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Feb 20, 2013 01:14 PM

Which of your recipes are from memory only?

Just thought this while making tonight's dinner. I have a few recipes from when I first got married; they are from my beloved MIL who taught me much of what I know in the kitchen, or at least gave me a major head start. I have various, copious recipes filed away and on hand, ready for the next generation to discover upon my demise (I like to think); but the couple I make from memory....well, I feel like I am doing something evil, devious and yet fun. Why don't I write them down for posterity? Why do I keep these few for myself? The ones I thought of immediately are her meat sauce, including the meatballs, and her potato salad. She just told me at one point or another, and I committed to memory somehow. Of course before iPhones or any of that jazz, probably would have been considered impolite to pull out a pad and pencil then. Anyone else?

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  1. when i cook i rarely use a recipe.

    for new dishes, i am usually trying to copy something that was served to me at a restaurant or that is sold as take-out by a high end grocery store. no recipes available for those.

    for old dishes, i know them by heart.

    4 Replies
    1. re: westsidegal

      I do play with my recipes as I make them, yet still have a compulsion to pull out the recipe card at the start. Maybe I have too many? The few I know, I know, but the later ones I feel compelled to see what is written down despite making changes and of course noting it. I have a feeling I am weird or old fashioned though, that's why I'm asking really. I feel like everyone else has some kind of computer app, glad to know some others still like to perform free form!

      1. re: coll

        I read recipes, collect a new cookbook... I just don't actually use most of them while cooking. I learn from them, then I cook!

        I also really like foods outside of my own cultural range, as well as cooking things i have never tried anywhere before. So, I do a ton of research on a specific dish or process, then either choose an authentic or traditional recipe with my own tweaks from research, or just use typical ratios from several variations on the same dish.

        I write down some really unique inventions of mine in a small book in the kitchen. Usually after dinner and after a few glasses of wine....I tend to name those dishes...ummm..creatively :)

      2. re: westsidegal

        Same here.

        Never use recipes.

        Only time I ever used or followed a recipe to make something was when I was a baker at a chain restaurant. And then I didn't really consider what I was doing "baking" -- it was "work".

        1. re: westsidegal

          For savory dishes (entrees, sides, etc.) unless I am making something new, my recipes are all from memory or ad libbed on the spot.

          For baking, I always follow a recipe. I love top bake and prefer it to "cooking" but I am not enough of an innovator to ad lib or have the memory to remember all those exact measurements.

        2. I used to make lasagne from memory and now I don't know if I could replicate it the way I used to make it. I don't use recipes all the time. Many times I just cook stuff.

          I've learned that I must record a recipe if only because I might not make it for awhile, and then will have forgotten it exactly.

          I encourage you to write down your recipes! Please do it for your family's sake.

          5 Replies
          1. re: sueatmo

            I did make a dedicated baking book, since my family looks forward to my Christmas packages more than I can say. Of course, they have asked for some recipes already and I am so happy to share. I wish my nieces and nephews lived closer and we could hang in the kitchen, but hey I'm not gone quite yet! Hopefully the day will come.

            Funny at one point I went to make lasagna, and couldn't remember the exact proportions. I acually looked at a Ronzoni box because that's all there was when I first got married, and furtively wrote down the amounts! I make it maybe once every five years, and my brain isn't quite what it used to be.

            1. re: coll

              We don't eat much pasta these days. But the end of lasagne as my family knew it came when the kids left for good. There are only 2 of us now, and the thought of making such a labor intensive dish for just the two of us was too much, especially when I was still working.

              Now, I read of 'Hounds who bake lasagne in a loaf pan for one or two servings! But its too late. As I said, we don't eat pasta much any more.

              1. re: sueatmo

                I used to make it in an 8x8 baking dish. (now I have a teenaged boy in the house.....that's not even one serving any more!)

                if you use the noodles that you don't have to precook, it's no more labor-intensive than any other casserole.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  I don't make it too often, but when I do I use two 8x8 glass pans, and make one with real sausage and one with the Tofurkey version. Mrs. O dearly loves it, you see, and I appreciate the chance to make us both happy. The pans are not exactly identical, so it's easy to tell which is which.

                  I've not had good luck with the no-boil noodles; I just cook mine to the barely al-dente stage. As for leftovers, my last batch fed three for dinner, then another servings later! But we're kind of old …

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    My freezer is one of my best friends, as we get older and have less company.

          2. I don't use recipes for savory dishes. If I see a recipe/dish that catches my eye, I'll read it to get a feel for it to use later. I kind of wing it when I'm making dinner so it's probable that the same dishes are never really the same.

            I usually use recipes when I'm baking, at least the first times I'm making something. If it's something I make often, I'll often stop using the recipe and improvise because I know the general proportions.

            11 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              My recipes usually start with five different ones and I narrow it down. That's probably why I have to keep tabs in the beginning!

              1. re: coll

                I realized I never answered your question about writing down recipes. I do have a book of recipes, along with notes on what I've tried and what worked/didn't work/why. It's for my kids mostly. I noticed the other day that it's full of desserts and assorted baked goods.

              2. re: chowser


                You know I'm with you on the savory dish thing.

                But I think it's a big misconception that baking requires recipes because one has to be exact with ingredients and the amounts of each ingredient.

                That's just not true.

                I think with baking, even more so than with general cooking, it is all about feel and intuition. You get to understand what "wet dough" should feel like, or when a dough has proofed enough, or how crumbly pie dough should be, etc.

                Even recipes acknowledge this because more often than not you'll see something like "add a bit more water until the dough is wet enough" That's precision for you, right?

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  It depends on what I'm making, as baking goes. General cookie are easy but if I'm trying to replicate Levain's bakery chocolate chip cookies, I look at copycat recipes. I've played with different chocolate chip recipes but nothing beats Jacques Torres's with the combination of cake/bread flour. I would never have come up w/ that precise ratio myself. There is much to be learned in seeing what others have done. I probably could replicate most things with a lot of trial and error but why reinvent the wheel?

                  If I'm making bread that I've never done before, I would have no idea how much hydration ciabatta has vs a baguette vs how many eggs/milk in brioche or challah or if there is any. So, I follow a recipe and go by the description, which I think of as part of the recipe. More precision is needed with baking than with making lasagna.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Wish there was a way to give a post here a "thumbs up" without actually replying, but you are so spot-on! This is exactly how I (and I am sure many others) make pizza dough,bread, etc. I also think atmospheric conditions play a role (i.e. is it raining out?).

                    1. re: pedalfaster

                      I agree that you can't be a slave to exact measurements but, to me, the descriptions are part of the recipe. Unless you're told, at least the first time, that you're looking for, say, a shaggy dough, you won't know. Brioche is night and day from pizza dough but a newbie wouldn't know what to look for,

                      1. re: chowser

                        Not sure how these msgs stack, but to chowser....yeah agree w/ you too. I realized after I posted that many do not have the benefit of ~watching~ in real life. For those of us who grew up watching moms, MILS, aunts, etc. cooking... I think much of the learning was visual, followed by tasting. It feels intuitive.

                        1. re: pedalfaster

                          I've always said I'd be a much better cook if my grandmother didn't live halfway around the world and my mom were a better cook.;-) I would benefit from having an Italian grandmother who could have taught me to make pasta from a well of flour and eggs.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      As I think about this, the question for me on using a recipe is "Do I want to make chocolate chip cookies?" in which case, I don't need a recipe. Or "Do I want to make Jacques Torres's chocolate chip cookies?" in which case I do. My friend loved her grandmother's irish soda bread and she didn't use a recipe. But, my friend followed her grandmother as she made it and measured what she was doing. Without doing it, she wouldn't know how to make her grandmother's soda bread. So, that's the purpose, to me, of a recipe. To imitate something you love. I can pick out a Vivaldi concerto on the violin if I hear it enough but I can get a better version if I buy the sheet music. It doesn't make a musician less of one by using prepared music.

                      1. re: chowser

                        DINGDINGDING -- this is the winning post.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Yes, exactly. I will use a recipe to imitate. I love trying out copycat recipes, especially for strange condiments, salad dressings, etc. I also love to imitate for baked items.

                    3. I have 20 - 25 go to main dishes that I can cook without a recipe.Of those 20 - 25 recipes, I usually get the recipe out anyway....just in case for 5 - 10 of them. Those 20 -25 dishes are probably more like 50 - 60 dishes if you consider all the changes you can make to them.

                      I have all my dishes in recipe form because I make a big deal out of knowing a core of recipes and I am often asked for them.

                      I do cook other dishes and for them I get the recipe out.

                      1. I think I'm not nearly as talented on many on this board, and definitely not as talented as my mom/nana/dad/aunties whose handwritten recipes are tucked into old, worn cookbooks I keep in a drawer in the kitchen. I will gladly share any good recipes I have with anyone who asks, but since I'm really not a "composer", I really don't write much stuff down.

                        23 Replies
                        1. re: pinehurst


                          I really don't think it's about talent, so much as having an intrepid culinary spirit.

                          Try this. Open up your pantry (or cupboard) and then your fridge. Take out 3 random things from each. Then try to make something out of those 6 six items.

                          Trust me, it's not hard to do.

                          And then once you've made something, you will have experienced the true quiddity of cooking, and you'll never look back.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Go forth, ipse, and proclaim this truth to the world. Lots more people need to know this.

                            I went over that line a long time before I realized I had; it hit me one night when I was doing exactly that, scouting the kitchen for something that would equal a meal, and then Bang. "Holy crap, I'm a cook!" Lovely moment.

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              Oh I've done "door knock dinners" so much fun to make something that way. But if it comes out wonderfully, then of course I have to write it down.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                This is how I never make the same thing twice. My food tends to do a little better when I follow a recipe. I even if I stray something about my ad libbing doesn't work out. Last night I took onions and bread crumbs and garlic and sautéed in butter. Then I mixed with shredded Swiss cheese and added some seasoning. Then I rolled the filling into a cubed steak and rolled that in season Italian breadcrumbs, different that the first ones and browned the rolls in butter and oil. After removing from the pan I deglazed with a bit of sherry and thickened before seasoning and adding some half and half, I served the pan sauce on the rolled beef with a side salad of mixed greens with sliced red onion and crumbled goat cheese with a white wine walnut oil vinagarette. It was just ok. Served with some egg noodles.
                                If I had used a recipe it probably would have been delicious, lick the plate, orgasm wonderful. Perhaps I just can't cook?

                                1. re: melpy

                                  I can only speak to this particular dish, but I'd lean toward you can cook just fine -- but you're trying a little too hard.

                                  Sometimes less is more -- and my guess is that there was so much going on in that cube steak that your tastbuds just gave up and went home.

                                  I used to do the same thing, and learning when to stop is tough...but sometimes less really is more!

                                  (I'd have started with the onions and garlic, and maybe some mushrooms, sauteed until they gave up their juice and then cooked down the juice. Then I'd have spreadthat across the cube steak, then sprinkled lightly with the Swiss cheese -- or the crumbled goat cheese would have gone well here, too, then roll up. After that you could have gone with either plain or Italian crumbs -- but without precooking the breadcrumbs. THEN brown them in a little butter and oil. I probably wouldn't have gone on to the pan sauce since they were already breaded and browned in butter)

                                  That would have left enough room for the flavors of your salad to shine a little brighter, too.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Personally I like cubed steak Milanese. Very simple. But my fiancé hates it and I went in search of something else with whatever was on hand.

                                  2. re: melpy

                                    I get a little confused when someone says they never recipe twice. If it is because they change something slightly from what they had 2-3 weeks ago... that's fine. But if they make a new dish every night in search of being a better cook/chef or they are so curious about the world of food that they just keep trying new recipes.

                                    I am baffled by someone that makes an entirely new recipe every night. You haven't found one recipe that was so good, you wanted to fix it again and again? You don't want to eat it every 2 - 4 weeks?

                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                      that, and "practice makes perfect"....

                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                        I repeat a few things but mostly I never have the same ingredients twice unless I cook from a recipe. Also unless my fiancé says it is good he has said that is a signal not to make again. So besides the few dishes he has said are good and the couple each from our childhoods which are extremely unhealthy and I wouldn't put In a normal rotation, it is something new every night, not necessarily a recipe just whatever we have on hand,

                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                          hank, dont be baffled ;) I make a new dish every night for those two reasons (honing my cooking skills and curiosity about new food). There are just too many dishes to try! Way. Too. Many.

                                          There is not one dinner dish that I would want to eat every 2 to 4 weeks. I can't imagine choosing the same dish I have had repeatedly, over exploring something new. There are a few dishes I make that other people request I make for them.

                                          Between those requests and a few dishes we love, a few times per year of the exact same dish is enough repetition for us.

                                          1. re: sedimental

                                            "There is not one dinner dish that I would want to eat every 2 to 4 weeks. I can't imagine choosing the same dish I have had repeatedly, over exploring something new. There are a few dishes I make that other people request I make for them. "

                                            I feel the same! I have some much loved dishes I make yearly and that is enough. Part of what I enjoy about cooking and eating is to experiment and explore. There simply isn't enough time or enough meals to cover that much territory!

                                            1. re: meatn3

                                              When I got up to 100 or so recipes, I figured I had it made for the rest of my life. Not that I'm not constantly adding, due to Chowhound mainly. Yes most of my oldies are only once or twice a year, more the reason to have crib notes!

                                            2. re: sedimental

                                              I think you folks that continually cook new dishes are either trying to refine your cooking skills and thereby pursuing your selected hobby or in your pursuit of trendy or healthy dishes, you can't find one that is good enough to eat very often.
                                              I have at least 5 - 6 dishes that I consider to be so good that I can't imagine going more than a month or so without eating it.

                                              They are as follows:

                                              Swiss Steak... it's a braise so maybe not in the summer.
                                              Chicken Marsala
                                              Skillet Lasagna
                                              Oven BBQed pork tenderloin
                                              Crockpot pulled pork
                                              Rice casserole
                                              Pot Roast

                                              By all means, you folks keep trying and someday you will find a few dishes that you actually look forward to eating.

                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                I have to have some favorites about every other month or his nibs pouts. OK I crave the standby comfort foods too. Are your recipes for these posted somewhere?

                                                1. re: ItalianNana

                                                  We have seasonal favorites that vary depending on what's in the garden or what the weather is like. Potato soup - winter only, chicken soup - any season. Ham casserole only when we have a big ham, then lentil or pea soup with the bone. Some of these don't need a recipe, but I will look online or in some cookbooks for inspiration if I'm feeling adventurous and want to change up my standard method.
                                                  We eat from the pantry and freezer ( and the garden year 'round), so I do a lot of recipe surfing to get an idea of what to do with those 3 random ingredients, but I rarely or never follow one recipe to the letter, just because I rarely have exactly what any particular recipe calls for, or I simply prefer to goo a different direction with the flavors.

                                                  On the other hand, I still pull out my mother's recipes for certain dishes that just have to taste the way I grew up on.

                                                2. re: Hank Hanover

                                                  My list of "so good" dishes is quite a bit longer, so the favorites get made only quarterly. Time is often a factor -- if a favorite takes longer than 45 minutes to prepare, it shows up far less often on the table.

                                                  We have fun trying new flavors, textures and variations on the theme. For example, "Mexican" could be a layered chicken/enchilada sauce/rice/beans/tortillas casserole, stuffed green peppers, green pepper stew, or simply beef tacos. Shrimp is another favorite and we've probably made every dish mentioned in the movie Forest Gump, plus a few.

                                                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                    The root of this disagreement lies in our different motivations.

                                                    I am not really an avid foodie. I view cooking as a necessary life skill. I, simply want to put food on the table. Am I without passion for food and cooking? Not quite, but I certainly don't have the passion required to cook a different dish every night.

                                                    As I have said many times, I have 20 - 25 go to dishes that I use primarily. I experiment, maybe once a week. If I felt the same about all 25 dishes that I feel about the 5 - 6 dishes I listed, I would rarely experiment. 25 dishes... Eat out once a week...that takes care of a month. Start the rotation over.

                                                    I, also, think I left out some. I, certainly left out a good ribeye or porterhouse steak and a baked potato. A nice piece of salmon is a favorite.

                                                    If I found a really good dish but it took a lot of work... not just time... braising for example takes a lot of time but very little work; it would not be on my rotation, it would be reserved for special occasions.

                                                    Another point I wanted to make was briefly mentioned by Sunshine. She said practice makes perfect. Ida Garten perfects her new recipes by cooking the dish several times in a day until she gets it perfect. Of course, she can afford it. When I first started cooking pork tenderloins, I thought they were great.

                                                    But I heard about brining and so I tried it on the tenderloins....WoW! they were even better. Then I heard about removing the silverskin... that made them better, too. Then I realized I wasn't searing them and several chefs and books talked about searing adding flavor so I tried it... that made them better! Then I started thinking about brining. I came to the conclusion that soy sauce was just an alternate source of sodium so why not brine in soy sauce when it might be appropriate? A brine often has sugar in it especially with pork so i will add that... but wait a minute... lot's of people use pineapple as a flavoring with pork... heck, it's even a tenderizer. Instead of sugar in my brine I used pineapple juice. What started as a great dish that my family looked forward to eating got improved 5 - 6 times. Those improvements wouldn't have happened if I cooked pork tenderloins every three months.

                                                    That is why I cook a rotation of dinners. Yeah I have a passion of sorts... for continuous improvement. I get a little better every day.

                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                      It sounds like you are not so baffled and confused after all.

                                                      There is no disagreement anywhere. it is a matter of personal preferences. Not everyone has the same level of passion for food and cooking. Of course, for people that create different dishes nightly, this has nothing to do with searching for "a few dishes to look forward to eating" as you were previously stating. That is absurd. It has to do with taste and passion.

                                                      If you want to cook and eat the same foods repeatedly, it is your choice and I am sure your family enjoys your food. But that is not how everyone wants to run their kitchen :)

                                                  2. re: Hank Hanover

                                                    it's also darned nice to have a recipe to pull out on nights when you're not feeling very creative, nor in the mood to futz with a new recipe.

                                                    Add to this that to me, it's good to have a repertoire of great-but-simple dishes that I can prepare on a moment's notice when friends drop by.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      In a similar vein - Husband made some years ago a list of his favorite dishes and he updates it whenever he remembers it. I like it a lot, it really is a list of tried and proven dishes, some of which would otherwise fall into obscurity. Every so often I come across it and realize that and that I haven't made in ages, let's make it for Dinner today. Works for me! :-)

                                                      1. re: RUK

                                                        That's exactly what my recipe boxes' job is! If my husband doesn't like something, the recipe will get tossed most likely. He's got pretty good taste for what most people would approve, me I always like the weird stuff. If he likes it, it's as good as gold.

                                                        1. re: RUK

                                                          I run my life off the computer. I have a spreadsheet that has a to do list, a page with goals, a page with the present grocery store sale items that I am interested in and a page with my list of Go to dishes and links to their recipes. I see it daily so I don't forget them but every once in a while, I will realize I haven't cooked one in a while so it gets moved to the top of the list.

                                                      2. re: Hank Hanover

                                                        "I think you folks that continually cook new dishes are either trying to refine your cooking skills and thereby pursuing your selected hobby or in your pursuit of trendy or healthy dishes, you can't find one that is good enough to eat very often. "

                                                        Mmm, no! Speaking for myself, my skills are fairly refined. Since I have an inherent understanding of technique I can experiment with flavor much easier and know that it will be good.

                                                        We are in a time where ingredients unheard of 30 years ago are now easily sourced. Heritage varieties abound and our grocery stores offer a wider world view of items. Many new to me items to try.

                                                        I think one peek at my wardrobe would testify that I am not trend driven. What I am is curious by nature, willing to take risks, experimental and creative. All of those aspects are able to play nicely since they are grounded by knowledge and experience.

                                                        This point of view has been extremely useful in past professions as a recipe developer and a culinary instructor.

                                                        Some folks are happy spending every vacation at their cozy get away cabin. Others can't imagine going to the same place twice when there is so much yet to explore. Different strokes!