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What do you cook by the seat of your pants rather than by recipe?

Mostly I need a recipe because I don't remember many of them. But there are some things like meatloaf and scalloped potatoes that I do without. They're never the same way twice -- or even remotely alike sometimes -- but I still prefer not to make them static predictable things.

Anyone else? What are yours?

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  1. i use recipes to bake because my memory sucks.

    i may see a savory recipe that looks appealing but don't copycat it. 98% of the time i don't use recipes to cook.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      Same here. Recipes inspire me but I almost always do my version (exept for "French Laundry"-type recipes and most baking). I am very creative and cooking comes naturally to me.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Same here. Totally off the cuff cooking. The more you know about food and different cusines the easier it is to wing it

      2. My mom's fried rice. Basic Chinese stir fries, marinades for meat, roasted veggies, stews, chili, soups and pasta sauces (or really, pasta dishes in general).

        Everything else, I'm very much a recipe gal.

        1 Reply
        1. re: TorontoJo

          Pretty much. I don't use recipes for everyday cooking, but I pull them out for baking and more formal meals, or when I want to try something new.

        2. About like hotoynoodle. When I do consult a recipe it is usually for concepts or a sense of proportions, but even measurements are outside of my realm.

          1 Reply
          1. re: tim irvine

            Same here, recipes give me ideas. I rarely consult them in the kitchen and what I make is usually different sometimes drastically.

          2. Meatloaf, meatballs, stuffed cabbage, lasagna, roasted veggies for starters.

            1. Chicken or beef vegetable soup.....what ever is around, without consideration of how much goes into the pot, so each time the soup is different.

              Sunday gravy or red sauce with meat....

              Yes on the meatloaf, too

              1. What do you cook by the seat of your pants rather than by recipe?


                1. It would probably be easier to name the handful of recipes I use since there are so few of them. I buy ingredients that look good and fresh and then apply techniques to them more than "recipes."

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                    You explained this better than I did. I concur.

                    1. re: weezieduzzit

                      +3 ...If I use a recipe, it's usually for something I haven't made before. Otherwise, I make it up as I go along. For me, I liken cooking as art. Other people draw and paint. I cook.

                      1. re: Cherylptw

                        It's my art too. I never thought I could "do art" until I found cooking.

                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          Cooking is an art. Following a recipe is not.

                    2. Tomato sauce, tapanades, quinoa and other grain salads, fava bean succotash, pasta dishes, quiches, shakshouka, soups and some breads. If I memorialize a recipe, just for myself, it may have a title and will consist of a list of ingredients, no amounts, no instructions, nothing else. So, if I share a recipe with a friend, I actually have to determine amounts and write instructions.

                      1. Most things. I like to look at recipes for inspiration.
                        I rarely make the same thing twice...ever.

                        1. Seat of the pants for most savory dishes. I may look at a recipe for basic ideas. For baking, I usually follow a recipe and tweak it. Too much chemistry to just wing it completely.

                          1. Eggs....yep, not even I need a recipe for those.

                              1. This is a great topic for a thread. I usually cook most of our meals from the "seat of my pants". I know all the basics and concepts in my head and just run with them to create whatever I feel like making. This knowledge came from years of learning from my mother and grandmother who were both great cooks and years of experimenting on my own.

                                I love cookbooks and have a huge collection. When I see something that I want to try, I stick pretty closely to the recipe the first time adjusting seasonings to my personal taste. Once I've followed a recipe a few times it become my own and I might just refer to the cookbook for quantity and cooking times.

                                For baking, I follow recipes.Baking is more of a science and the measurements need to be more exact.

                                I love to explore new cuisines and will often spend a month or two creating recipes from a certain country or region using cookbooks and printed recipes. Once I've learned the new techniques and taste profiles they get incorporated into my "seat of the pants" way of cooking.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Springhaze2

                                  This is exactly how I feel. I simply don't get not using a recipe ever. I was not born knowing all cuisines, techniques and flavor profiles. I have been so enriched by reading cookbooks and understanding techniques and ingredients.
                                  My professional life brought me nowhere near food, so I need help!
                                  I feel that once I get the hang of a cuisine or technique, I get the gist and feel of it and then can riff a recipe on my own. But I can't imagine eschewing all cookbooks because I'm a very curious academic type, so learning turns me on and keeps the juices flowing.

                                2. Homemade beef stew, chili, rice pudding, meatloaf, roasted chicken, stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, pound cake and ice cream.

                                  1. I hardly ever use recipes anymore because once you learn technique, ingredients and flavors you hardly need them.

                                    I'll use an unfamiliar recipe once or twice but then I'll usually "get it" and never consult it again.

                                    Baking? Always by trusted recipes.

                                    1. Stir fries, soup, beans, hummus, guacamole, chili, beef stew, roasted asparagus, most cooked veggies, salad.

                                      I need a recipe to bake anything, although I used to modify baking recipes quite a bit. I am so out of practice now that I tend to follow a recipe for baked goods quite closely.

                                      1. Anything I cook for the first time, I usually follow the recipe. Mostly minor additions of herbs or seasonings, if anything. After that, I just cook what I feel.

                                        I always follow the recipe when baking because measurements are so important. However, from time to time, I throw in extra vanilla or spices.

                                        1. everything that isn't baking.

                                          1. Creamed chipped beef on English Muffins. Our favorite
                                            'guilty pleasure' breakfast. Package of chipped beef,
                                            any brand, shredded a bit, frizzled in butter, add generous sprinkles of Wondra flour to thicken, and Hungarian paprika
                                            to color nicely, plus splash of sherry, and milk, + a can of sliced waterchestnuts.

                                            Never had better anywhere, even though mine varies slightly in color, taste, depending on the exact proportions
                                            of other ingredients, which are never measured.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Bashful3

                                              Restaurant/Diner SOS is almost always a let down-- usually a gloppy mess with very little beef.
                                              I adore the stuff, but yes, it is a treat now and then.
                                              And now I'm going to have to make it this weekend!

                                            2. I've made these so many times, I just eyeball it all: stir-fries, meatloaf, enchiladas, eggplant and chicken parm & picatta, tuna casserole, Sunday sauce. Yikes! Maybe I should vary my menu!

                                              1. Most of my cooking requires no recipes, and very little measuring. Some things that require more precision I can remember (soufflé = bechamel from 1 c milk, 3T flour, 3T butter, and 3 eggs), some I can't (roux / broth proportions for a gumbo).

                                                My wife has just one seat-of-the pants dish: meatloaf, and it's always exceptional. Just don't tell her that I mentioned the seat of her pants online.

                                                1. Most savory foods, a recipe serves as inspiration or timing guidelines. I'm terrible with estimating how long something will take to cook. For baking, a good recipe is rather helpful, but that doesn't mean I will follow it faithfully.

                                                  1. Hell, I need a recipe to make toast. I've got a long way to go.

                                                    1. The vast majority of my cooking is 'seat of the pants'. But then I'm usually not cooking anything extraordinary or where exact measurements mean that much - I almost never bake anything. I frequently google a dish to see what kind of variations there are, and sometimes I will follow those recipes exactly, but usually its more by feel.

                                                      1. Gratins, frittatas, stir-fries, pasta carbonara, pasta puttanesca, most braises and stews, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, pilafs, timbales/veg puddings, strata, lasagna, chiles rellenos, stuffed cabbage, stuffed peppers, salads, dressings.

                                                        Oddly, I find it hard to free-style soups.

                                                        1. I bake with recipes, everything else is freestyle, except for one or two child favorites where I'll hear about it if anything is different because I started making it from a recipe. (A shout-out here to the very good Boston Globe food section!)

                                                          1. I generally only use recipes for baking. So many require fairly accurate measurements to turn out right. If I am using an ingredient I am unfamiliar with I often use a recipe the first few times.

                                                            I used to be a slave to recipes because I just didn't have much experience. As I learned more techniques and what worked and what didn't, I've moved away from them. Still, I look them up for inspiration sometimes.

                                                            If you food tastes delicious, who cares either way.

                                                            1. I use 'formulas' rather than recipes. Cookies and cakes use very similar ingrediants, but in different proportions. Bolognese sauce needs approximately the right ratio of liquid meat to seasonings to taste right, though that is much more flexible than the proportions of ingrediants when making buttermilk pancakes.

                                                              I follow a written (or memorized) recipe/formula when the right porportions of ingrediants is needed to get the desired texture/result. Otherwise I am very much a by the seat of my pants cook. Recipes are just a starting point and my own recipes are mainly a list of ingrediants and the barest of directions. THe irony is that I never learned to cook from my mom because she drove me batty because she'd tell me 'add a bit of this and some of that' .. and I'd have no clue how much she meant. And now I do the exact same thing!

                                                              1. Cooking -- everything. If I am trying something new, I'll google a few recipes and munge them together in my head until it sounds good, then execute.

                                                                Baking -- almost nothing. I may tweak a cake recipe, but I stick very close to the proportions of a recipe I trust.

                                                                Bread I can wing it, because I have a recipe (proportions) in my head and because you can feel if the dough is right. This does not apply to quick breads -- need to have a good recipe there.

                                                                Pies, cobblers, crisps -- I can tweak these, but again, it's becasue I have a recipe in my head.

                                                                The recipes that I keep in my head are not very detailed.