do you follow a recipe to the letter?
I don't do a lot of baking, but when I do, I measure, sift, weigh... and have still had some less than sufsccessuly outcomes? Finally realized problem was probably with eggs... al ALwAYS buy jumbos (from littl Asia market) and every recipe calls for large. I'm sure that throws a cake recipe off significantly... 3 jumbos have to be at least 4 large eggs?!?
For recipes other than baking... anything goes. Today I looked up a recipe for chicken caccatorie. It didn't call for black olives... but I had them and knew they'd work. If it's not baking... pretty much anything goes. If I like an ingredient and think it'll go with others... it's in there.
How about you?
I usually follow the directions the first time and adjust the second time if I like the dish enough to make it again. The only time I wing it is if it is the end of the week, I'm out of $$ and ingredients, and I'm trying to make do with what I have.
For baking - YES, unless it's just a matter of adding more nuts or other extraneous stuff.
For regular cooking - NO. I fly by the seat of my pants unless it's a recipe that has some intricate procedure that makes following it explicitly important.
I always follow baking instructions, unless I've run out of something and need to substitute. When I know a baking recipe enough I play around a little. With regular cooking recipes are more a guideline.
If I'm not talking about baking then I rarely follow a recipe to a T and therefor (I'm not big on online reviews anyhow) I never review a recipe. It's quite irritating on Epicurious and such when cooks change a recipe (usually for the worse) and then comment on the outcome.
I know for a fact that I have both improved and ruined things due to my aversion to following the rules/recipes. Which sometimes I waffle over because as a very novice home cook I feel sometimes that following a professional recipe helps mold me and the other time I think that following my senses and intuition helps me grow as a novice home cook.
The other day I was making a traditional Italian tomato sauce for pasta. I wanted to do things the traditional, correct way and it was all I could do to keep the boyfriend out of my sauce and just as my prep cook so he didn't stray from this important recipe. After all was said and done, we yearned for my multi veggie meat sauce that I've made for years and years. Oh, well.
I have a dear girlfriend who is getting more interested in cooking and turns to me for advice. She marvels at my drunk off the cuff potluck cooking at 4am. I advise her to subscribe to Cooking Light, Clean Eating (she'd like to lose a few) and the Food Network mags and sites. Easy, approachable, etc. I also advised Cooks Illustrated but we all know how amazing that one is. The moral is I tell her to follow her recipes exactly to better understand all aspects of cooking.
I think there is a time and place for exactly following a recipe and for winging it or combining multiple recipes (the one I'm most guilty of). My father, an amazing BBQ judge and Cajun/Creole/Southern home cook always tells me, "practice your recipes and commit them to memory and NEVER serve a first run recipe on guests. Why don't I listen to him!? If only you could see the terrible pin bone incident of the salt dome whole fish and the undercooked potatoes domino at my last dinner party. Takeout, anyone?!
(Post Edit: Whoa! Sorry for my novelette!)