A full sensory experience in the comfort of your own home, with your creativity directing the next steps.
It's a weeknight, I'm in the kitchen with ingredients and cooking utensils out, cookbook open in front of me ready for my next adventure. Cooking for me is escapism. It's an hour or so of time to concentrate only on what's in front of me, with the option to dial up the creativity or follow a recipe and get lost in the process.
Over the past couple of years I've become a lot more adventurous with home cooking and flavour combinations. I no longer have a fairly set menu of repeat meals, with an occasional new-try. Instead it's the opposite, infrequently making the same dishes through the week, until it comes down to limited time or limited cupboard stock.
With every cook I'm learning how flavours work together, what method is best to cook different ingredients and where I need instruction over creative flair. The process of following a recipe is still what I gravitate towards, allowing me to turn off through concentrating on something therapeutic.
The process of measuring out spices, of chopping up vegetables; hearing onions sizzle away in the pan and smelling the start of my next meal, it all forms part of the joy of cooking for me. Keeping track of timings across different parts of the cook, before each element culminates in a plate for my taste buds to explore.
And that's the reward, the meal that's come out of a process I enjoy. Whether it's as simple as a salad, or an all-encompassing spicy curry that's been simmering on the hob, the cook and the reward are my happy place. Something to be proud of and something I've created, from as basic a level as I have time or ingredients for.
My favourite recipes are those that I can recite from memory or that I had real excitement to be eating. Those are the ones that I can afford to have some creativity with, improving on with each cook and continuing the joy of cooking with recipes I've been using for years.
From home comforts like lasagne or macaroni cheese, to my new favourites like fragrant noodle broths and spiced cauliflower curries, there's room for experimenting with each, or sticking to the usual formula. And that's where the joy of cooking lies - it's a mini adventure, always on your own terms.