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Cooking by intuition?

Why type of cook are you?

Do you slavishly follow every single step and detail of a given recipe and would otherwise feel lost without all the measurements, ingredients, and preparation steps laid out before you in a nice, neat piece of paper?

OR

Do you use a recipe merely as a guide, but when it comes time to put oil to pan (as the case may be, or water to flour, etc.) do you let your own intuition and innate culinary compass be your ultimate guide?

I'm more of the latter. The only time I've ever really needed a measuring spoon was for cough syrup ...

You?

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  1. I used to be the former, but now that I've been cooking for about 15 years, I've become more of the latter. I'm much more comfortable substituting ingredients than I used to be, if I'm out of something, I know whether it will make a material difference to the outcome, I usually have a hunch if there is a problem with a recipe etc.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      I should add, I still do a lot of measuring, but (again depending on the recipe) I don't worry if the onion generates a little more (or a little less) than the called for cup and just put it in. I consider it a breakthrough that I no longer feel the need to measure table spoons of butter and oil!

      1. re: MMRuth

        Exactly. I'm the same as you, Ruth - there are times when I can judge that a certain quantity called for in a recipe is going to over/underwhelm my tastebuds, and I'll adjust accordingly. (What? They are only asking for 1 clove of garlic in a recipe for 8? Yeah, we'll definitely add one or two more.) But whacking off some butter or pouring oil into a pan is done by "eye" now.

        1. re: LindaWhit

          I used also drive myself crazy about "what is a medium onion" or the fact that some garlic cloves are huge and others are tiny - but I've worked my way through that as well! However, I still don't like it when a recipe calls for a cooking vessel that I have a difficult time determining - "medium sized baking dish" for example.

          1. re: MMRuth

            To me, that's a 2 qt. baking dish. 1 qt. is what I'd consider small.

            1. re: LindaWhit

              Thanks! A lot of my cookware doesn't have size markings on it - so I end up measuring with water - I think maybe I need to focus on "loosening up" a bit w/ my cooking!

            2. re: MMRuth

              Yes!! I hate that... medium sized baking dish!! I also hate "small sheet pan" or "large sheet pan"!

      2. Mostly intuitional at this stage of the game. Like MMRuth, if there's an ingredient I don't like (almond extract, cilantro) I can usually figure out if I can substitute something else without any great change in the recipe.

        However, there are certain times where I will continue measuring properly - baking, of course.

        1. I only measure if I am baking. For cooking, I use recipes as more of a guidline- substituting, adding or leaving out ingredients as my taste and/or cupboard dictate.
          As an aside- I have a neice who will not take recipes from me unless I spell everything out down to the 1/4 teaspoon. She gets crazy if I try to give her a list of ingredients and tell her to make them to her taste. Her little sister, OTOH, always wings it in the kitchen- somtimes with good results, and sometimes not. BUT- she is turning into a really good cook. And I must admnit- she will surpass me in baking- she even wings it with baking, and is always tailoring baking recipes.

          1. Intuitive cook here. If I've never tried to cook a particular dish before, especially if it's from an unfamiliar cuisine, I'll follow a recipe carefully. After that first time, I'll tweak it depending on what ingredients I have, what I like or dislike about the recipe, the mood I'm in. It's hard when friends ask me for recipes because I have to think back on what changes I made and why.

            The big exception is baking, as LindaWhit says. I measure carefully and make sure I understand the technique before starting.

            1. I cook by feel, which drives Mrs. ricepad nuts. She won't deviate at all from a printed recipe. I, on the other hand, rarely measure anything, and substitute ingredients freely. To me, cooking is an art...measuring and art just don't belong together.

              Baking, on the other hand, is not an art, but a science...I measure when I bake!

              2 Replies
              1. re: ricepad

                Interesting.

                Even when baking I don't measure down to the exact details.

                The ONLY thing I care about when baking is that my oven is properly calibrated so that the temp I set it at is actually the temp inside the oven.

                So much of baking depends on external factors, e.g. outside temp, humidity, etc., that exact measurements can oftentimes be counterproductive.

                1. re: ricepad

                  I am on the extreme end of cooking by intuition. I grew up learning to cook from my Mom in Russia, and haven't seen a recipe till college. I didn't even own a cookbook till the senior year. All the cooking knowledge and recipes were passed to me with words like "some, a little, and a lot"

                  Baking was a nightmare for me for years. As I found out just recently, I've been measureing flour all wrong. I've been cooking since age 7 and teaching cooking classes since I was 24, but I just never saw how flour is measured before. I also had no idea that mixing it an extra minute can make your cakes and muffins tough. Stuff like that just doesn't happen with cooking. Now that I know, I am obsessive with measuring for baking. I don't even trust cups and measure dry ingredients with a scale.

                  Cooking is another story though. I never measure when I cook for myself and can't even make myself follow the recipes exactly as written the first time (I only use them as inspiration). But when I write recipes for my students, I make sure to measure everything carefully.

                  Now that I think about it, my hatred of recipe following prevents me from cooking dishes from unfamiliar cuisines. I mostly cook French, Spanish, Italian, and Eastern European. Those are the countries I've been to and since I know what the final dish should taste like, I can get there by tasting as I go. But cooking a Thai or Vietnamese dish almost feels like baking, and too chemistry labish for me.

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