Recipes - Instruction Manual or Inspiration

@speakeasy (4215)
United States
July 24, 2007 3:17pm CST
When I first learned to cook, I was taught to follow the recipe EXACTLY; measuring carefully; and NEVER deviating. That was the correct way to cook and the only way to get an edible result. After many years of following recipes, I started developing food allergies and had to abandon many of my favorite recipes. I would go through an entire cookbook and only find a handful of recipes that did not have ingrediants that I could not eat safely. Then, I started to substitute things I could eat for the ingrediants I could not eat. If a recipe called for walnuts; I would substitute pecans (which were safe); or I would substitute basil for oregano. Then, I actually started leaving ingrediants out and I would make a recipe without ingrediants that I could not find a safe substitute for. Finally, I started using recipes as "inspiration"; getting a general idea of how things were put together and cooked/baked; and I started creating my own dishes. I won't deny that I have had an occasional "flop" (using too much or too little seasoning). But, those occasions have been few and far between and my family forgives me for them. What about you? Do you use recipes as step-by-step instructions manuals or have you veered off and started to experiment yourself?
1 person likes this
8 responses
@crazy1 (480)
• New Zealand
25 Jul 07
You ought to be a chef, a lot of a chefs cooking is inspiration and variations on a dish. I'm a recently retired head chef, so part of the job was winging it a bit on recipes, or experimenting a bit, I usually did this at home first though, then if it worked I used it. I've always felt that imagination makes a good cook, not necessarily following a recipe to the letter.
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
25 Jul 07
Well, as a "retired head chef", you would be the best judge of that if anybody is. My only problem would be my food allergies - I would either be limited to just the foods I can eat or I would never be able to "taste" any of my creations to see if I got them "right" or not.
@crazy1 (480)
• New Zealand
25 Jul 07
I have a couple of friends who are allergic to nuts of any kind, that made me think of what I could substitute for nuts, or products with nuts or nut flavourings. Most changes were successful, a few I had to try again. It was the same in the hotel kitchens for me, I had people want to order a certain meal, but were allergic to certain things in the dishes cooked, as a result, I did a lot of experimenting or leaving things out of a dish and substituting something else. Experimenting can be fun, never be afraid to try it.
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
25 Jul 07
My food allergies are pretty "diverse" since I am "salicylate sensitive". Salicylates are natural chemicals produced by plants and they act as natural preservatives, pesticides, and fungicides. The result is that 90% of fruits and veggies are a source of allergic reactions, along with man-made products that "imitate" the natural substances. So, I don't have a lot of foods left that are safe to start with. Without experimenting, my diet would be very dull and boring. But, by experimenting and making almost everything from "scratch"; I actually get a good variety of dishes without having to grab for the antihistamines constantly. For me to actually "eat out"; I have to take an antihistamine an hour before eating and be careful what I select from the menu or I will be suffering AND taking antihistamaines for the next 48 hours while the salicylates work their way out of my system.
@wiccania (3360)
• United States
25 Jul 07
I've always used recipes for inspiration rather than as an instruction manual. Except for baked goods which I wasn't comfortable experimenting with until about 2 years ago. I think it comes from one of the first times I cooked. I made spaghetti sauce for my family when I was about 8 yrs old. My mom pulled out the ingredients she puts in her sauce, put them on the counter and said "There you go. Make dinner." I should add here that this was because I asked to make dinner, not because I was being told to. So I made spaghetti. After a couple of years, my mom stopped making spaghetti. She liked mine better.
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
25 Jul 07
Spaghetti is a great first dish for a kid to learn. When my son was younger, I decided to make sure he would always be able to put together a quick home made meal. I didn't want him to graduate, go off on his own, and live on TV dinners, sandwiches and "fast food". So, I started him with spaghetti and taught him a few other simple dishes. He will never be a "great chef"; because food and cooking are not a big interest of his; but, he won't go hungry either.
@Nardz13 (5059)
• New Zealand
25 Jul 07
Hey. When I first learnt to cook, it was in no way by a cooking book, I just took instructions from my mom, who was and still is a fabulous cook... I used no measuring cups, spoons or any metric utensils, it was all about guessing the right amounts and still is lol... Today I know most tastes in herbs and spices and mainly experiment on what i think goes well with certaint foods, and sure enough I always get it right and it ends up tasting great, I get commented on my cooking, by friends who want the know hows and what nots about my dishes...
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
25 Jul 07
You were very fortunate with your mom teaching you to cook. My mom never took the time to teach me. If I tried to do anything myself she complained I "didn't know what I was doing" or I was "doing it wrong"; but, she would never show me how. That is why I had to learn to cook in Home Ec in high school.
@peavey (16332)
• United States
25 Jul 07
I usually (but not always) follow the recipe the way it's written the first time, then I strike out on my own. A recipe is for inspiration! :)
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
25 Jul 07
I have to agree that they are for inspiration OR for beginning cooks just starting to learn to cook. Once they have the basics down; they should start exploring and being creative too.
• United States
24 Jul 07
I can hardly understand cookbook instructions and I do not like being told what to do, except by my wife. So, I mostly alter whatever is in the cookbook to suit myself or as my wife so instructs.
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
24 Jul 07
Well, I was actually TAUGHT to cook back in the days when all the girls HAD to take Home Ec. So, I do know what the directions mean. Sometimes knowing what they are talking about can be a big help when they are talking about a specific technique or utensil that will make things easier. Maybe, you can get your wife to explain some of those terms and then you can experiment on a whole new category of dishes.
@s_pterry (50)
• United States
24 Jul 07
I adore cookbooks, with their glossy photos and delicious descriptions - it's hard not to enjoy them. Now having said that - I very rarely stick to a recipe once I've accomplished it. I'll follow the recipe to the letter and if it turns out ok then the next time, I'll start experimenting to see if I can make it better. Needless to say, many times I ruin it but I think it's fun - kind of like a chemistry experiment! It makes it more fun in the kitchen!
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
24 Jul 07
I agree that experimenting in the kitchen is fun! But, if you had told me that when I was younger; I would have looked at you like you were crazy because I was not taught to experiment.
@Phlamingho (7831)
• Denmark
24 Jul 07
I normally just take whatever I have in the fridge and try to make something with it. I've never been a big fan of using a cook book or anything like that ... never have the right ingredients anyway :-D
@speakeasy (4215)
• United States
24 Jul 07
I've done that too, for basic dishes. But, if I want to make something special or somthing that is baked, it helps to have at least a basic recipe with information about how hot the oven should be and how long to bake it.
@Nardz13 (5059)
• New Zealand
26 Jul 07
Hey. Yes I was lucky I had a mother to teach me about basic cooking, the rest comes from experimenting...