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Apr 29, 2010 07:02 AM

The best creative cooking book - not a compilation of recipes but how to wing it or cook without a recipe

I like cookbooks that teach how to wing it in the kitchen. I am looking for recommendations on this type of cookbook.

For example, Pam Anderson's book, "How to cook without a book".

Does anyone have any suggestions?

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  1. Sally Schneider has a book called The Improvisational Cook -- I don't own it, but I have loved everything I've made from her New Way to Cook (although I typically need to amp up the herbs and spices a little):
    Likewise, Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef:

    1 Reply
    1. re: mebby

      i love The Improvisational Cook. she provides information and history about the basic techniques behind each base recipe, and then offers her own ideas for variation, which can also inspire your own.

    2. Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food" is organized around cooking technique, not ingredients or dish. It will have a section on grilling, for example, and then give you recipes and guidelines for how to create your own spin-offs.

      1. I haven't read it, but I've been seeing references to "Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" by Michael Ruhlman.

        From the NYT review: "Saddened by the thought of cooks who are “chained to recipes,” he proclaims himself their liberator. He writes: “Getting your hands on a ratio is like being given a key to unlock those chains.”

        "Those ratios, the ostensible subject of his new book, are simply the proportion of ingredients in a preparation or a dish.

        "Pie dough = 3 parts flour: 2 parts fat : 1 part water. Roux = 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat. Sausage = 3 parts meat : 1 part fat.

        1 Reply
        1. re: happybellynh

          i own ratio, and it's a good start moreso for baked goods. and discusses somewhat the effects of diverging from the ratios suggested. i'm not upset that i bought it.

        2. Three incredible books -

          What Einstein Told his Cook (Robert L. Wolke)
          How to Read a French Fry (Russ Parsons)
          On Food and Cooking (Harold McGee)

          1. Hi, Tonka. I hope you don't take this as a criticism of you, but the best way to learn to be a creative cook is through trial and error. BUT...! First you absolutely mmust learn some of the basic ground rule of cookings, and for that you need recipes, and you need to learn to analyze the recipes so you can figure out why slowly browning a roux is better than doing it over high heat. Well, maybe that's a bad example because the absolute best way to figure that one out is by doing it wrong, then doing it right, and tasting the difference. But you do need (in the early learning stages) a recipe for something that calls for a roux. You need to learn knife skills, and all the diffrerent ways to cook things, from frying to poaching, from braising to roasting. So if you don't already have them, get and cook from some truly excellent COOK books, then just start "winging it." My fear is that if you "learn" to wing it from someone elses instructions on how you wing it, well... That's a recipe. I urge you to try your own mehtods for "winging it." And keep in mind that failure can be an extremely valuable lesson because then you're learning what not to do, and that is every bit as important as learning what to do. Good luck! And think about spending the money the book would cost on some kind of food you really love, then experiment with an original way to cook it.

            Oh... And I am an "experimental cook." Have been for at least sixty years now. So when you master experimental cooking, the most important rule is that when you "wing it" and come up with a dish that is absolutely fantastic, before you go to bed that night.... no! BEFORE you do the dishes, write down the ingredients and the sequence and methods you used to make the dish. In other words, write down the recipe. I have learned the hard way that the longer you wait before writing it down, the less likely it is that you will ever be able to create the dish again. Sometimes that's good (I make my barbecue sauce from scratch but have never written it down so every time is differen and fun) and sometimes it 's bad. I once created a dish to die for, but for love nor money cannot remember the ingredients in the sauce That was thirty years ago. I still sharply remember the wonderful flavor of the sauce, but can never duplicate it. So... Wing your own great recipes. I have a file of mine, and every once in a while I share one here.