To follow recipes or not?

Morning Glory

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People like Ferran Adria did not become who they are without a firm understanding of basic techniques. Which is what recipes are for. You can't build a house without a foundation, otherwise cooking schools could just close their doors.
I agree. There is a lot to be said for learning and understanding basic techniques. Here is an interesting twist. This is a about Heston Blumenthal. For those unfamiliar he is the proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, one of five restaurants in Great Britain to have three Michelin stars; it was voted No. 1 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2005.

When he left school at eighteen, Blumenthal began an apprenticeship at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons but left after a week's probation.[9]:28 Over the next ten years he worked in a "relatively undemanding series of jobs – credit controller, repo man"[11] during the day, teaching himself the French classical repertoire in the evenings. A pivotal moment came when reading On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. This challenged kitchen practices such as searing meat to seal in the juices, and it encouraged Heston to "adopt a totally different attitude towards cuisine that at its most basic boiled down to: question everything".[9]:38
 

caseydog

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A lot of this is related to individual personalities. Some people do things "by the book," and others "fly by the seat of their pants." Not just in cooking, but in other parts of life.

If I have not cooked a particular dish, I will look at three or four recipes, and see what they have in common, and then take the information and go off on my own. Why? It's how I'm wired. I enjoy cooking that way. If I follow a recipe verbatim, I find cooking tedious.

CD
 

Wyshiepoo

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Follow recipes almost exclusively. I will also abandon a recipe if I don't have the correct ingredients. Just like TastyReuben I'm a measure twice cut once sort of person.
It's just the way I am. If I'm doing some DIY around the house I drive Mrs Wyshie mad. She'll just happily 'knock something up' I'll Google the task, check my DIY books, make a list if it's a long task, Google again, post on a DIY forum asking advice, check again and only then will I carry out the task.

I think it could be my life mimicking my career, things have to be 'spot on'. If the specs say that squelch must open between 1 and 2 μv or a waveform must be 3.2V pk to pk then that's what I do.

Having said that I do have some staples that I don't have a recipe for that are never quite the same twice.
I'll make an omnibus stew or soup out of leftover fridge ingredients.
A tartiflette type thing of potato, onion, garlic, cheese ham/bacon.
I do a pasta thing with sliced sausage, cream, mustard etc.
I'll also buy shop stuff like pasta bake and just add some chopped up leftover meat and veg.
 

Morning Glory

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Some people do things "by the book," and others "fly by the seat of their pants."
I'm not either type. I research and research before I 'invent' a recipe. I make notes and often make sketches of how it might look on the plate. Then taste and taste and adjust as I cook it. That is not to say that I don't sometimes make something 'on the fly'. Of course I do - but most recipes I post here are well researched.

It's just the way I am. If I'm doing some DIY around the house I drive Mrs Wyshie mad. She'll just happily 'knock something up' I'll Google the task, check my DIY books, make a list if it's a long task, Google again, post on a DIY forum asking advice, check again and only then will I carry out the task.
You see I'm not so different from this. I make lists, sketces, notes before I cook. But I like to think I'm 'creating' rather than following a recipe.

If I follow a recipe verbatim, I find cooking tedious.
Me too.
 

epicuric

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Ahhhh, but this is taking someone else's personal goal or want, and applying to everyone, isn't it? Isn't it assuming that the goal for those of us who cook is that we want to cook "with flair," and/or "be innovative?" Some of us may not wish to create new things, we may just want to cook tasty food, and if it comes from a recipe that someone else developed, so be it. I have no desire to innovate, or to come up with something no one else has done. Let them create. I'll reap the rewards of their effort! 😬

For the most part, I'd say upwards of 98% of the time, I'm a recipe follower. Even if it's something I've made a thousand times before, out comes the recipe, just because I'm a "measure twice, cut once" kind of person.

Sure, if I'm making a frittata, I'll just look in the fridge and say..."Hmmm...asparagus, fontina, that'll work, leftover kraut, no...potatoes, and peppers...I'm set." No recipe for that, but that's just a step above making toast. :)

A couple of reasons why I like recipes:

1. I have a <bleeping> lot of stuff going on in any given day. I know, we all have problems and challenges, and many folks' would make mine seem small, but for me, they're not, and they cause a fair amount of stress and physical/mental exhaustion at times, and the last thing I want to do is walk into the kitchen at 5PM and say, "Right...time for supper...let's create!" and come up with some flash new way to use beets and pork and ice cream. No, when I walk in the kitchen at 5PM, I want to know exactly what's coming out later. I want a plan. Otherwise, I'm just adding one more point of stress in my life, and I've already got enough of those.

2. I need a recipe just to remind me of what goes in something, even if I've made it for years. The shepherd's pie recipe that I've used for around 20 years had 19 ingredients in it (I just counted) - no way I could remember that on my own, let alone amounts. Never going to happen.

3. I'm not willing to make a bad meal. Yes, I make bad meals, but the way to guarantee the highest rate of success for me is to follow a recipe. If I make a bad meal, I feel like the most worthless piece of crap that was ever crapped out, and it takes me days, literally days, to get out of the funk of low feelings that comes from messing up in the kitchen. Secondly, mess up a meal, now I'm faced with having to come up with something else on the spot to replace what I just screwed up, and unless it's a bowl cereal, that means delaying a meal. We're in a rural area, and except for a little roadside tavern a few miles down the road, we don't have to option to just pop round the corner for a quick takeaway.

4. For me, I mainly cook to eat. I don't cook to satisfy some culinary curiosity, I don't cook express myself. Do I enjoy cooking? Absolutely, I enjoy it immensely. Some days, I wake up thinking about what I'm going to be making later that day, but where I get a lot of my satisfaction is the mechanics of it, and in looking at a countertop full of 19 separate ingredients at 5PM, and seeing a fully-realized, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, delicious shepherd's pie on my plate at 6:30PM.
I take your points, but when a recipe calls for 1 x chopped shallot, 2 x cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, for instance, you already have three variables for a start. How big are the shallots and cloves of garlic, how sweet or pungent are they, how acidic is the vinegar? The recipe is a record of what (presumably) worked for the author when they originally perfected it. If every one of your ingredients are identical in every respect to those used by the recipes author your dish might turn out the same, but that's unlikely.
 

Windigo

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I agree. There is a lot to be said for learning and understanding basic techniques. Here is an interesting twist. This is a about Heston Blumenthal. For those unfamiliar he is the proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, one of five restaurants in Great Britain to have three Michelin stars; it was voted No. 1 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2005.
Yes, he is absolutely brilliant. But every form of art, and cooking is an art, has certain geniuses who can do everything in their unique way without the usual training.

But most people need to go through art school and learn from others, no matter how talented they are. Succes is 99% dedication and 1% talent for most of us.
 

Windigo

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I take your points, but when a recipe calls for 1 x chopped shallot, 2 x cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, for instance, you already have three variables for a start. How big are the shallots and cloves of garlic, how sweet or pungent are they, how acidic is the vinegar? The recipe is a record of what (presumably) worked for the author when they originally perfected it. If every one of your ingredients are identical in every respect to those used by the recipes author your dish might turn out the same, but that's unlikely.
That's what experience will tell you. How much you likely need when compared to the other ingredients, such things can only be learned by trial and error.
 

TastyReuben

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I take your points, but when a recipe calls for 1 x chopped shallot, 2 x cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, for instance, you already have three variables for a start. How big are the shallots and cloves of garlic, how sweet or pungent are they, how acidic is the vinegar? The recipe is a record of what (presumably) worked for the author when they originally perfected it. If every one of your ingredients are identical in every respect to those used by the recipes author your dish might turn out the same, but that's unlikely.
True, but it'll at least get you in the neighborhood, and you've pointed out one of my peeves with some recipes; namely, saying "2 cloves garlic, minced." I much prefer my recipes to follow the America's Test Kitchen standard, which is to say, "2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1-1/2 tsp)."

That said, making something like a soup or a sauce, something other than baking, there's a lot of leeway with respect to ingredients. It's why we taste as we cook and adjust seasonings to our liking.

Remember, I'm talking about creating a recipe from scratch, like what MG describes, as opposed to following a recipe, but doubling the garlic because I like garlic a lot. That's not being creative or innovative. That's just adjusting to taste.
 

Milkduds

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If I'm doing a classic dish i follow a recipe. Sometimes I look for recipes that feature certain ingredients or techniques. i often think about what I have to cook with and just go in and create something. it's usually successful to varying degrees. I also bake without a recipe or just use a recipe as a jumping off point, for example I might use a cake recipe to get a perfect crumb but take it from there and create flavors that are my own. Sometimes it takes several tries to get it right, for instance last night's "tequila sunrise" cake, which was edible but not glorious. but it was good enough that I know now that I can make it much much better, and also figure out how to make it look just like a tequila sunrise. That part was close but not quite.
So 90% of the time I don't use recipes and when I do I usually come up with my own version of it later. I cook and bake because I enjoy it so I am okay with the occasional failure.
 

Steak and Ale

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I am really envious of all of you who can choose to stray from the word of the author. I can copy with confidence, but throw the book away and I am all at sea. I have more confidence with bread because, at some level, I understand how it should look and feel. I now realise that I gave up bread making too soon.
 

Morning Glory

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I am really envious of all of you who can choose to stray from the word of the author. I can copy with confidence, but throw the book away and I am all at sea. I have more confidence with bread because, at some level, I understand how it should look and feel. I now realise that I gave up bread making too soon.
Why did you give up bread making?
 

caseydog

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Yes, he is absolutely brilliant. But every form of art, and cooking is an art, has certain geniuses who can do everything in their unique way without the usual training.

But most people need to go through art school and learn from others, no matter how talented they are. Succes is 99% dedication and 1% talent for most of us.
I studied art in college. I learned the basic elements of art and design there. There were no personal computers then. Cut and paste literally meant to cut and paste design elements on hardboard. But, the stuff I leaned in college helped me a lot when everything went digital. So, I can see the analogy with cooking.

But, that's not the same as a "recipe." I use my fundamental knowledge, but still have to make something creative, often from thin air.

So, it is important to have a foundation in cooking skills, and to learn what flavors work with other flavors -- and what don't. I am a fanatic about mise en place, for example. But, I still enjoy being more "free-form" with my cooking, than tied to a recipe.

BTW, I don't look down on people who use recipes verbatim. We are just different.

CD
 

caseydog

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True, but it'll at least get you in the neighborhood, and you've pointed out one of my peeves with some recipes; namely, saying "2 cloves garlic, minced." I much prefer my recipes to follow the America's Test Kitchen standard, which is to say, "2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1-1/2 tsp)."

That said, making something like a soup or a sauce, something other than baking, there's a lot of leeway with respect to ingredients. It's why we taste as we cook and adjust seasonings to our liking.

Remember, I'm talking about creating a recipe from scratch, like what MG describes, as opposed to following a recipe, but doubling the garlic because I like garlic a lot. That's not being creative or innovative. That's just adjusting to taste.
You cook without a recipe from time-to-time. I'm pretty sure your breakfast of scrambled eggs with sausage, potatoes, peppers and onions didn't use a recipe. Scrambled eggs are good for "creating," or cleaning out the fridge creatively.

CD
 

rascal

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Pretty much all is in my head, I can go make croquettes now without looking at the recipe. BUT my daughter asked me to write them out, all the favourite ones, for the future. She has a folder and I have one now. But I still wing it. My memory isn't that bad so I get by. I also visualise the product as I go.does it look right? Taste right? I'll sometimes get my wife to taste sauces as our tastes are different. A Thai dressing is quite hard to get right, IMHO.
It's like I can cook something from nothing, my wife is always amazed at what I cook up. I have a great imagination as well.

Russ
 
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