Monday, January 7, 2008

Recipes Or Improvisation?

Today I was asked for advice for a good cookbook for a recently diagnosed diabetic when I realized something about my own cooking habits. Even though my wife and I own enough cookbooks to fill one and a half shelves on our bookcase, I hardly use any of them!

Sure, I have a few pages with dog-eared corners turned down to mark some favorites of mine, but I'd rather just go into the kitchen and start throwing things together like an amateur Iron Chef. I like to play Russian Roulette with the spice rack, just to see what kinds of interesting combinations I can come up with and how my taste buds will react.

For me, recipes are most useful when I come across a winning combination that I want to be able to reproduce. They are also valuable when learning how to cook with a new food. Even then, I tend to comb through dozens of recipes, taking a bit here, a bit there, adding a flourish or two of my own, and usually wind up with a winner.

I believe that the ability to improvise while in the kitchen, coupled with many of the staples that I rely on, helped me to stay on track while losing my ex-weight, and helps me maintain it today.

How about you? When you're in the kitchen, do you like to make it up as you go along, or do you need to follow a recipe to the letter?

The Count: Snooze = +5, Push-Ups = +7


TB--Milwaukee said...

We are all about quick and convenient in our house. Both my wife and I work till 5:00 and when we get home, we get something together quick for the troops.

Don't use cookbooks, but love to throw stuff together on the weekends.

Kathy said...

You know me...I use a recipe for inspiration and then turn it into my own in exactly the way you describe. After years of cooking, I know instinctively what will work and what won't. I use my cookbooks much less since the is so easy to bring up 10 recipes for the same thing, compare them, find the common elements, and then "create" something that I know we will enjoy.

John J. Kaiser said...

"Even though my wife and I own enough cookbooks to fill one and a half shelves on our bookcase, I hardly use any of them!"

I can't remember the last time I used a cook book.

Dinah Soar said...

I'm like you skinny guy...I look at several recipes and do a little of each making mine an original...also, you did inspire me to also just throw some stuff of your posts mentioned that one night you needed something quick..and you checked the freezer and pantry, and came up with a shrimp/low carb veggie stiry fry. I thought what a great approach. Take the healthy low point/low calorie foods and put them together in interesting ways. You make it sound easy, and for me quick and easy is best when it comes to food prep. And I've become more imaginative with my food as a result of throwing stuff together.

artifex said...

Quick and convenient can be done with advance planning; this weekend I put together a big pot of spicy leek soup, some of which we ate immediately, and some of which will keep in the fridge, to be reheated with additional fresh green vegetables; prep time on week nights not more than 10 minutes.

Spicy leek soup (and other recipes with very little starch or sugar) here


Kery said...

I tend to consider that cooking has to be experimental, at least a little, to be enjoyable. I don't use cookbooks that much, but I like improvising little things now and then. Sometimes the results are horrible, but with experience also comes a sort of intuitive knowledge of what might work and what might not, so trial and error seldom ends up in error for me these days.

Caroline said...

I HAVE to have a recipe. I'm like Kathy and once I like a dish, I might try to tweak it to make it better or different or something, but I really have to start with a recipe. My BF makes things up, and let's just say we've had some not-so-great experiences!

David Dane said...

My experience with recipes is this. If you are baking a cake, or bread and you want to duplicate that product, then you follow a recipe. Don't deviate in those cases or it could be disasterous. When throwing together items and seeking like vegetables, and meats, then anything will do. Recipes are for duplication, and repetition. That's all. Many recipes were born out of trial and error. This means a lot of food was tossed out during the experimentation process. IE, Betty Crocker, etc. Makes cake recipes. How many cakes went into the garbage as they searched for a winning recipe. I don't know....

Skinny Guy said...

Looks like we have a few experimenters here!

John, I certainly use the cookbooks a lot less these days.

Artifex, that Leek Soup recipe looks interesting. I may have to try it out.

Kery, I think the most important thing is a well stocked spice rack and learning what spices work well together.

Caroline, for folks who don't have a cook's intuition or the desire to experiment in the kitchen (or who have BFs with too many failed kitchen experiments), recipes are essential.

Steve v4.6 said...

I like to try and "reverse-engineer" some of the dishes we have at restaurants. I'm not always successful but it's fun and usually adds an interesting twist.