Using Recipes as Guidelines, not Rules to Follow
Let’s be honest, I have been struggling to write recipes. I don’t really follow them, I use them as guidelines. My goal, and the reason for this blog, is to encourage you to trust yourself and do the same. It is how you grow as a cook. This is how to apply techniques learned in one recipe and apply it to another flavor idea, creating your very own unique recipe.
I am all about the food, I live it, breathe and share my love it with anyone who is interested. I can talk food all day long. What continues to surprise me is there are so many talented recipe followers out there cooking up a storm who are fearful of trying something without written instructions. Every one of these home cooks has the skill and are consistently making amazing food as long as everything goes according to the written plan.
I personally own 100’s of cookbooks, belong to several cooking sites, follow a lot of foodie blogs and read countless food magazines monthly. Considering all of these sources research, when putting together food combinations we enjoy eating. I won’t even start to quantify the number of hours spent watching cooking competitions to see what chefs are putting together on the fly, a favorite pass time for me. Always asking, what would I do? Reading over recipes, deciding if the combination of flavors they have put together works for our pallet, looking at the technique being used to prepare the dish, and finally, I make it my own.
You Can Do This Too, You have the Skills
This brings to mind the story of when my son was sitting at my kitchen table tutoring someone in math as I was, surprise, cooking. The student, frustrated, said “I don’t know how to do this!” My son, calmly said, “Yes you do”.
He proceeded to break it down, by asking a series of questions and pointing to examples, “do you know how do this?”, and “you know how to do that, correct?” Finishing with “if you can do this and you can do that, all you need to do is put it together and you know how to solve this equation”. Simple, right?
I am No Better at Cooking than You, I have just Practiced More
I am not afraid to fail, which happens on a very regular basis! Every mistake make teaches me a lesson.
Never add all the seasoning called for in a recipe, add seasoning slowly and taste. You may find you need more or less than called for. Read my blog post on the importance of salting food, salt makes all the difference.
If you don’t like onions or any other ingredient called for, don’t add it. Consider adding something in their place. For example, to replace onions (maybe) add more garlic or a milder form of onion flavor such as shallots or shocker, just leave them out. Check out my tips on using garlic if you would like to learn some more.
Use your instincts, if it feels like the recipe calls for too much say, oil, add the ingredient in small increments until you get the desired result.
Keep in mind, all cooking times are suggestions, never completely trust the recipe will take exactly 20 minutes to cook, in most cases it will be more or less.
Learn techniques, not recipes. Techniques, once learned, can be applied to what is in the pantry and the refrigerator.
Taste, Taste, Taste, stir and Taste again. Under seasoning and over seasoning are the biggest issue when food is critiqued by Chef’s.
If missing an ingredient, ask yourself two questions. Is the ingredient crucial to the function of the dish? And if yes, can it be replaced with something else? For example, if you are out of cornstarch, you may be able to use flour as a thickener.
After completing a dish, review what you learned by following the recipe. Ask yourself how you can apply what you learned to another dish, one similar or one completely different.
Don’t open the oven door unless necessary, oven temperatures drop quickly when the door is opened. This is a personal pet peeve of mine and it gives me satisfaction to have some place to write it down!
Don’t be afraid to fail, there are great lessoned to be learned with every mistake made.
There are several books out today that teach you how to cook using learned skills. A couple of my favorites:
Salt, Fat, Acid Heat, Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, written by Samin Nosrat. Excellent source for unlocking the secrets of combining flavors and technique to create amazing dishes. If you would like to read more about this title, https://www.saltfatacidheat.com/#overview-2
Ruhlman’s Twenty, written by Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman is the author of several books that are on my shelf and a go to for me when doing research. In this book he breaks down cooking into 20 essential techniques. Check out his website, very interesting guy! http://ruhlman.com/
I will continue to share recipes and I invite you to change them to suit your taste and your application. Own your food, you are the Executive Chef of your Kitchen!