How much do you rely on recipes?

We really like cookbooks.  I like to read them for ideas.  DH likes to actually use them (I use them too, but generally with more modifications).  We both love to try new different things, which means that now we’re back from Paradise with more limited food options if we want new and different without first driving for two hours, we’re going to have to make it ourselves.

DH put a few more cookbooks on his wishlist and I noticed one of the books people buy when they buy that cookbook wasn’t really a cookbook at all, but a book about how to cook without a cookbook.  (I would link to it here, but I can’t remember what it was called!)

Cooking without a cookbook is how I was taught.  Most of our groceries were based on whatever was on sale, which means my parents were very good at cooking based on what we had rather than going out to buy things based on what they planned to cook.

We’ve sort of reversed that now that A. we have enough money that it doesn’t matter if an ingredient is expensive when not on sale (though I still use walnuts in place of pinenuts in pesto– I still have limits) and B. DH has taken over the bulk of the cooking.

We haven’t been for a full grocery run for a couple of weeks.  We had a couple of dinner parties for which we over-bought and then got overwhelmed with the CSA and then ended up not making things on our menu plan because we got busy.  I hate wasting food, so instead of our usual weekly menu planning I basically told DH just to get a few necessities and we would eat down our freezer and the fridge.

One of the things we needed to deal with was a head of broccoli.  We’d put a broccoli chicken casserole (from The Old Fashioned Cookbook) on the menu list, but it had been there for a couple of weeks and DH just wasn’t into it.  So I suggested maybe we could use up the pie crusts leftover from our last party (we’d made mini-quiches) to make a chicken broccoli potpie instead.  He was much more enthusiastic about the idea than he’d been about casserole and suggested we make it that night.

I found him in the kitchen with two pots and a pan on the stove, the grater and a measuring cup out along with the milk, and a big hunk of cheese.  There was chicken sauteeing in the pan and chopped broccoli on a cutting board.  After some questioning he pointed to a broccoli cheese pie recipe he’d found on the internet.  The big pot was slowly boiling water to blanch the broccoli.  The little pot was for making cheese sauce.  The grater was for the cheese.  We discussed the cheese which had not been part of my mental picture and decided we’d try it.  At that point DC2 demanded Daddy’s presence in another room and I took over.

I put the pots and grater and measuring cup away.  I finished cooking the chicken.  I added the broccoli, stirred, and put a lid on.  Every few minutes I opened up the lid to stir again.  After the broccoli was just a little undercooked, I poured in a handful of flour and stirred it all around.  Then I decided that wasn’t enough flour because not every floret or chicken piece had been coated, so I added some more.  And stirred and toasted a bit.  Then I poured in some milk and stirred until it became a gravy.  Not all of the flour had dissolved yet, so I added some more milk and stirred some more.  Then I diced a few pieces of cheddar (first I tried slicing and breaking them into chunks, but the chunks were too big, so I diced the next few) and threw them in one slice at a time and stirred until they melted.  When the gravy looked cheesy enough I stopped adding cheese.  I turned off the stove, stirred a bit more, and stuck on a lid (note:  we have an electric stove– if we’d had gas, then I would have turned it down to a simmer).

Pot pie is one of my standard recipes that I make without a recipe.  It always starts with a meat or mushrooms (if there’s raw carrots or onions I throw them in before the meat, otherwise raw veggies go after… frozen or cooked veggies go in after the roux), then I put in flour (and maybe spices) with the meat and toast to make a roux.  I then add water or milk or soup stock depending on the kind of roux I’m making.  Then cooked/frozen veggies.  Then it’s ready to be thrown into a prepared pie crust and baked.  The only thing I need a recipe for is remembering how long to bake the thing.

I’ve got lots of other standard basic recipes.  Quiche, stirfry, spaghetti, chili, “soup” (I really hate “soup”, since that’s where my father always put all of the leftover odds and ends whether they went together or not– so these days we always make soups from a recipe), grilled cheese sandwiches with stuff, empanadas, tacos, baked chicken, fried porkchops, all sorts of fish things, fruit crumble, fruit pie, even granola (thanks miser mom!).

I don’t measure things, I just have a sense of about how much to add and I can tell when it’s not enough.  I don’t know how long things take (except the oven part), but I have a sense of when they’re about ready.

Lately we’ve been mostly using recipes.  I’ll still substitute based on what we have or what we need to use up.  But it’s still kind of fun to just make something based on what we have available.

Before the internet made it easy to find exotic recipes, I used to play around to replicate what I’d eaten at restaurants.  Or to fit some craving I was having.  We don’t really do that anymore.  Instead we’ll find the highest rated recipe on the food network and use that instead.  There’s less randomness.  On the whole, it’s probably better, in the same way that the Garmin and Yelp have improved our eating out experiences, but we have lost a bit of the serendipity that comes from getting lost and finding something off the beaten path.

Another thing I noticed was that I cook in order to minimize the number of dishes used and the time spent in the kitchen.  DH will sometimes do a mise en place.  Generally I’ll do my chopping in a way that minimizes the number of cutting boards used (keeping in mind that after a board has touched raw meat it must be washed before using again) and takes advantage of waiting time to chop the next ingredient.  This is partly because I get bored waiting in the kitchen, but mostly because growing up I was the one who was going to have to wash all those dishes by hand.  Most of my meals take one or at most two pots.

How do you do most of your cooking?  Do you use recipes for most things?  Do you use a recipe as a base idea and then modify it?  Do you have a repertoire of memorized baseline meals that can be modified?  Do you like trying out new recipes?  Do you buy based on what you want to make or do you make based on what you have on hand?  And… do you think your answers to the previous questions are related to when you learned to cook?

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59 Responses to “How much do you rely on recipes?”

  1. eemusings Says:

    Recipes, rarely. When I do, I tend to just see what the ingredients are. Shop for food based on what’s fresh and on special.

  2. Zenmoo Says:

    I read a lot of cookbooks for ideas but rarely cook exactly to a recipe. I pride myself on my ability to take a random assessment of ingredients that happen to need using up and turn them into something delicious. We actually get a meal ingredient delivery service with ingredients and I rarely cook every thing exactly to the recipe. But I like the new. Ideas and love not shopping. Plus it makes it really easy to share the cooking because my husband does prefer to cook to a recipe.

    On the subject of using up broccoli, I make a pretty tasty broccoli pesto pasta. Basic recipe is chop & steam/boil a head of broccoli until tender. Drain off most of the liquid and put into a food processor with a few spoons/a small jar of basil pesto and whiz until chopped. Depending on what I have available I’ll then cook some chicken or bacon (in the pot I cooked the broccoli in, because like you, I try to minimise the number of pots) then add the meat & broccoli pesto to a pot of cooked pasta (spirals work well). Serve with extra Parmesan cheese.

  3. Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial Says:

    I tend to cook exactly to recipe, though I may omit or substitute particularly expensive or difficult to procure ingredients. If I cook completely off-book it’ll be something simple like a stir-fry, omelette, or tostadas. If left to my own instincts, I tend to underestimate spice use, overcook red meat, and undercook white meat. I didn’t really learn to really cook until late high school/college so it’s not second nature for me.

  4. xykademiqz Says:

    I never use a cookbook. IMHO, or maybe I don’t have a sensitive enough palate, most of the recipes have a few core ingredients while the rest is generally expensive food onania (e.g., 2 micrograms of this thing that can be bought only in 2 lbs packs and costs $10,000). If you are an experienced cook, you understand what the core ingredients are, how they work together, and what they could potentially be substituted with. Occasionally I will make a brand new recipe from a book or more likely online, but even so I am very unlikely to follow it 100% (as I understand enough about how ingredients interact to know what’s safe to omit and am neither likely to go shopping midweek for exotic ingredients nor crazy to spend money). So, yeah. tl; dr: never by the recipe.

  5. monsterzero Says:

    For a new dish I tend to look up the two or three best-sounding recipes and build a chimera; e.g. oh this recipe uses heavy cream (yay) but it needs lots of spices I don’t have, but the other uses garam masala which I have, so let’s see what’s in garam masala and figure out how many tsp I need…that was for tikka masala for last Thanksgiving.

    I got gout and so have been vegetarian for a year now, which forces me to be more creative in the kitchen. It’s hard to get as much protein as I want and I end up eating lots of eggs and tofu, which are tasty, but I need to branch out more.

    My parents had me helping in the kitchen since I was five and I remember breaking a wooden spoon in the mixer at maybe seven or eight so yeah, pretty young. My mom used recipes but my dad mostly didn’t bother with them, so maybe that’s where I get it. Somewhere I have a book called The Flavor Bible which is really more of a flavor thesaurus, i.e. saying which flavors go with which. It gave me some interesting ideas, but it’s been in the garage since we moved a couple of years back. I should dig it out.

    • kt Says:

      I use the Flavor Bible pretty often for ideas: we have broccoli, we have prosciutto…. anything tie them together?

      While I often build a chimera as you do, I now & then try following recipes more closely if there’s an effect I want that I haven’t been able to just come up with on my own. For instance, yesterday I followed a recipe to the letter for a crispy-skinned salmon fillet, as last time I tried without a recipe the skin never got crispy and I was annoyed. And if I’m baking with new ingredients, follow a recipe; once I’ve gotten comfortable with the ingredient I feel freer to experiment.

      I learned by following directions (my mother’s directions by phone after school, and then recipes) and then by living with college roommates from Hawaii, Florida, CA, New Jersey, etc of various ethnic backgrounds. I learned some key things about Indian and Chinese food by listening to my roommates’ mothers’ directions by phone after school now that I think about it :) We definitely aimed for dish-efficiency unless we were aiming for epic.

  6. Ana Says:

    I’m like you. I have a list of things I can make without recipes, and I use as few pots as possible (my husband is your husband with this and it drives me NUTS). I do like trying new foods by using recipes, but I often modify them (usually to simplify, but sometimes to complicate when it seems bland). I’ve been enjoying cooking new dishes from recipes lately, just to find a few more things to add to our list.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I love new recipes. I think I get most of the excitement in my life from food. I can’t imagine eating the same thing every week, even though that would simplify things a lot.

      • Ana Says:

        So you mentioned empanadas above, which is a new one for us and seems very kid-friendly and budget friendly (modify with whatever ingredients arearound)—-do you make your dough or is it easy to find pre-made dough in your area (I can’t find it in our usual grocery stores). Making my own dough would nix this for me, I find the process tiring & tricky.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My DH mastered pie dough about 6 years ago. (It was a very flavorful time.)

        Prior to that, I would make them with grocery store pie dough. It is very odd that your grocery store doesn’t have it– back when I was growing up, storebrand pre-made pie dough was in the freezer section. Here it’s both in the freezer section and you can get unfrozen flats from Pillsbury near the milk/cheese section. (IIRC, Pillsbury gets an America’s Test Kitchen seal of approval for their pie dough.) Maybe ask someone at the grocery store if they’re hiding it someplace?

        In terms of city groceries: I don’t think TJ’s carries it, but whole foods does.

        WF also carries really good pastry dough. When we were in paradise, one of the funky international groceries in walking distance had actual squares of pastry dough that were perfect for making turnovers, which you can make savory like empanadas but are puffier. If you make them with bread dough you get calzones which are also good. (Or you can roll up pie dough for stromboli which we used to make a lot when we had less money since it’s cheap.)

  7. Katherine Says:

    I usually use a recipe when I am trying something new for the first time. After that, I pretty much think of it as a list of ingredients – which I write down because I can’t remember them. A lot of my recipe cards are just lists of ingredients of things I made once or twice off the internet and liked enough to make again. I do usually write amounts in the lists, but most of the time I don’t actually measure things when I’m cooking.

    I started helping my mom and Grandma cook and bake when I was too small to remember. I do always measure when I bake!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t usually measure wet ingredients because I hate having to wash the measuring utensils!

      • kt Says:

        With some recipes I like measuring all the wet ingredients into a big Pyrex measuring thing and then using that as a mixing bowl if possible too. Works especially well for pancakes/waffles/cake batters/other pourables.

      • Katherine Says:

        Yes – my mom used to do that. I really wish I had a 4- or 8-cup pyrex so I could do it, too. I should just buy them!

  8. bethh Says:

    I don’t use cookbooks anymore, almost ever. I have subscribed to some cooking blogs for probably a decade and have saved and tagged recipes that appeal (some tags are: winter, meat, soup, potluck, tried & liked). I started this in the good old google reader days, and fortunately Feedly was the one blog reader that was able to accept imported tagged & saved articles.

    So now if I feel like having soup, first I’ll check my saved & tagged recipes to see if anything appeals. If not, I’ll think about what I’m interested in eating and then I’ll search for a recipe, or several recipes. Sometimes I then use a recipe as a guide, or combine ideas from a few and wing it the rest of the way.

    I have access to grocery stores with tons of great bulk bin options, so I’m able to get a few pinches of a specific spice for a quarter, which makes more-complexly-spiced recipes much more appealing.

  9. anandar Says:

    I mostly cook without a recipe, but I have to have a recipe for chicken, fish and meat (exceptions: ground beef, bacon and sausage, and big hunks of pork or beef in the slow cooker) because during my formative learn-to-cook years (early 20s), I was too frugal to buy meat, and now I worry I am going to do something wrong, and lack the technical foundation I have with vegetarian cooking (where I’m comfortable winging curries, stirfrys, soups, stuffed veg, bean/rice dishes, sauces, etc).

    I am always very excited when I get entire new techniques from recipes, but it takes repetition for it to stick. One is roasting cruciferous vegetables, which I didn’t start doing until about 5 years ago when it became the trendy thing on food blogs. That is what I’d do with a random head of broccoli. I read and enjoyed Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, which is a non-recipe how-to-cook book. I think the Food52 people (Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs) have a similar new book, but the excerpts I’ve read seem too uptight to me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I used to check the joy of cooking a lot for cooking times. But now I do that on the internet instead. :)

      One of our baking cookbooks, Baking with Julia, recommends mastering base recipes and building on those. DH mastered the pie dough a few years back, which is why it has become one of our regular rotations.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    There was a brief period of time when I was really learning to cook (after voluntarily downsizing myself with attendant huge pay cut) that I enjoyed trying out new things in the kitchen. But even then, I think it was mostly my “let’s make the best of this” approach. Eventually I realized that I was just making the best of things, while in truth the hassle and frustration (and, occasionally, expense) of trying new things far outweighed the pleasure.

    The other person I feed is not very picky and I am even less so, will happily eat the same five things over and over again in order to reduce planning, shopping, cooking, and cleanup time.

    So now I have a repertoire of simple preparations, mostly one-dish, of the sort where all prep ends up in the same place. I minimize tools and thus washing-up, because why wash more than I have to. There are tons of oven preparations that I simply never do because where we live now, the oven doesn’t work. After we move, I may roast/bake things again.

  11. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    When I was living alone, I rarely used recipes and just made stuff up most of the time (very simple, pretty cheap, often things my mom made from memory as well). I cooked some with my mom when I was growing up, but not a lot – probably just enough to know my way around a kitchen pretty well, which is good enough! I mostly relied on easy to make things when I was a kid if I was on my own (mac & cheese, soup, etc.).

    DH is much more recipe-oriented and we like to cook together, so we usually each pick out a few recipes for the week and decide together what the plan is. I’ve found that this tends to decrease the brainpower required to actually cook dinner, which has been really helpful in shifting the balance from take-out to cooking at home. I tend to minimize dishes and prep work, but that is less of a priority for DH. I happily let him chop vegetables since that’s my least favorite thing!

    It helps that my MIL loves sending us books, so she’s found some great cookbooks for us that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. We have a few staple websites that we tend to frequent for ideas, and I’ve found Martha Stewart’s Meatless cookbook and another book called Cook Without a Book to be really solid for a vegetarian. We’ve been having fun with Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix lately. His How to Cook Everything series is super helpful for anyone wanting to be able to wing in instead of using recipes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      When I’m by myself I don’t really cook at all. I live on tv dinners, microwaved potatoes, cereal, etc. Not very healthy at all.

      With DH we do very much what you do, though we’re trying to get the kids more involved as well.

  12. J Liedl Says:

    Autistic Youngest is an AVID cookbook collector. Used and new: she covets them all. She’s gotten used to the idea that I approach cooking much more by the seat of my pants. The recipe is mostly a suggestion, to my mind, although I hew more closely to many recipes for baking as opposed to cooking. I have to admit that the internet has really winnowed down the number of cookbooks I’ll consult. I have my recent Joy of Cooking (I sadly had to replace my thirty-year-old falling apart copy with the less-desirable update) and a few other volumes that I share with Youngest but otherwise, it’s seat of my pants or variations on a theme.

  13. Debbie M Says:

    So many questions!

    I would say I use recipes for most things–except that I make a lot of substitutions. I wrote about one example on my blog: livingdeb.livejournal.com/467972.html (don’t spell out the dot com–I think links in comments tend to disappear here). Mostly I start with a recipe and after a while I learned certain philosophies that I like. For example, I like a 1:1 cocoa:sugar ratio, so I generally reduce the sugar a lot in chocolaty recipes (chocolate syrup: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup cocoa, 1 cup water). And I always use whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour or cake flour. (It doesn’t work for pasta, and perhaps only white whole wheat flour works for yeast breads.)

    It’s interesting that comments above seem to show a preference for recipes in men and against in women or perhaps a preference for recipes in newer cooks and against in more experienced cooks.

    I would say I have only a tiny repertoire of memorized baseline meals that can be modified, stuff like sandwiches, cereal (I mix healthy and sugary/tasty cereal together), omelets, shipwreck (scrambled eggs with stuff). Mostly, once I perfect a recipe, I keep using it as it is so that I always get good results. So I do that for things like spaghetti sauce, taco soup, and baked goods. I also know a bunch of subs that work in my pancake recipe, though I’m now working on an instant pancake recipe for when I just want a little snack instead of a huge batch.

    I don’t like trying new recipes because they are usually disappointing. Nor do I really like eating all the results while perfecting a recipe (except chocolate bread) such as all those terrible tomato soups that had to be turned into spaghetti and all those very wrong chicken tikka masalas, though I do. However, I love-love-love when I perfect a new recipe (cheesecake! pancakes!). I love saving money and not having to be dependent on specific food companies or restaurants. And I love figuring out things like the minimum amount of an unhealthy ingredient I need to have in order to still love the dish. But then I hate when a perfected recipe stops working (pie crust) or being good (chili). So I do try new recipes about once or twice a month.

    I use a shopping list to buy based on what I’m going to make, but at the store, I will also or instead buy things that are on sale for which I have a use. I also try to keep staples stocked, regardless of my specific plans.

    I’m not sure my answers to your questions are based on how or when I learned to cook, but some of my other strategies definitely are. I learned by watching my Mom as a kid and adult, taking home ec in junior high, and cooking at camping trips with the Girl Scouts. So I do understand the lingo in recipes (which, teaching a boyfriend how to cook, I realized is quite whacky). I also greatly appreciate high quality cooking tools (like sharp knives instead of dull knives, cheese graters instead of dull knives, and stainless steel pans instead of aluminum). But my definition of high quality is normal people’s definition of mid-range or low quality (I still love my Revereware that my mom got me when I graduated from college).

    While camping, I decided I preferred the system where the cooks also did the cleanup over the system where some people cooked and different people did the dishes. This is because when the cooks are cleaning, they are much more careful about the messes they make. Also, when you’re not cooking, it’s very relaxing. Unfortunately, my boyfriend has always had roommates who will gladly wash SO MANY DISHES because they love his cooking, so he is not well trained at all. (And I don’t like his cooking, but I promised to do all the dishes if he moved into my place because I have no dishwasher.) But I generally use only one bowl for baking, for example. First I mix the liquid ingredients in the bottom. Then I add the flour and other dry ingredients and kind of stir the dry ingredients around a bit before thoroughly stirring everything all together.

    Another interesting thing I noticed: Most of my stovetop cooking involves stirring (chili, soup, sauces) where as most of my boyfriend’s does not (hunks of meat, omelettes), so it makes sense that he wants heavy pans with even heating and that I don’t care at all about that.

    So in conclusion, I’m not really a good cook, but I can make lots of things that I like. That sounds like a contradiction. I’d say there’s very little I have a feel for in the kitchen. And I definitely can’t figure out most ingredients just by tasting the final product. But using recipes + experimentation has led to me being able to be happy with eating my own cooking.

    • Leah Says:

      I have Revereware too and love it. The pots are so nice.

      • Katherine Says:

        We had Revereware for a while (it was my husband’s grandmother’s set), but the problem was that the bottoms of the pots weren’t flat, so they don’t really work on a glass-top stove. We bought a house last year with a very nice glass-top stove, so we let my MIL have the Revereware back.

    • Rosa Says:

      cooking language is so specific! We started doing a recipe a week with the kid a couple years ago – though often during the school year he doesn’t have time, so it’s mostly a summer thing – and he’s got a kids cookbook where none of the recipes are that hard but he’s learning how recipes work, why the directions are in a certain order, and what things like sautee and dice mean.

  14. Leah Says:

    I use some recipes but almost always adjust them. Actually, the most commonly used recipes are ones I’ve made up or adjusted and are sitting in a word doc on my computer. Things like chicken spinach enchiladas, creamed onions, etc. Even in baking, I make small adjustments. I’ve been baking from scratch since early high school (my friends and I loved to experiment) so have a pretty solid handle on what I can swap out and still have an edible product. I have this amazing vegan chocolate cake recipe from WWII that is so flexible it’s not even funny, so I mess with that a lot to make different flavors (like orange chocolate cake or cherry or whatever).

    Recipes are used for inspiration or new ideas. Same deal with watching the food network and checking out what is combined. Or for when I’m making something I’ve never made before, but I’ll usually just follow the recipe one time.

    We got a bunch of nice cookbooks for our wedding (not on the registry — just gifts). I love to look through for the pictures but have barely touched any of the recipes.

  15. Cloud Says:

    I’m a recipe user. I do like to experiment and make up my own recipes, but then I keep notes so that I can replicate the same thing later. It might take me a few iterations to get my version how I like it, but once I do, I write it in the notebook I use for my own recipes and don’t vary much after that.

    But I don’t really love cooking. I love baking, and so most of my processes are the ones that work best for baking. It is harder to adjust along the way in baking: once the thing is in the oven, you have few things you can do to rescue it. So once I figure out what works, I want to be sure I don’t forget! This also means that a lot of my favorite recipes in cookbooks have notes scribbled in them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH has done the iteration thing with chocolate chip cookies and several of his grandma’s recipes. I’ve always enjoyed his “failures”!

      We love writing in our cookbooks. Even DC2 does it in one of hir children’s cookbooks.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yes, notes are so great! I put whether I like it as is, what changes I’ve tried and what the results were.

  16. Jennifer Pedersen Says:

    I’m also at a place where I’m not using up food just because it was cheap today, but I’ve found that a lot of stuff is only good at the time of year it’s also cheap, because that’s when it’s ripe. So I mostly am still cooking for “what was available this week”.

    I use a cookbook to make changes to how I cook and try new things. So a few years ago we got a pressure cooker and cooked our way through Lorna Sass’s Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. Last year I got AfroVegan and am (slowly! The recipes in it are complicated & time consuming by my standards) trying new things out of it, and simplifying the ones we like down to stuff we’ll actually make regularly. A lot of what we eat is seasonal and I should go back to the recipe the first few times I make it in a year, because I don’t remember as well as I think I do and that means sometimes stuff I know well and like, I forget something important and it doesn’t taste as good as it should. But if I’ve made it a few times recently I don’t need the recipe even to glance at.

    But in general I cook without a recipe and not all at once. It just feels like too big of a chore to do all the things for most recipes all at once, especially if they are different kinds of things (chopping and blanching and making a roux and baking something and frying something.) Like, if I were making pot pie it would be because we had leftover cooked chicken, and I would make pie crust one day and make enough to put a few balls in the freezer for other times, and on the day of I’d just make the gravy & roll out hte dough and put pre-cooked things into it. I make a sauce from AfroVegan that is supposed to be like half a cup, but I make it in a several-cup quantity (otherwise the measuring & chopping and having to wash the blender just isn’t worth it!) and then have a bunch in the freezer that I use up over time, either in the delicious recipe it’s for or in other stuff because it’s a great sauce. I made rice and beans yesterday and then ran out of time, so tonight I’ll fry plantains and fish and we’ll have it with rice and beans.

    Also most recipes don’t use up their ingredients and it makes me crazy. I don’t want a half a bag of kale and 2/3 of a cabbage and half an onion in my fridge. So I make double on the sauteed kale and either we just eat that much, or I put half in the freezer for later. Or if i’m going to chop an onion, I either put it all in or put half in the freezer so I don’t have to chop onion next time.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      This year we haven’t been very good at getting things out of the freezer after they’re in there. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to eat down a bit. But we still have stuff from Thanksgiving, and not just Turkey broth.

    • Rosa Says:

      I gave away my chest freezer and living with the little freezer has made me way better about not hoarding food.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I have a whiteboard on the side of my fridge on which I keep track of things in the following categories:
      * don’t forget (leftovers I want to use up)
      * do not buy (because I already bought it several times unknowingly!)
      * freezer (because we *do* have a chest freezer)

  17. Natasha Says:

    It depends on what I am cooking:

    For some things, I follow recipes religiously (Grandma’s Borsch, where she told me to add vegetables in a certain order; pancakes; most types of baking). I do make some substitutions, but usually play it safe. If I am trying to make something totally new and exotic = I’ll definitely follow a recipe.

    For other things – I sort of have a sense of what would work and what would not. Most soups, salads, meatballs, roasted vegetables, fish fall into this “open your mind” category. I experiment, I throw in whatever we have in the fridge, I feel confident that whatever I do – the meal will turn out great. It usually does.

    I am definitely in the “base the next meal on whatever is already in the fridge/freezer” camp. That’s how I grew up :) I don’t like meal planning and find it much easier to buys “stock” stuff that can yield various combinations of meat, fish, grains, and vegetables for meals throughout the week.

  18. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I never learned to cook well so I start out with a strong reliance on recipes. I usually read at least five of them before I try a new recipe because I’m trying to simplify it to something that my hands / energy level can handle. When I get comfortable with the base recipe, I start to mess around with it, and that bugs PiC who liked it well enough the first time.

    Did a big produce shop yesterday, picked up 2 broccoli crowns, 2 zucchini, 2 lbs of asparagus, 3 pounds of carrots, a thing of kale, and I have no idea what I intend to do with it except feed JuggerBaby more steamed broccoli for lunch.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Stirfry! Over your choice of starch. (alternately, omelete, pizza, etc.)

      DC2 LOVES broccoli.

      • Leah Says:

        mmmm stirfry. That’s my fav. No recipe for that for me, and I even make a homemade peanut sauce that is different every time. We love our stirfry around here. I do want to find more sauce ideas to use with it — as much as we love peanut sauce, it can get old.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sweet and sour is a favorite around here (vinegar and a little sugar/honey/etc., though I shouldn’t be having sugar). DH makes one with soy sauce that’s pretty good out of one of the Help! My apartment has a kitchen books. And we’ll use TJ’s sauces in a bottle for red curry. I think we’ll be having a jar of tikka masala over veggies and rice.

      • fizzchick Says:

        I often make stirfry into pseudo bibimbap. After all the veggies are cooked, empty them into a bowl. In the same pan, fry an egg per person (or you can scramble, if you prefer). rice+veggies+egg on top, top as desired with mirin, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, and furikake or seaweed flakes (“rice sprinkles” according to my 4-year-old). For best results, break the yolk and let it run down all over the rice and veggies.

    • fizzchick Says:

      Also, I LOVE asparagus and could eat it straight up. Snap the tails off, olive oil, coarse salt and pepper. Grill or spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet, roast at 375-400 degrees F until crisp-tender, devour and try not to burn your fingers too much.

  19. debbiekopff Says:

    How To Cook Without A Book” by Pam Anderson (not the actress!) in 2000. Teaches technique, with some “recipe” guidelines—I bought Amazon copies for each of my daughters to have when they set up their own households—gave up trying to find copies at used bookstores/thrift shops.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The one I came across wasn’t that one– it was by a guy and didn’t have such an obvious title (also: not Mark Bittman), which is why I can’t find it. But How to cook without a book is extremely popular!

  20. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I came across the book in question again– it is called An Everlasting Meal


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