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How Often Do You Use Recipes?

Most of my friends cook meals from scratch almost every night (we're grad students, so it's hard to afford food out). I've noticed that some of us refer to recipes most of the time, while others rarely do. That got me wondering how often hounds use recipes in general.

I do a lot of "winging it" in the kitchen. For weeknight meals, I rarely consult a recipe. It's more fun for me to grab whatever's in the fridge and see what I can put together. Last night I made a bacon and spinach quiche, tonight I'm having cod over a bed of collard greens (First, I'll sear the cod quickly on each side. In a separate pan, I'll sauté some shallots and a bit of garlic, add a bit of white wine, then add the collards. When the collards are getting tender, the cod is placed on top of them, the pot is covered, and the fish steams through. I have a cilantro and lemon pesto to top the whole thing off. I'm sure I stole bits and pieces of this meal from tons of sources, but the whole thing has become my own).

I like to expand my repertoire by cooking a "classic" recipe on the weekends. I'm interested in French bistro fare, so I look through my books and see what I haven't done that piques my interest. I might try another recipe during the week, maybe from a cookbook, maybe from the internet. So that's something like 1-2 recipes and 5-6 "originals."

How often do you use recipes?

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  1. I use a recipe probably 90% of the time. That said, probably 30% of those recipes are my own inventions.

    1. Recipes - 4 or 5 nights a week. The other nights are either eating out, dishes that were once recipes but we now know how to cook them and we've put our spin on them, or basic dishes that would never need a recipe like, say, a stew.

        1. Almost never. I'm a wing-it kinda gal myself, unless it's a dish I've never made before -- then I'll glance briefly at a recipe online, check out ingredients/proportions, and take it from there.

          I guess I have a hard time following directions '-D

          1. Depends on what I'm doing -- mains, rarely unless its something completely out of my comfort zone (curries, never or rarely: potsticker filling, always). Salad dressings, always the first dozen times or so, then rarely. Desserts/baking, always. :)

            1. Always for sweet baking, rarely for everything else unless it is a cuisine I'm not familiar with or a dish I've never made before--which is maybe 5% of the time. We tend to cook the same dishes frequently and most never had a recipe to start out with.

              1. Rarely, if ever.

                Recipes are the biggest impediment to true culinary nirvana known to mankind.

                4 Replies
                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    I usually look up recipes when making something new.
                    Last week made okra for the first time, if I didn't look it up and treated it like any other veggy would never have known I have to deslime it first.
                    I also tend to use recipes more often when baking bread, could never remember what proportions for what bread
                    Once you know a recipe rarelhave to look it up again, keep adding your own twist to it

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      Ooh. Two hyperboles right below each other! Cute.

                    2. When I'm cooking, I'll sometimes refer to a recipe as a base and change it based on what I have on hand or what I feel like throwing in. When I'm baking (which I hate), I TRY to follow the recipe exactly, but I never do because I'm not a fan of measuring!

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: vestalis

                        Begs to ask why you bake if you hate doing it?

                        1. re: pdxgastro

                          Gotta get those homemade cookies somehow! I figure the more baking I do, the better I'll be at it and the more I'll enjoy it. Not sure if that's holding true. I can bake the basic cookies and brownies with no problem, but when it comes to meringue...

                          Every successful batch of baked goods is like a beacon of hope among a large sea of botched ones!

                        2. re: vestalis

                          vestalis, would you like baking better if you felt you were better at it?

                          1. re: sandylc

                            I think so. I think I just need a little more patience when it comes to measuring ingredients. I just hate dirtying all my bowls, pans, mixers, and measuring utensils when I feel as if I can throw it all together in a bowl and mix it with the good ol' wooden spoon. Patience is a virtue!

                            And I'm always trying to make recipes healthier by substituting whole wheat flour, using applesauce in place of half the fat, etc. Unfortunately, it doesn't always go too well.

                            1. re: vestalis

                              A combination of research and experience is your friend here. I have done a lot of baking and I also like to substitute healthier things. I have come to the compromise that I am happy with: 25-30%. This means that most recipes can take whole wheat for about 25-30% of the unbleached flour and many recipes (not all) can accept a 25-30% dip in sugar. I don't bother with the applesauce-for-butter thing because I don't see a problem with butter, especially if I don't make a pig of myself over the finished product!

                              1. re: vestalis

                                Hey Vestalis, re: substituting healthy ingredients for unhealthy ones, I bookmarked this page from a newspaper because I want to try the recipes that use black and white beans! Maybe you'd enjoy them too?


                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  Ah, I just saw those black bean brownies on Pinterest! Definitely piqued my interest. I'll try it out sometime in the very near future and let you know how they are! I've heard good things!

                          2. Two totally diferent mindsets.

                            My sister considers herself a competent musician because she can play or sing from sheet music. I'm more the play-by-ear, feel-your-way type. I'm the more original cook; she's still using some of Mom's recipes.

                            We're both putting out good food, and good music. The difference is in personal goals & talents.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: WNYamateur

                              That's how I think about it too (and I'm also a play-by-ear musician, strangely enough). I've definitely had good food made straight from the recipe and bad food made off the cuff. You're right in saying the difference is in personal goals and talents!

                            2. On rare occasion.

                              Sometimes will look a a few recipes for a cuisine I'm not familiar with to get the essence of what it's about

                              1. I don't often follow recipes word for word, unless I'm baking or doing something with yeast.

                                I LOVE to look at recipes, but mostly for ideas. If I know the general ingredients of a dish, I can assemble something delicious. If I see Lidia on TV, and see that she made a dish using chicken, stock, sundried tomatoes, prosciutto, onions, wine, etc, I don't need to know the exact amounts of anything to make something yummy. Does anyone really measure onions?? If a recipe calls for two cups of onions, do people really measure out two cups? I don't think I've ever done that...I just put in what looks right/what I prefer.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: italianyc84


                                  I do lots of internet recipe surfing when I want to make something different, but even if I print off a recipe, I end up twisting it so much to suit my mood or ingredients, that it's no longer recognizable. So yes, I do use recipes. But not to the letter.

                                  I respectfully disagree with ipsedixit on this one, because I know my limitations, and I know that I can't think of every good food combination all on my own. I like seeing what other people put together. For example, I had lots of great peaches this summer, and had canned enough peach jam to feed an army. So I wandered around on the web looking for something savory to do with peaches, found a great peach salsa recipe, grilled a huge salmon filet on the Weber, and served it with that peach/cilantro salsa. Oh my, it was delicious. And no way would I have thought of that myself, having never seen it nor had it before. Since then, I've just winged it when I make peach or mango salsa, but I absolutely did need the recipe to get me started.

                                  1. re: italianyc84

                                    The larger the amount, the more likely I am to actually measure. Anything less than a couple of tablespoons, I just guestimate.

                                      1. re: italianyc84

                                        I don't follow a recipe to the letter at all and almost never measure (aside from baking) but I am learning my lesson after all this time regarding some things because if i could just learn to do some light measuring then I would be stuck with a pot or casserole dish where everything doesn't fit in. That's what happens when you don't "listen."

                                      2. When it comes to baking desserts and that certain chemistry is needed, I always follow a recipe. After the third time or so, if I'm sure the dessert will be a mainstay, I'll fiddle around with flavors and frostings, but not the ingredient ratios of the actual cakes or crusts or custards.
                                        With dinners, i.e. Pot au Feu, Beouf Bourgonion, tajines, I'll follow recipes and when I'm feeling confident enough, I'll alter it to our personal tastes. With many recipes, other than baking, that is, I'll "read" the recipe rather than "follow" it to a t. One bay leaf? Please--I'll throw in two or three? Same with spices--I like my food spicey, so I'll basically use the ingredients to taste.
                                        One thing that does"irk' me though about some recipes is the timing. I'll notice that some recipes will state that the prep time is something like ten minutes. Honey--not on my time. It always takes longer. Especially with desserts. Especially when it comes to whipping egg whites. You need to whip those egg whites for about seven minutes for a decent macaron.
                                        Said my peace.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: jarona

                                          Prep time is the one thing I totally ignore with recipes. Everybody cooks differently; one prep time does not fit all.

                                        2. I read cookbooks like novels, then hardly ever follow a recipe when I cook. The only time I measure or follow a recipe is when I am baking (cakes, cookies, muffins, never for bread).

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: wyogal

                                            Same here re: cookbooks :) I get my inspiration from either wandering the grocery store (my best dishes have come from this), or from something I might have read in a cookbook at some point in time. The only thing I look at recipes for is general information, such as recommended cooking temp and time. Even then, I only do it for large meat items, such as a roast, or a whole chicken, and even then I don't take it gospel. If the meat is cut down, then I know already how long to do it for. I rarely bake (because I HATE measuring), but even then I fiddle around with flavors and ingredients.

                                          2. Stopped at a farm shop on the way back south today and bought the wherewithall for a snacky dinner (no big meal needed due to 13 course Michelin starred tasting menu last night, big hotel breakfast this morning, followed by big pub lunch).

                                            So, there's a pork pie, some local farmhouse cheese, salad, sourdough. It'll keep the wolf from the door.

                                            1. Pretty often, because I am often revising recipes (sometimes repeatedly - sometimes extensively) ... both my own, and one's I've adopted/adapted from others.

                                              Although when I "prepare" food *just* for myself (if you can call it that) I do not use a recipe ... I am not a picky nor complicated eater when alone ... it might be a quarter-of-a-head-of-lettuce-with-the-saltshaker-over-the-sink sorta thing ... the fine art of Gourmandise Rudimentaire.

                                              1. I read recipes for inspiration and reference on a regular basis. But when I'm actually cooking, I very seldom use a recipe.

                                                In truth, I have a hard time thinking about cooking in terms of recipes. On the boards, often someone will ask for a recipe for _____ (whatever), and though I may have many ideas, I don't really think them out in a way that translates well to a recipe. Usually the minutiae about exactly how you cook something (often ignored by published recipes) matters a lot more than the exact measurement, which can vary and is generally dictated by taste and feel.

                                                I use recipes a little more often for baking (bread, desserts) and for messing around with 'molecular' techniques, since more exact measurements are often needed. And even then, not always.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Mostly I use recipes on the weekends when I have the time to experiment with making something that I've never tried before. I always follow the recipe the first time, but then feel like I know what the recipe writer was getting at and feel free to change it up after that.

                                                  During the week, I just wing it. But that's usually just a chop, or grilled chicken breast, with salad.

                                                  1. This has been discussed many times and I come down on the side of recipes when you don't know the cuisine you are interested in or want to try something different from your usual. I can't stand the idea of wasting food, so don't do too many experiments. I figure that a lot of folks have spent time figuring out how a certain set of ingredients go together, and if they have a good reputation, I'll give it a try. That said, if it sounds like it won't work, I won't do it.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. I know the cool answer is never or rarely. But I love recipes. i love thinking about whether they make sense and I love trying new ones.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: magiesmom


                                                        I love seeing how a concerted plan comes together. And I can usually judge, a priori, whether the recipe is a good one or not.

                                                      2. I read recipes, I think it's safe to say, everyday.
                                                        I use them, rarely.

                                                        1. I follow recipes when I'm working with a new product or technique. I've just started cooking with whole grain products like farro and barley, so I make sure I follow the cooking process the first few times I make it for an example. Typically once I've made a certain kind of dish I might glance at a recipe but I mostly follow my instincts. When I'm making ethnic food that calls for a balance of different spices, I always measure and then correct seasoning to taste. Pho is an example. The first time I make it each winter, I forget the ratio of the spices and look it up again. Everything else is done by memory. Obviously I follow recipes for baking, but I almost always double the salt (esp for bread, it is an awesome, sneaky trick) and any flavorings are done to taste and often increased. Also, once I find base recipes that work really well, I hold on to them and tweak the flavorings based on what I'm in the mood for.

                                                          1. I mostly always refer to a recipe. I have enough experience, however, to see what things I would like to change with said recipe.

                                                            You have to learn the rules to break them well. And the best of us usually need a reminder or at least an outline to do things well.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                              And if you don't listen to the fundamentals, you'll slide deeply and horribly into The Urban Peasant territory (those of you from Canada know who I'm talking about and have seen that show LOLOLOL)

                                                              1. If knowing what things go into a dish and then putting them in it is using a recipe, then I use recipes. If following a written list and the accompanying directions is using a recipe, then I don't. Well, maybe every once in a while. Like every year or two? Through the years I have found that my memory for how something is supposed to taste, then adjusting until I get it "spot on" works far more reliably than a half teaspoon of this and a full teaspoon of that. Temperrature, humidity, all sorts of things impact on how foods combine and meld their flavors, which means exacting recipes may miss the mark. I'm not chef... Never felt having to make the same thing night after night that tasted exactly the same night after night or the customers would be ticked was a fun way to live. But several dear friends through the years have been chefs, and they all loved coming to my house for dinner. This method works well for classic dishes. Coq au Vin. Beouf Burguignon. Beouf Wellington. Stroganoff. Cassoulet. Avgolemono. Things like that. But sometimes it's more fun to wing it, and when that venture calls, then knowing the classic techniques and what they do to food and how to use them and combine them, if that offers an advantage, are all critical skills that I don't really have to stop and think about. My spice shelves are home to about 100 to 120 different spices. My selection of wines and liquor/liqueurs is not what it once was, but it's adequate. My pantry is pretty well stocked. All of this means I can pretty much go any direction I want with flavors and I have a goodly collection of gadgets and trickery that allow me to use most cooking techniques in vogue today. Well, except liquid nitrogen and stuff like that. You think I want to freeze a finger off by sneaking a taste? I think not! I run a SAFE kitchen! And I have a lot of fun in it. What could be better than that?

                                                                1. For the longest time, I attempted to stir fry a protein (eg. chicken or shrimp) + vegetables. What I made was edible, but I never got it quite right. Then I found a cookbook that gave me the exact steps. I followed them and..SUCCESS. It was a light bulb moment.

                                                                  1. Hardly ever. I use them as guides more than gospel, unless I'm going to bake something. Then I follow it closely.

                                                                    1. As I was reading over other people's answers, my twisted humor popped up witth, "Iron Chef America. Secret Ingredient: RECIPES!"

                                                                      8 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                        I so agree with you, Caroline. In fact I've told DH, *If the house catches fire, you grab the dog, and I'll grab the recipes.

                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                          O.K., so does anyone here believe that the secret (food) ingredient is a surprise to the contestants on Iron Chef America?

                                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                                            Sort of off topic, but I've heard that the contestants are given a list of something like 3 different 'secret' ingredient options before taping, and they agree to those ingredients. I believe the actual secret ingredient is revealed on the show, but the contestants were already able to prepare menu ideas for the ingredient.

                                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                              I heard they were told two ingredients, knowing one of them would be the "secret."

                                                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                                                Could be. I'm working from memory and don't remember where I read it in the first place.

                                                                              2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                They’re given the secret ingredient, and then the cameras go off… they are then given a half hour (or something like that) to come up with a game plan for the secret ingredient. Then the cameras go back on and the chairman’s son says ALLEZ CUISINE! And they scramble

                                                                                1. re: cgarner

                                                                                  From msnbc 2008. Chefs are told a few possible ingredients so they can create a shopping list for the show to buy based upon which one is the actual secret ingredient. When they walk onto the show they know which it is by what ingredients have been purchased. Full info here:

                                                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                                                    that's interesting, but it makes sense... I was told what I reported by someone who I thought "knew" what the deal was... hahaha seems they don't know as much as they thought!
                                                                                    I'm forwarding the link (thank you!)

                                                                          2. I fall into that category of those who have stacks of cookbooks, but rarely use them

                                                                            I love to read recipes, but for “regular” week night cooking, I don’t usually need a recipe.

                                                                            But my weeknight cooking is generally throwing a steak or piece of chicken on the grill, or tossing some roasted veggies with pasta…

                                                                            Oh, I follow a “recipe” every day, when I make oatmeal, I mean I know it by heart, but I follow that recipe (and then I add my own flourishes)

                                                                            I plan on changing all of this very soon though, I have a friend who is on a mission which I will join, to start actually COOKING out of long forgotten cook books
                                                                            I mean, I bought them for a reason, right?

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: cgarner

                                                                              I'm on that sames mission because it is so easy to fall into buying the same ingredients and putting them together in the same way. Making a Chard and Ricotta Torta from a recipe gave me a dish that brought together flavors in a way that was amazing. Next dish:ricotta gnocchi.

                                                                            2. I use recipes about 50% of the time as a guide or post for me to jump off from. If I want to konw how to make a new recipe, I want to see how others have done it before, but I rarely follow anyone's recipe to the letter.

                                                                              OTOH if I'm baking I always stick to the recipe.