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What recipes do you cook on Auto-Pilot?

What recipes do you cook on Auto-Pilot?

By cooking on Auto-Pilot, I mean:
- Without having to look much at a written recipe as you cook.
- When you go to the grocery store, you easily remember which ingredients to get without having a list.
- It almost always turns out well.

When I'm stressed or in a rush, I will still cook from scratch if there's an "Auto-Pilot" recipe that sounds good. If not, it will be take-out. I can talk on the phone, cook with company, and all is easy if it's an auto-pilot recipe.

My favorite recent addition to my Auto-Pilot list is Chicken Salad from recipes posted in this thread on Chowhound:
I've made chicken salad before, but it didn't turn out as well as when I made it based on suggestions here, so it's worth committing to Auto-Pilot memory.

The process of getting something in AutoPilot mode for me means re-writing the recipe in a way that makes it easy to remember, then doing it once.

For me and the Chicken Salad recipes at the link above, I re-wrote them like this:

Chicken Salad variations

a) Poach & Prep the chicken
Preheat Toaster oven to 350

REMEMBER to salt & pepper the boneless skinless chicken!!!
Cook your seasoned boneless chicken breast covered with heavy cream . Cook till breasts are your favorite temp. (I use 158 degrees Farenheit and count on a 2-3 degree rise after taking it out of oven). In my toaster oven (the Krups FCB2) this takes 38 minutes @ 350.

Cool in the cream. While they are cooling, dice up the other ingredients you’re going to put in the chicken salad.

When cool, get chicken out, discard the cream, and tear into not too small pieces.
Trick: If you overcooked the chicken, use the food processor to mince it so no one will notice. The flavor will still be good and now the texture will be also.
(I overcooked them the first time as the original directions said 45 minutes and my chicken breasts were already overcooked by then – my Krups toaster oven seems to cook food ~ 20% faster than most recipes.)

b) Chicken Salad Glue

‘glue’ Options – use just enough to hold the chicken together
- just mayo
- ½ plain non-fat yogurt, ½ mayo
- 1/3 plain non-fat yogurt, 1/3 mayo, 1/3 sour cream

c) Chicken Salad Add-ins
Thanks to the everyone fromthis thread who contributed

- fresh lemon juice, lemon peel ( minced ) roasted walnuts, curry, fresh tarragon, Hellmann's Mayo, and spices to taste...Refrigerate at least 4-6 hours...

- Chicken, mayo, chopped basil, and parmesan cheese is amazing.

- + almonds, + scallions, + fresh lemon juice - 1/2 Tablespoon

- Chicken, chopped celery, dried cranberries, pecans, apple cider vinegar, honey, and poppy seeds, S&P.

Pictures of tonight's chicken salad here:


Thanks Chowhounds!

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  1. My go-to recipes aren't really recipes. If I want to cook chicken, or make a salad, or do veggies, etc., I kind of just go by feel. I've got butter, herbs, olive oil, bread crumbs, onions, scallions, garlic, etc., at home. I go home and make grilled chicken, roast veggies and salad. Or sauteed fish, rice and sauteed veggies. On the day to day, really, I make basic stuff that I know how to cook. It's the weekends or times when I have friends over that I experiment with new recipes.

    3 Replies
    1. re: DanaB

      Same here. Except for baking or Asian food (which doesn't come intuitively to me), I rarely follow recipes. But I don't think I'm on auto-pilot - if anything, I have to pay attention more because it's different every time.

      1. re: piccola

        piccolo>> Except for baking or Asian food (which doesn't come intuitively to me),

        Exactly - that is what I was getting at -

        i.e., What recipes or recipes w/ techniques *did not* come intuitively to you, or weren't something that you could just magically make and have it turn out consistently great, that you now can make on auto-pilot?

        If you can routinely prepare great meals without recipes, Congratulations!

        But what I'm looking for are what other recipes have people found worthwhile enough to now be able to make them on auto-pilot.

        1. re: sweet100s

          Sorry I misunderstood. It happens more often than I'd like. :-)

          So, to answer your question:

          Cardamon-pistachio rice (from the Australian Women's Weekly Indian cookbook)
          Veggie pad thai
          Scallion pancakes

          (Notice the theme of carbs...)

    2. Chicken Adobo
      Mac n' Cheese
      Bolognese sauce / Lasanga

      I just recently had to "write down" my recipes for my daughter. She has her first kitchen at NYU and made bolognese from scratch for the first time.

      1 Reply
      1. Most of my cooking tends to focus on Thai cuisine and ingredients, because I love the food so much. Given that, pad kee mow (Thai drunken noodles, i.e. rice noodles with chillies and basil) and pad see eew (rice noodles in dark soy sauce) are two staples for me that I could probably wok up with my eyes closed. I'd probably be hopeless with any European or North American dishes save mac and cheese, though.

        1. I very seldom use a recipe. I may use a recipe for the first time, but that is only to get a baseline. if I like the taste then I tend to do it from memory and taste.

          My mother and grandmothers never used recipes, and I tend to use techniques rather than list of ingredients.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Kelli2006

            Yup, me too, and the big advantage to gaining that kind of proficiency is the freedom it gives you to dodge the bullet when you reach for a key ingredient and it's all gone - sometimes. I'd never start a tuna-noodle casserole without making sure I had tuna and noodles, nor a tomato-based sauce without checking out my tomato supply, fresh or canned...but as long as I have these things, plus onions and garlic and a reasonable selection of canned goods, I WILL get dinner on the table. Evaporated milk will sub in for cream, milk or half-and-half; cornstarch or potato starch works fine for flouring a pork roast I'm braising, and a bouillon cube dissolved in boiling water plus a splash of wine makes a decent braising liquid if you find you've used the last of your frozen stock after all. And if you want more vegetable flavors in a pasta sauce than you have vegetables, well, that's why you bought those cans of stewed tomatoes on sale!

            1. re: Will Owen

              Just to be sure I'm tracking, do you basically bake the chicken in cream in a dish in the oven. Then cool in the cream. Then drain and add the other stuff? Want to be sure. What does cooking it in the cream do? Keeps it more moist? Anything else? Thanks!

              1. re: kary

                kary>> do you basically bake the chicken in cream in a dish in the oven. Then cool in the cream. Then drain

                Yes. Then, get chicken out, discard the cream, and tear into not too small pieces.
                Then, mix with Chicken Salad Glue (see options in OP).

                I feel accomplished because I can now "eyeball" the quantity of all other ingredients to add based on how much chicken you have to strart with.

                kary>> What does cooking it in the cream do? Keeps it more moist?

                Hard to describe-- It seems to keep the chicken flavor very clean/pure.

                Not sure if poaching it in water or chicken broth would be noticeably different though.

            2. re: Kelli2006

              I have two auto-pilot dishes. The main go-to dish is shrimp (or chicken) and broccoli (or spinach) with penne in a garlic butter sauce. The second is turkey chili. Both are no brainers that are bound to please those between five and 95. And my banana pancakes also rock.

              Kelli, my style is exactly like yours! I follow the recipe to the letter the first time to get a sense of the flavors. Even then I'll probably add more garlic or onion. Usually, I'll just buy ingredients I feel like eating that week and throw something together. Sometimes it's a win. Sometimes a disaster. Mom cooked the same way so I guess that habit was passed on!

            3. Sour cream pancakes...they turn out so light and fluffy, and were definitely worth adding to my "brain cache".

              2 Replies
              1. re: akcskye

                >> Sour cream pancakes...they turn out so light and fluffy, and were definitely worth adding

                Oh that sounds excellent! Link to recipe?

                1. re: sweet100s

                  Oh, they are the bomb...my family's favorite now!

                  Here ya go:

                  1 egg
                  1 c buttermilk
                  1 c sour cream
                  1 tsp baking powder
                  1 tsp baking soda
                  1 c flour

                  Mix all ingredients together gently. Let sit for 10 minutes while the batter rises (VERY important).

                  Lightly oil a medium hot griddle. Use a 1/4 measuring cup to pour batter onto the griddle.

                  Flip when bubbles start to break and edges appear dry.

                  Serve with warm maple syrup or homemade jam.

                  Serves 4.

                  Obviously, I only have the ingredients and rising process in my "brain cache" haha...so I typed the recipe verbatim for you so I would make sure I hadn't missed any small steps, so yours would turn out great, too.

                  ***ETA: My recipe is hand written, so I don't know how old it is, where it originally came from (except from Grandma who said someone else gave it to her), so I don't know if it truly has a copyright or not.***

                  Let me know how you like them!

              2. Roasted chicken...no matter what I decide to do different with herbs and spices, it turns out beautifully every time.

                1. Great subject -- Neutral Steering in the kitchen!
                  Whenever the world starts leaving without me & there needs to be a meal that actually has nutrition and satisfies ... there's nothing like a crockpot feast.
                  You can begin 5-8 hours ahead of time ...
                  Use whatever is available -- a fat chicken, beef or pork roast works great using the same method & basic ingredients.
                  Start by putting a few fat ribs of celery on the bottom of the pot to support the roast & lend flavor.
                  Season the chicken or beef or pork using the Stevie Wonder method: Grab whatever is handy from the spice cabinet that gives the right mood like Penzy's Tuscan Blend, Herb deProvence, basil, etc. along with some fresh cracked pepper.
                  Throw it in the pot with "some" (very important measurement there!) rough diced onion, a clove or 2 of garlic, half a green pepper diced, a handful of fresh parsley & whatever else suits, is in season or on hand. Note that carrots must be diced about 1' and covered in the broth because they do not 'steam' cook.
                  Throw in about a cup of broth from a can, and put the lid on the pot.
                  The prep time is 15 mins including wash-up.
                  Set to high & wind up a timer for 1 hour.
                  After an hour turn it to low & the rest of your day is YOURS!
                  A half hour before you plan to feed the crew, steam rice or noodles. Put the roast on a dish & pour the pan drippings thru a sieve into a 2-3 qt pan. Squash the mushy veges to extract all the good seasoning (potato masher works nicely). Either add the rest of the can of broth if there isn't much, or boil to reduce for a few minutes (while you make the salad) and thicken by whisking 2-4 TBS of cornstarch in a 1/4 cup of cold water (or coffee!); whisk into hot broth & adjust seasonings - a TBS of soy sauce is my personal secret.
                  By the time the rice or noodles have cooked, the gravy is rich & thick and you can finish a tossed salad & put out some bread/rolls to serve a complete Home Cooked Dinner without missing a beat.
                  Another benefit of this meal if you have a small family is the leftovers -- Roast Chicken leads to chicken salad, chicken ala King & chicken stew; Pork Roast leads to sweet/sour pork & BBQ pork; Beef Roast becomes hot roast beef sandwiches, beef stew.
                  My other favorite brain-dead meal is spaghetti -- saute a trinity in olive oil, add a jar of decent ready-made sauce; boil pasta, toss a big salad & serve with fresh bread from Pannera that my husband picks up on the way home.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Meezer

                    I can picture that! Thanks Meezer!

                    I haven't ventured into crock pot cooking, but my mom used to make the *best* pot roast! Thinking about those leftover pot roast sandwiches makes me want to try it.

                  2. Risotto. I can't remember the last time I had to look at a recipe to make it. Did it so many times it just got stuck in my head. It helps that there aren't a lot of ingredients.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: QueenB

                      I'll second the risotto. I always have parmesan in the fridge and chicken broth in the cabinet. I like mushroom risotto best but zucchini and peas make a good spring risotto too. Its an auto pilot go-to favorite for me.

                      1. re: foodandscience

                        foodandscience >> I always have parmesan in the fridge and chicken broth in the cabinet.

                        The way you wrote that is exactly what's helpful for me in terms of -- how to think about recipes that get me over the hump from "following a written recipe" vs just walking into the kitchen and magically whipping it up while on auto-pilot :-).


                    2. my day to day cooking is almost never by recipe. much more about what looks good at the market.. what I have at home.. what I feel the energy to put together.

                      that said.. the dishes that are auto pilot for me.. that perhaps are acutally recipes sort of... would be

                      Chicken in Sauce (ok, I know lame name but yummy chicken stewed with spanish chorizo, peppers in a thick and rich red sauce served over rice)
                      Pork and Chicken Adobo (filipino)
                      Spaghetti with two sauces (a rich meat sauce and a thick cream sauce)

                      1. Chicken Pasta

                        2 Tablespoons olive oil.
                        4 boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes
                        1 large chopped onion
                        4 garlic cloves, minced
                        2 teaspoons fennel seeds
                        2 carrots, shredded
                        1 cup white wine
                        1/2cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
                        12ounces linguine, freshly cooked
                        1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

                        1. Add olive oil and chicken to a large skillet and saute over medium-high heat.
                        2.Add onion, garlic, carrot, and fennel seeds. Saute until onion is tender, adding chicken broth as needed to keep vegetables from sticking to pan
                        3. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes and rest of broth.
                        4. Continue sauting for about 5 more minutes until carrots are tender.
                        5. Add chicken mixture to cooked linguine and cheese.

                        This will serve 4: http://www.cheers2wine.com/Cheers_2_W...