This comes from years of practice in my own kitchen.
If making something for the first time I will follow a recipe. I have friends who are recipe following zealots,who produce perfect results everytime.
However, I am a lazy cook. I love food and eating, but do as much as I can to avoid extra dishes to be washed up, such as are generated by careful measurment of ingredient quantities.
I rarely get out a cookbook unless seeking something very specific. I do use them for inspiration!
I am also very good at tasting a dish in a restaurant and, if it impresses me enough, will guess the key ingredients and techniques, to replicate it at home.
To develop your own intuitive cooking skills, be observant as you cook.
What is the ingredient ratio you are using when you do follow a precise recipe?
Try and get the feel for the quanity ratio and commit it to your 'intuitive memory'.
What ingredients are a match made in heaven?
What techniques can you adapt across a range of things to broaden the scope of ingredients you cook with.
What can I substitue for healthier options? Eg substituting yoghurt for mayonnaise usually works a treat.
Also sheer repetition of a recipe over and over again will rend it automatic over time.
Encourage all family members to be engaged, if possible, in food production by vegetable and herb growing and, at very least, meal preparation and clean ups. This gives hands on experience to all household members. Food preparation and cooking are key life survival skills, but equally guaranteed to win many friends. Sharing a meal is a great relationship builder and cementer.
I was shelling peas and peeling potatoes as a child of about 4 or 5. Prior to that I was on a chair, in the kitchen at my mum's side as she made biscuits and cakes in her trusty Sunbeam Mixmaster. I got to lick beaters and basins and add some ingredients under her close supervision. I helped dishing out biscuit mix onto trays and stirring cake mixes. By the time I was in my early teens I had responsibility for ingredient growing or purchase and cooking on weekends at our farm.
I am also very lucky to have grown up in a food oriented family of cooks. My grandfather was a top chef in Melbourne, my mother's skills in the kitchen were legendary and my father, equally competant in the kitchen, usually prepared the Sunday roast and taught me to cook over the coals on a barbecue.
Grandmothers on both sides of my family were equally accomplished at creating impressive meals from nothing, or very basic ingredients and stretching those ingredients to feed large families and many guests.
Grandma Leila, introduced me to food foraging around the back lanes of Elwood, where we would gather fruits from overhanging trees, which would be turned into pies and preserves. I cannot make fig jam, without remebering the succulent delight she sent me in a special tiny jar of my own, every year!
Whilst Grandma Elsa had died many years before I was born, none the less her food legacy was passed on via both my parents and her sister, my beloved great aunt, Alma Dennis. Elsa was famous for her home-made pasties and German potato and apple recipes, of which she had many. Irish stew was another of her specialties.
My dad credited the fact that he was one of four brothers for his own culinary skills. The boys were each expected to serve as assistants to his mother in the kitchen, which was then the traditional and almost exclusive domain of women.
My mother was a passionate cook and shared her love of food and adventurous palate with her children from an early age.
Ancestral foods ranged from the best traditions of our Australian, Greek, German and Celtic culinary heritage, as well as Italian and even Chinese cuisines.
All those cooks who shaped my early training and introduction to food were intuitive retainers and custodians of recipes and methods passed down through their own famillies. Each used and collected both recipe books and recipes collected from family and friends, but adapted them to their own needs, tastes and economic circumstances.
That my own nieces and nephews came to me seeking recipes they too had grown up with, after my mother died, prompted me to first document some, to pass them down through future generations.
This process is one that I continue in the recipe category of the Pets and Plants blog!