items, it has helped forge my philosophy of fearless cooking. When I don’t have an ingredient, spice, or piece of equipment, I improvise. Sometimes the results are wonderful, sometimes strange, and only on a rare occasion do they end up down the disposal. Over the years, I have learned what flavors and textures work well together, how to improvise when I am missing something and most importantly to be confident and fearless when in the kitchen.
Many novice cooks have become slaves to the cookbook and will not attempt a recipe without all of the ingredients. They fear that the dish will not come out “right.” It is true that some things, like cakes, do require an exact recipe but with most savory dishes, this is just not the case. I am not advocating tossing the cookbook. I have hundreds myself which I use to spark my taste buds and inspire me. But the job of the cookbook is to help you cook, give you ideas, teach you techniques, expose you to new flavors not to paralyze you in the kitchen.
The next time you come across a recipe and are inspired to cook but don’t have everything, don’t bail so quickly. Assess the recipe. Is it a key ingredient? Do you have something similar either in flavor or texture? Can you change the recipe slightly to fit the kitchen equipment you do have? Be fearless, modify the recipe and see what happens! The worst that happens is you order take-out.