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Using Recipes

ipsedixit Apr 19, 2011 09:15 PM

(Note: This thread was split from another thread at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7795... -- The Chowhound Team)

Don't use recipes.

Recipes are like guide dogs for the blind. Unless you're blind, no need to use them.

  1. s
    sushigirlie Apr 23, 2011 09:08 PM

    It's one thing to say you don't need a recipe for spaghetti with marinara sauce, and quite another to say you don't need a recipe for shrimp biryani.

    I'd also say that even if you're the world's most talented cook, recipes help you expand your palate. Classic example: Western chefs who think that Indian food is overspiced. When they cook Indian food the result tastes hippieish and dreary.

    1. j
      Joebob Apr 22, 2011 11:57 PM

      I made Cormac Mahoney's Coco Piggy once, but I had to follow his recipe to get wonderful results. Same with the recipes of Paul Bocuse. Do you really think you can "fake" them and have great success?

      5 Replies
      1. re: Joebob
        c oliver Apr 23, 2011 07:39 AM

        I always loved this from the late, great Sam Fujisaka's profile:

        "My most tattered cookbooks:

        I don't use cookbooks, but do have to consult "Paul Bocuse's French Cooking" quite a bit even though I won't admit it and even though I am not that big of a fan of the French."

        1. re: c oliver
          e
          escondido123 Apr 23, 2011 08:48 AM

          Bugialli has a wonderful lasagna recipe that I have made dozens of time---you can tell by the tomato splatters on the pages. And though I could make it without looking at the recipe, odds are I might leave out one of the "smaller" ingredients that is integral to the flavor. Sure, I've tweeked it a bit and cut out some of the butter, but as long as I take a look at it before I start I know it will have all the ingredients and flavor I expect from that dish.

          1. re: escondido123
            c oliver Apr 23, 2011 09:09 AM

            Exactly. When there's a wonderful recipe, I want to make sure that it remains wonderful. Referring back to the recipe, whether for ingredients, amounts or techniques, is a safeguard.

            1. re: c oliver
              bayoucook Apr 23, 2011 09:13 AM

              Me, too. I don't want to leave a thing out of my treasured recipes (with notes). And in rebuttal of the main question: why not use a recipe? I love the darn things but am perfectly capable of cooking without them (can be booorrring). hehe

              1. re: bayoucook
                j
                Joebob Apr 23, 2011 01:32 PM

                Why not indeed!

      2. alanbarnes Apr 22, 2011 10:01 AM

        "Recipes are like guide dogs for the blind. Unless you're blind, no need to use them."

        No, recipes are like guides. Sometimes it's good to draw on the knowledge and experience of others. I catch more fish when I'm guided by somebody who's been on the water every day for years. I see things I'd never find in my own when a local is showing me around a foreign city. And I experience new combinations of flavors when I follow a recipe.

        That's not to say that I use recipes all or even most of the time. Matter of fact, it's a pretty rare occurrence. But they do have their place, and I'd certainly never disparage someone who uses them more often.

        3 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes
          c oliver Apr 22, 2011 11:33 AM

          But the first time (or the first five times) you made one of your, say, Indian dishes, did you use a recipe or are you able to eat something in a restaurant and come home and create it? I'm sure there are those people and you may well be one of them. but I think they're the exception rather than the rule. As I commented upthread, it can be a recipe even if you don't open a book or even if you tweak the original. That's just my opinion. And don't forget, you young whippersnapper, that your elders MAY not be able to remember all those pesky ingredients and instructions :)

          1. re: c oliver
            alanbarnes Apr 22, 2011 03:19 PM

            Oh, absolutely. I follow recipes closely if I'm trying to achieve a particular result, especially if the dish is new to me. It's not just ingredients, but techniques, too. And when a dish is complex - multiple steps or lots of ingredients - I'll refer to the recipe even if I've made it many times.

            My "pretty rare occurrence" comment has to do more with the kind of food we eat most of the time than with any confidence in my ability to create complex dishes. I don't use a recipe for burgers or roast chicken or lentil soup or fried rice. But anything complicated - yeah, I'm right there with the cookbook.

            1. re: alanbarnes
              c oliver Apr 22, 2011 03:31 PM

              Oh, whew. It's not just that I'm old :) And, yes, that's the majority of our meals. Tonight will be Barnes Burgers in slider form. TJs has little buns and each holds about a 3oz burger.
              PS: It's snowing HARD here :(

        2. j
          jjjrfoodie Apr 22, 2011 06:27 AM

          <<<<< But that's exactly what I mean.

          By ipsedixit on Apr 21, 2011 10:59AM
          >>>>>>>>

          But that's not what you typed.

          If you are THAT good at cooking, you should be spending your time teaching, writing cookbooks (sic) and cooking for that those will pay you handsomely for your skills. Patting yourself on the back on a food forum is a good waste of talent, obviously.

          Funny tho. When I eat at my favorite restaurants and I order the same menu item week after week, it comes out tasting the same every time, to my delight. Now wouldn't that be considered "following a recipe?"
          Perhaps it's some other rote learning and/or cooking skill I'm unaware of.

          1. i
            Indy 67 Apr 22, 2011 06:22 AM

            Talk about a generalization! There are recipes and, then, there are recipes.

            If I want to reproduce Patrick O'Connell's Roast Loin on a Tangle of Tart Greens with Spaetzle because I don't want to drive 1 1/2 hours and pay $700 plus for the privilege of eating his lovely food, I'm going to follow his recipe exactly. Ditto for Jean-Georges' food.

            I don't even limit my devotion to recipes to those from super star chefs. I'll happily follow any recipe that already represents the gold standard for a dish from my point of view. For example, there's a local Lebanese market whose tabbouleh is absolutely the best in town. I would love, love, love to learn their exact recipe. And I mean exact. That's the point. I've eaten lots of tabbouleh from lots of equally competent sources and these other versions don't approach the perfect balance of grain, parsley, and lemon. I already know the general guidelines for tabboulsh, but I see no reason to devote time and money to improvising when the gold standard exists. Until I get hold of my favorite source's exact recipe, I'll simply continue to buy it as a take-out option.

            1. chowser Apr 21, 2011 03:56 PM

              I'm not agreeing w/ your analogy. I think it's more along the lines of using a GPS for an area you're somewhat familiar with but not sure about the exact location of the place. I might listen to it but if I think it's off I won't follow it.

              I'm curious--how many people follow a recipe exactly, every time? I love the Zuni chicken recipe but I don't think I've ever followed it 100%. Even with baking, I'm somewhat close but change things around (as I get older, sometimes it's more inadvertent when I can't read quite the directions) but know enough to get myself back on track, as with the GPS and following directions.

              6 Replies
              1. re: chowser
                ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 08:34 PM

                You know what puzzles me the most?

                When someone says, "I lost my recipe for X, and I cannot make X anymore"

                Really?

                If that's true, then that person was never able to make X. That person was only able to follow a recipe.

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  Veggo Apr 21, 2011 08:37 PM

                  No soup for you.

                  1. re: Veggo
                    ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 09:21 PM

                    That's ok.

                    I am still trying to finish my stash of muffin tops.

                  2. re: ipsedixit
                    j
                    Joebob Apr 22, 2011 01:49 AM

                    If that person follows the X recipe and thereby successfully makes X, how can you say they [was] never able to make X when they just did make X? No logic for you!

                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      m
                      Mona Williams Apr 22, 2011 04:15 AM

                      I lost my grandmother's recipe for caramels and I mourn it. Even though there are other caramel recipes out there, and I sort of remember her ingredients... And I would say I was able to make it. She had used the "soft-ball" criterion for doneness that I have a hard time with. So I experimented with it over and over until I got the thermometer temperature that I thought was right. I haven't tried to make it again and I probably won't.

                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        chowser Apr 22, 2011 06:11 AM

                        I never bake w/out a recipe. I don't follow it to a T but I need it for a general guideline. I can't remember if it's a tsp of baking powder or soda in cookies/cakes. And, even if I do know the recipe, it's memorized and is that any better than reading a recipe? What's the difference, other than a better memory? I'm so impressed w/ what the pastry chefs on Top Chef Just Desserts were able to do w/out recipes. But really, they've just memorized them all.

                    2. Hank Hanover Apr 21, 2011 01:45 PM

                      I've talked about this before on chowhound. I use recipes as guidelines. I will look at several recipes for the same thing and get the general idea and cook it.

                      There would be exceptions, of course. If I am cooking something from a new cuisine that I am unfamiliar with or am cooking something very complex, I follow a recipe. By the way, if a recipe is very complex, I'm probably not going to cook it. I don't see why food should be complicated to be good.

                      Even when I am winging it, as I say, I often have a printed recipe nearby on the counter. I just don't get real stressed about following it exactly.

                      I'm, also always looking at recipes as techniques and "flavor profiles" (rolls eyes... I wouldn't have used that over used phrase but I couldn't think of a better term). If a combination of spices or ingredients is good in one dish, they will probably be good in another.

                      I don't even follow a recipe exactly the first time. I'm just trying to put dinner on the table, folks. I'm not trying pay homage to the chef that developed the recipe. Besides, I can't begin to tell you how many recipes I have looked up by different chefs and found they were almost exactly alike.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Hank Hanover
                        tracylee Apr 23, 2011 11:09 PM

                        I do the same thing, Hank. I'll research and bookmark several different recipes and adjust to my tastes and dietary restrictions. If I like the results, I'll go back and write down what worked for me to start with as a base for the next time. My SO started typing up our recipes and put them in a notebook. I have a recipe for a bread in my bread maker that I started out with modifications, and messed it up so many times. Today, it came out perfectly, so I put all of my changes on a sticky on the recipe page.

                        Cooking, I'll wing it. Baking, I'll start with recommended proportions and modify from there.

                        1. re: tracylee
                          Hank Hanover Apr 23, 2011 11:29 PM

                          I do far worse than that. When I wanted a cabbage roll recipe because I didn't have my mom's, I put the ingredients and techniques from 6 recipes into a spreadsheet and analyzed them. I would go... oh I like that and steal it and move to my hypothetical recipe then I would steal something from a different recipe. When I finally cooked it, it turned out great and I never made any of the original 6 recipes.

                          Tomorrow, for the first time, I'm going to make a coconut layer cake. I started with Alton Brown's recipe. I liked that he added cream of coconut to the cake but he used white cake. That would be prettier but, in my opinion, not as tasty so I'm going to base it on a yellow cake.

                          I liked some of the ideas from baking 911 so I am going to steal them. They had a recipe for a coconut layer cake with lemon curd which sounded great until I saw a recipe for pineapple curd. So, I'm going to make a yellow coconut layer cake with cocoa lopez in the cake and a pineapple curd filling.

                          I will use the correct proportions though.

                          1. re: Hank Hanover
                            tracylee Apr 24, 2011 06:51 PM

                            I love the spreadsheet idea! I'm a geek and have spreadsheets for everything else. I posted a recipe to a forum I run where - silly me - I insisted that recipes contain nutritional information. Spreadsheet to the rescue by ingredient divided by number of portions.

                            The cake sounds wonderful! Now that I've found an alternative to sugars (which my body can't handle), lemon curd is on my list of sweets to try.

                      2. c oliver Apr 21, 2011 10:21 AM

                        "Recipes are like guide dogs for the blind. Unless you're blind, no need to use them."

                        The best home cooks I know ALL use recipes. Just look at any COTM thread and you can tell the calibre of cooks participating in those. For me, I defer to someone(s) who are professionals. I don't do my own dentistry. Some rationale. I've known plenty of people who "wing it" and most of them aren't nearly as good as they think they are.

                        17 Replies
                        1. re: c oliver
                          ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 10:33 AM

                          There are people who cook with recipes, and there are people who cook intuitively.

                          To say one group is better than the other, belittles both groups.

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            c oliver Apr 21, 2011 10:37 AM

                            Ah, so you weren't serious about the guide dog/blindness. Good. I feel comfortable though that in the majority of cases those who use intuition are unlikely to be as good a cook as someone who uses tried and true recipes. This has nothing to do with this thread though so I won't push it any further.

                            1. re: ipsedixit
                              Gio Apr 21, 2011 10:51 AM

                              I use recipes. I cook intuitively. I'm able to cook intuitively Because I've used recipes.

                              1. re: Gio
                                ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 10:59 AM

                                I use recipes. I cook intuitively. I'm able to cook intuitively Because I've used recipes.

                                _____________________

                                But that's exactly what I mean.

                                Like i said upthread, use recipes as a general guidepost, but don't feel the need to slavishly follow them.

                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                  c oliver Apr 21, 2011 11:24 AM

                                  Unless they're perfect the way they are :) I also just want to make the distinction that just because you're not opening a book doesn't mean you're not using a recipe. I make some things often enough that I don't need to look at the recipe anymore. But that doesn't mean it's not a recipe. Right?

                                  1. re: c oliver
                                    ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 11:28 AM

                                    I think it really depends on what you mean by "recipe" and "follow"

                                    Not to get too didactic about the whole thing, but let's chew on this hypo for a minute just for purposes of discussion.

                                    Let's say you are making mango chutney, and you have a recipe that's tried-and-true and which you use all the time. But this time, you've got a batch of mangoes that are a shade of being ripe, and they just aren't sweet enough. The recipe says (for example) use 2 tsps of honey for every 1 cup of mangoes. But because your mangoes this time are not very sweet, after adding the called-for 2 tsps of honey, you taste it and it's sort of insipid. Wouldn't you add a touch more honey, or whatever flavor enhancer to make the chutney more palatable and closer to the intended goal of what the recipe called for?

                                    If you (generic "you") did that, would that still be "following a recipe" or cooking intuitively?

                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                      s
                                      soupkitten Apr 21, 2011 11:46 AM

                                      not to be pedantic, but the word insipid means too sweet/cloying. so in that case i'd add citrus juice or more pickled lime to my chutney. if it was too tart due to green mangoes i'd add more honey or pureed dates or whatever.

                                      recipes are great jumping off points, and the more you know the less you need em. but you gotta get there first. leaving the salt out of a recipe for baked goods is a rookie mistake imo. you don't need a lot of salt but it is in *everything,* after all. more home cooks should use salt pinch-cups/trays, like restaurants.

                                      1. re: soupkitten
                                        t
                                        thimes Apr 21, 2011 11:53 AM

                                        I love words

                                        Miriam-webster (I always trust them)

                                        Insipid:

                                        1: lacking taste or savor : tasteless <insipid food>
                                        2: lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate, or challenge : dull, flat <insipid prose>

                                        1. re: soupkitten
                                          mariacarmen Apr 24, 2011 12:25 AM

                                          yeah, where did you find your def for insipid?

                                          i agree with people here who say recipes are ok, not to adhere to religiously, but certainly not to eschew. we learn a lot from watching other people cook, eating different cuisines, reading about people's cooking on websites like this and others, and using recipes when the need/desire strikes, and then hopefully using them for jumping off points.

                                        2. re: ipsedixit
                                          c oliver Apr 21, 2011 01:39 PM

                                          For me non-generically :) that would be "following a recipe." If I had never seen a recipe for mango chutney, I doubt I'd invent it on the spot. Here's a specific exampe of what you and I are talking about. Veggo has a soup of shrimp, corn and roasted poblanos. The first time I made it one tablespoon of the poblano puree set my mouth on fire. Everytime since then they have been so mild that I put three or four peppers worth in it and STILL had some Cholula when I serve it. Despite making changes I definitely consider it following a recipe.

                                          1. re: c oliver
                                            ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 01:42 PM

                                            Interesting, c.

                                            I think the shrimp soup example is something I would not consider "following a recipe".

                                            To each her own, I suppose.

                                            Nice talking to you.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                              c oliver Apr 21, 2011 01:53 PM

                                              Isn't it lovely when two brilliant but slightly stubborn people (that's you and me just in case you didn't figure THAT out!) talk things through and figure it out. Nice talking to you also, ipse.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                Veggo Apr 21, 2011 02:10 PM

                                                All my work, all my undisclosed trials and errors, many batches, many versions, over many months, and then I share my soup recipe here for others to enjoy, and ispe, you dismiss it like pond scum? My feelings are hurt.
                                                Your punishment: No soup for you!
                                                (You know I'm funnin, but just the same...)

                                            2. re: ipsedixit
                                              e
                                              escondido123 Apr 21, 2011 02:05 PM

                                              That would be called adjusting a recipe based upon ingredients.

                                        3. re: Gio
                                          bayoucook Apr 23, 2011 09:42 AM

                                          right on Gio! (me too). I don't know if I've *ever* gone strictly by a recipe.

                                      2. re: c oliver
                                        m
                                        Mona Williams Apr 21, 2011 10:43 AM

                                        In cooking school (a two-year professional course), we were taught not to rely too literally on recipes. But I cannot imagine cooking without (really good) recipes, because they give me new ideas and techniques. And you learn to spot the good ones.

                                        1. re: Mona Williams
                                          c oliver Apr 21, 2011 01:42 PM

                                          Agreed. And the better cook one becomes, imo, the better one can read a recipe and know if it's a winner.

                                      3. rcallner Apr 19, 2011 09:18 PM

                                        Well, hang on there, ipse - I seldom use recipes for cooking except for inspiration and a general guidepost, but for BAKING - that's some science, there. If the baking powder's left out, for example, you have a whole different thing in the end. (That's why I love to bake pies - they're so forgiving, scientifically speaking.)

                                        14 Replies
                                        1. re: rcallner
                                          ipsedixit Apr 19, 2011 09:40 PM

                                          I seldom use recipes for cooking except for inspiration and a general guidepost
                                          _________________________

                                          Bingo!

                                          As to baking, there is very little difference. There is nothing scientific about leaving out baking powder in cookies (for example), just as there is nothing scientific about leaving out butter in a pie crust. If you leave either ingredient out, you either (1) don't know how to make that baked item, or (2) you just forgot.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit
                                            amyzan Apr 20, 2011 09:00 PM

                                            If you're a baker and you have ratios memorized, yeah, it makes sense not to bake with a recipe. Then, there are the rest of us...and I won't even go into how many of us are harried and distracted, and might find a recipe a useful and convenient tool. No one should be shamed for using recipes. If you choose not to use them, that's your perogative. To imply that a person preferring to use a recipe wouldn't know how to make the item without the recipe is completely out of line.

                                            1. re: amyzan
                                              ipsedixit Apr 20, 2011 09:02 PM

                                              I don't think it's that mechanical -- i.e. getting ratios memorized.

                                              Alot of it is feel. For example, with pie crust, you just have to sort of know when to add a bit of water to the dough to get the right texture, or when to add some water to your flour when making dough for breads, noodles, etc.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                amyzan Apr 20, 2011 09:09 PM

                                                Sure, and that would likely be covered by a baker knowing the temp and humidity of ingredients and the environment. One cannot deny that chemistry is involved in baking, and yes, as such, involves ratios. You likely feel when the proper ratio is achieved, just by a different, no less valid, method.

                                                1. re: amyzan
                                                  ipsedixit Apr 20, 2011 09:15 PM

                                                  But the ratios that you speak of in baking are extant in "regular" cooking, no?

                                                  You sort of need to know the ratio of oil to acid to make a basic vinaigrette, right?

                                                  Gotta know the ratio of salt to water to make a brine.

                                                  Etc.

                                                  I think too many people overthink the room when it comes to baking, when it really is not that much different than "regular" cooking.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                    e
                                                    escondido123 Apr 20, 2011 09:22 PM

                                                    So I guess you know all the cuisines and all the herbs and spices and all the possible combinations and figure whatever you come up with out of your head will be as good or better than what generations of cooks have done. Interesting approach. I consider recipes a guidebook to cuisines and once I've gotten to know the area I feel free to go out on my own.

                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                      ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 10:11 AM

                                                      So I guess you know all the cuisines and all the herbs and spices and all the possible combinations and figure whatever you come up with out of your head will be as good or better than what generations of cooks have done.

                                                      _____________

                                                      Not sure I said, or implied, anything to that effect.

                                                      In fact, I specifically agreed with a previous poster that recipes should be a "general guidepost" ... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7795...

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                        chowser Apr 21, 2011 03:59 PM

                                                        If you get the ratios wrong in cooking, you can usually fix it and if not, it might make a difference in taste but if you get the ratios wrong in baking, you could end up w/ a flat cake. Use an extra tablespoon of tomatoes in a sauce won't change it. Use an extra tablespoon of flour in cookies and you'll get a taller, cakier cookie.

                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                          ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 08:16 PM

                                                          Yes, but the flat cake, or cakier cookie, would still taste pretty darn good.

                                                          Proper ratios/measurements in baking is really more about aesthetics than taste.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit
                                                            chowser Apr 22, 2011 06:13 AM

                                                            But a flat cake isn't the same result. The question isn't whether you can get something tasty but whether you can bake something w/out a recipe. It's more than esthetics, it's texture and taste.

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                              cowboyardee Apr 22, 2011 06:30 AM

                                                              I don't consider texture aesthetics. Likewise, I don't consider aesthetics an afterthought that is best left to its own devices. And certainly not texture.

                                                              In my mind, a really great cook carefully controls the texture and aesthetics of his dish just like he controls the taste. Of course, that doesn't mean said cook has to follow a recipe to get there. But something - his expertise, a memorized ratio, a recipe - better than dumb luck should be guiding him.

                                                      2. re: ipsedixit
                                                        amyzan Apr 20, 2011 09:44 PM

                                                        Different strokes, ipse.

                                                    2. re: ipsedixit
                                                      chowser Apr 21, 2011 03:57 PM

                                                      But, at some point, you had to follow a recipe to get to the right feel, unless you were being taught. There's no way someone who has never made pie crust could wing it and figure out the ratios w/out a recipe, and hopefully following it exactly to know what it should be like.

                                                      1. re: chowser
                                                        ipsedixit Apr 21, 2011 08:16 PM

                                                        And that's why I say you use recipes as "general guideposts".

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