Don’t you love it when you go off-script at dinner time, working with what you have, and it turns out awesome? Yeah, that’s some kitchen magic: when an unplanned, improvised meal turns into a satisfying eating experience for all involved.

This happened to me the other night. I had some brown rice, onions, and a boatload of zucchini and squash because of summer. Sure, I could’ve sauteed up the veggies and piled them on the rice but we didn’t just want food. We wanted dinner. A meal. So I took to the internet for an Asian-inspired sauce that fit the limitations at hand, as I was out of ginger and finding an Asian dish that doesn’t involve fish sauce, oyster sauce, eggs, or the like, can be tricky. Soon we had a delicious supper that rivaled any take-out (sauce here) and will probably be in our rotation from here on out.

I am not a recipe writer by any means, but it’s a regular thing for me to take bits a pieces from several different recipes alongside whatever ingredients I have in the pantry to come up with something quasi-unique. There is a lot of freedom in this, am I right? Improvised cooking makes eating at home more fun, more creative, more cost-effective, and a lot less stressful. You feel in control of things without being glued to the page (or screen).

That said, I love a good recipe and I use them most of the time. Following recipes gave me confidence in the kitchen. Cooking from recipes is how I learned measurements and best practices that allowed me to go out on my own. Maybe you’re already there. Maybe you’re a natural. I wasn’t. By the time I got to college, I hadn’t cooked much at all and I didn’t really get into cooking until about two years later. I was a late bloomer.

I still apply many of the same principles to plant-based meals but, let’s be honest, it’s a little different. I won’t lie and say plant-based cookies is just like mainstream cooking. There’s a bit of a learning curve. But once you get the hang of it, become familiar with the ingredients that pop up over and over, and gradually restock your pantry, it gets a LOT easier. Trust me.