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Jan 22, 2007 05:03 PM

Ever "wing it" and make a *perfect* recipe... and don't know why it was so special?

I was going to make short ribs for dinner the other night, but I'd dawdled too long and ended up without enough time. I did have the makings for pizza, though, and decided to give it yet another go. My husband was on the computer (where my various pizza dough recipes are stored) so I decided to wing it. Wouldn't you know, it was absolutely perfect. We're NY style crust fans - no easy task to even attempt to duplicate when you don't even have a self-cleaning oven which you can disable to get higher temps so I heated my pizza stone as usual, in a 500 degree oven for an hour or so.

I just sort of combined the "right" ingredients in no real particular amounts. A little more than a tablespoon of "bread machine yeast" - which is just regular rapid-rise yeast in a big jar - some sugar, some salt, some vital wheat gluten and about a half cup of flour into about 2 1/4 cups of water and let it "get to work" while I prepped my workspace for kneading in more flour. Who knows how much I stirred and then kneaded in - I just worked it until it felt right. Could've been 4 cups of flour overall, could've been 6. No idea.

The only thing I know I did differently this time was that when I turned my dough into an oiled bowl, I splashed "too much" olive oil into the bowl, and didn't bother to wipe it out - there was probably 1/4 cup of oil in the bowl, enough to form a little ring of oil around my dough.

I made sauce while the dough rose to double, let my 9yo punch it down and divide it into four pieces, then got into the groove of making three pizzas (about 14 inches each) and a sausage/ricotta/mozzarella/parmesean calzone.

The calzone was exquisite. My husband is from NY (born & raised in Brooklyn and then later to the mid-Hudson valley region) and I lived there for several years as well, so when I say that, I *do* know what a calzone "should" be. LOL

Ditto for the crusts on the pizzas. Amazing. So thin and toothsome and perfectly blistered here and there... My kids, who have suffered through several attempts at NYstyle pizza, were like "ohhh, so THIS is what it's supposed to taste like!" Our family of five tore through those three pizzas and calzone.

What're the odds I'll ever be able to replicate? I mean, I've meticulously followed recipes that insisted I weigh my flour. I've followed recipes that insisted I let my dough rise slowly overnight. Recipes down to the exact amount of everything and they've just never been quite right... and by winging it I pull off whisper-thin pizza crust which still manages to (just almost - you did have to fold it a little) stand up to Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms and a gloriously almost-fluffy calzone.

Don't you love/hate those kinds of meals?

What are you constantly trying to perfect by scouring the internet for the "perfect" recipe? Have you ever decided to wing it instead?

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  1. Yes, when I made Spinach Gnocchi.

    For some reason I couldn't decide which of several recipes to use so I concentrated on making it look like the one in the most delectable photograph. I did a composite of four or five recipes and it came out looking like the delectable photograph and tasting sublime.

    I have never been able to replicate it.

    In your case I would try to make it again soon. And, of course, write it down if it's another success. Good luck!

    1. Other than for baking, I don't use recipes. There are times when someone will ask me to make such and such again and I have to change the subject because I remember the success of the dish but not necessarily how to get there again.

      1. First, congratulations on your good fortune!

        I took a cooking class in which the instructor said that it takes ten times to get a recipe right, so don't get bamboozled by imperfection the first time or two, especially with baking!

        Like SilverlakeGirl, I've had good fortune when combining recipes...last week I was going to make a crayfish sauce for pasta, had a nice recipe, but there were no crayfish to be had at the local fishmonger. Bought some large shrimp instead, but the differences between the two shellfish were great enough to force me to alter the process/recipe. Remembered a recipe for making shrimp stock in the Herbfarm Cookbook (one of my all-time favorites!), prepared that instead of what the original recipe called for, combined with some of the ingredients in the crayfish recipe, added a few items of my own devising, and voila! A damned good shrimp sauce for pasta that I stumbled into...damned if I remember everything I added/did!

        1. Heh. The boy and I did this with a restaurant dish we enjoyed. I don't remember the name, but we call it Jamaican Shrimp. The main bit was the sauce, which was FANTASTIC, figured out with some careful tasting and looking up of Jamaican recipes to remind us of any ingredients we might've forgotten/missed. We made it once or twice more, then one last time that was waaaaaaaaaaaay too creamy. Got a little scared then, but are going to have a go again, and try to get back to the original. I'll have to be firm, as I think he sorta liked it the creamy way...........

          2 Replies
          1. re: juster

            Care to share your recipe (or basic procedure) ?

            1. re: mellycooks

              Hey! Sorry so long in responding... I've not been here much since the changeover, but am trying to get back...

              I'll certainly share! It's been a while, like I said, so I'll have to find my notes, as I don't remember all of it. Might be a while, but check back! It was really delish when we did it right :)

          2. Yeah. I made something once that I can't repeat for the life of me. I invited my husband's whole family for a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner (22 of us, in all). Since I'm allergic to fresh turkey, I planned to do huge capon and a couple of simple roasted meats. My husband convinced me that at least a turkey breast was required, so my butcher wrapped one in fatback and told me how to roast it. Fine. Now I had to make gravy and wasn't able to taste it as I went, so I mirrored what I was doing to make the capon gravy: deglazed the roaster with a good amount of chicken broth, added thyme and S&P, tossed in a bit of bourbon (for the turkey) and white wine (for the capon), added a beurre manier to thicken, and that was that. This was at least 25 years ago and my husband has told the story of that turkey gravy at least once a year since, saying it was the best he'd ever tasted - to this day! And I have no idea why, although I'm guessing the fatback drippings had a lot to do with it.