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Which way around do you cook?

I used to (when I started out cooking) find a recipe and then go out and get everything for that recipe. It's kind of an expensive way to go about things in the beginning, because you don't have things like red wine vinegar or sesame oil if you don't cook.

But now I'm getting more into seeing what's around and then finding a recipe for it. I'm guessing this is what most people do?

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  1. I do it both ways. Sometimes I will buy what's needed for a recipe, but if it contains many ingredients I won't use often (and would waste otherwise), then I often just make some substitutions and tweak the recipe to my liking. I find it more fun to get in the kitchen and be creative than to just follow recipes, anyhow.

    1. Both ways now. Because I have a very well-dressed pantry, my shopping lists are rarely long. Usually what I'm shopping for is the vegetable component. But I also cook plenty from what's on hand. Recently I fixed two dishes from the current COTM with things I already had.
      BTW, I just counted yesterday and have SEVEN vingegars which I think is excessive and yet I'd be hard pressed to get rid of any of them :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: c oliver

        You're just starting. At last count I have 10 vinegars. Different uses call for different vinegars.

        To the OP, I "do it both ways now." Or... either/or. Since I'm usually cooking from the COTM I search that book for likely recipes then do a pantry & fridge search to see If I have to buy any ingredients. Like coliver, I have a very well stock pantry so most of the ingredients I need a "fillers" like produce or a main ingredient.

        Of course the situation changes when I'm at the farm and see a vegetable or piece of meat I simply must have immediately. But, with my experience and cookbook collection I can pull something together suitable for that purchase.

      2. It sounds like you're getting into the swing of cooking! My progression was: 1) choose recipe and buy ingredients; 2) Buy ingredients that look good and then find a recipe for them, and 3) Buy whatever looks good that I feel like eating, and make my own improvised dish without a recipe.

        Still I do sometime buy ingredients for a particular dish, but most often when I go shopping I let the inspiration of whatever looks yummy and fresh (or is on sale!) guide me.

        1. I either plan my meals around what I already bought (on sale) and have on hand in the freezer or pantry, using the inspiration I find here for new recipes: or my other option is when I see something on weekly special; for example this week eggplant is 69cents a lb so tonight we are having eggplant parmigiana. But the days of seeing some gourmet recipe and going out to buy 10 ingredients (half of which will probably involve a treasure hunt) are long over for me. Too much work for one meal.

          5 Replies
          1. re: coll

            +1 to everything you said, coll!

            I do have a meal plan that involves rotating meal "concepts" while looking for the best prices on items to fill out the slots (i.e., meatless monday, pasta tuesday, soup wednesday, etc.), but I rarely use it. I cook pretty intuitively and can make a dozen decent meals out of my pantry stores. The ability to cook with what you've got is, to me, an essential.

            The only time I find myself having to shop with a recipe in hand is when I'm branching out into new cuisines altogether. I recently made a foray into Indian food and that has required several special trips to the Indian grocery. Now that I've built up my store of spices, I can improvise much more easily.

            1. re: LauraGrace

              You're more organized than I am having days of the week! I usually do one or two major meals a week, and then riff off of them, only because of time constraints, but it's mostly just "What do I have around that I'm also in the mood for?" However, when I get to Trader Joes or the Oriental supply store that's down the street from them, all bets are off, because all those exotic seasonings really inspire me. But I buy those first, because I heard about them somewhere, and then figure out how to use them. Like a science project!

              1. re: coll

                That is definitely how I cook 90% of the time. I have the menu plan but only use it if I'm extremely busy -- since it's just me, there's not much planning required.

            2. re: coll

              Coll, may I suggest you look at Deborah Madison's recipe for Stir-fried Roasted Eggplant? It has tomatoes but the fresh ginger elevates it to addictive, and I'm not a big fan of ginger. I don't use the hot chile called for, and subbing canned whole tomatoes for fresh works fine. I've discovered that nuking the eggplant is easier and almost as good as roasting it (the latter mellows it more). You halve the cooked eggplant, scrape out globs of it and discard the skin. Saute it with tomato paste, soy sauce, (chile), minced ginger, brown sugar, rice wine or balsamic vinegar, scallion (or onion), garlic, and broth (I omit the broth). It is great as a pasta or bruschetta topping. I put it on toasted English muffins and melt cheese over it. I warm it in a pan, make a well, crack an egg into it, top with a slice of cheese, cover until the egg is cooked. I always plan to make lasagna with it but I can't wait that long to start eating it!

              1. re: greygarious

                Well, I love ginger so I will have to try it immediately. I already do Baba Ganoush but getting weary of it, the egg will make it so different.

            3. I almost always decide what to cook and then buy the ingredients. However, I find that the more and more I cook, I have less to buy, as some others have said. Often times I just have to buy the chicken or meat (and for my baked apricot chicken this week I had to buy apricot preserves). If a recipe has a lot of ingredients, particularly obscure ones, I usually pass on it, or save it for when I have company.