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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Rambling Smattering of Thoughts on Recipes...

I'm not a fan of recipes.

At all.

I don't judge people who use them exclusively... well maybe a little, if they're going to expect kudos for it. To me, following a recipe 'by-the-book', just seems like cheating, and I'll tend to lump it into the same category as painting-by-numbers, or covering a popular song...

I can't decide if it makes me egotistical (that I need to put my own personal stamp on everything I create) or if it makes me humble (by what right would I have trying to compete in the same esteemed realm as an established expert?) but in any case, I never follow a recipe directly.

Now, this is not to say that I don't find them an useful, or even invaluable pedagogical tidbit; I will reference recipes from time to time, and think they're an excellent place to begin a foray into something you've never tried before.

However, it is my opinion that you should never limit yourself to only one recipe on any one subject, and always take them with a grain of salt.

When you simply read and follow directions, you're arguably only using a very small amount of mental capacity. Critically examining – and attempting to incorporate – recipes as you read them, will enable you to identify commonalities among certain types of cooking styles, and help you to discover which elements are essential for success, and which are there merely for personal taste. Trying to reason out the "whys" of a recipe will not only give you a more pleasurable time of it, but also further your general scope of knowledge in that area.  In this way, you can become a master of a particular style in only a few tries, while at the same time 'making it your own'.

So... if I'm about to try something I've never made before (which I recommend doing on a regular basis, btw) my first stop is my cookbook library (see: wife-works-in-publishing). I'll read up all I can about generalities in style, seasonings, and cooking techniques for a particular dish. I'll make particular note of what each reference has in common, and what they all might share. Next, I'll visit “the interweb” and just google for some recipes, again noting similarities among them.

What I'll end up doing at the end of it all, is picking and choosing the elements of each recipe which I think would be best. This is purely my own opinion, mind you.

This approach might not always turn out in a masterpiece, and it might even result in a mishap or two, but it always creates a learning experience from which my next foray into this style of cooking is ultimately better.

Cooking is, of course, nothing new. Although some fancy chef with his or her own television show, and array of merchandise from cookware to underwear, might decide to feature one dish here or there, remember that this does not make it novel. He or she has simply referenced the long line of culture and experience surrounding this dish, sampled aspects from its shared history, and fashioned a new take on it. A repackaging of it, which (very likely) includes something of their own tastes which puts a personal stamp on it.

Therefore, by following one recipe, you're simply re-creating one person's take on a dish.  By referencing multiple recipes, thinking critically about each, and making it your own, you're much closer to actually creating your own masterpiece.


  1. Wherever did you learn to cook and appreciate food is your unique way?? You must have had examples or experiences in your life that have inspired you to "put your own touches" on cooking??

  2. Well... I suppose it comes primarily from my being an extremely picky eater growing up. During my formative years, there were more foods I did NOT like than foods I did.

    It was through personalizing the cooking experience - making it my own - that I was able to "control" the product, and ensure I'd be happy with the end result.

    And I believe that every one can appreciate food in the same way, if they simply look at the bigger picture. Far too often (with recipe-use) it seems people are anxious about deviating from the directions. However, if you know enough about the 'whys' of the recipe, you'll be able to feel far more comfortable making substitutions or outright changes.

    I believe nothing in cooking should be rigid or inflexible.