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Night Elf

Are you what I call a magic chef?

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I think so, but it's mostly about knowing 1) basic techniques, and 2) knowing what flavors go well together for MY family.  We're not super adventurous so anything I "whip together" with what we have on hand would probably not wow guests or anything.  lol

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No canned soup, shudder. 

You can sautee mushrooms and mix them in, that's yummy.

Or season it with curry powder, or fresh herbs, or some soy sauce, or make it spicy with hot peppers.

 

I use canned soup for several things. Good old Campbell's is my friend.

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Yes, I diverge from recipes regularly to use stuff. Getting a CSA makes you extra handy at this skill.

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Like what? I really have no idea. Soup, like a cream of mushroom or something?

Beef broth instead of tomatoe sauce.

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I get staple items in cans like corn when it's not fresh or jarred tomato passata but that's about it. Now, with the instant pot, I make and freeze beans so no cans required for those either. The closer I get to fully scratch, the better the flavors....usually.

 

I love using seasonal ingredients and pushing the kids to try new things. We make a game of picking up unusual fruits and veggies to see what they taste like and how we can work them into recipes.

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I use canned soup for several things. Good old Campbell's is my friend.

 

but real stuff is so much tastier :)

plus you have control over the ingredients and the salt content.

It's really easy to make a cream of mushroom soup from actual mushrooms.

Edited by regentrude
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Iron Chef America and Chopped. I got started on Iron Chef America with their competitions to get a new iron chef. They're given an ingredient and have to come up with a dish fast. It's things they know, but they have to have food knowledge to do it. And Chopped amazes me. It seems the baskets have unrelated ingredients that they have to combine to make one dish. Totally amazes me.

 

Chopped and some of the other kitchen competitions really do require the contestants to come up with a meal without knowing the ingredients ahead of time.

 

But Iron Chef is different. They are given a couple of items that COULD be the mystery ingredient ahead of time (not just on the day of the competition). They have time to create their menus; they just don't know which menu they will present until the mystery ingredient is revealed. So the producers might tell them in advance that it will be either bacon or eggplant. On the day of the show, bacon is revealed, so the chef does the bacon menu s/he already has planned.

 

That is why they always have all of the unusual ingredients they need; they tell the producers in advance what they need to create their dishes.

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I wouldn't use the word "magic," but over the years I have developed enough techniques that I mostly improvise the meals I make. I enjoy reading cookbooks for ideas, and will Google recipes if I want to try to recreate a dish. I will usually look at 3-4 versions of the new dish, then make it in a way that suits me and our various dietary restrictions. Dh cannot eat any form of onions, garlic, cheese, or vinegar, to name a few things, and we have a vegetarian too, so I kind of have to "magic" my way through meal prep.

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I'm finally understanding the "eat from the freezer" threads I've seen. I've never understood them. I buy exactly the amounts needed from the recipes that I buy from every week. There is never some sort of unexpected meat in the freezer. Everything is 100% accounted for and allotted to a specific recipe and I don't deviate from how the recipe is written. Now I see that most of you are magic chefs and buy random ingredients and mix them together. :)

 

I'm not a magic chef. Recipe, exact amounts, nothing exciting in the freezer.

Edited by Garga
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I am sort of. Dh is very good at opening the fridge and cooking something interesting and tasty out of whatever is there. I have gotten much better at it after years of being married to him. Within certain foods that we eat fairly often I am good at winging it. If I want to cook something different what I do is google a bunch of recipes for something new I want to try and then take parts of each one based on what we like or what I have. Knowing a few basic techniques also makes a big difference in feeling comfortable going rogue. 

 

I have a cookbook from my Great-Grandmother's church. It makes me laugh because every "recipe" assumes that the reader is a cook. It will say things like "add some sugar". Or "bake until done" with no time suggestions or even temperature. I say it's a "suggestion" book instead of an actual "recipe" book. 

 

 

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Yes.

 

A good show to watch to get better at that is Jaques Pepin....he doesn't teach recipes he teaches how to cook.

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but real stuff is so much tastier :)

plus you have control over the ingredients and the salt content.

It's really easy to make a cream of mushroom soup from actual mushrooms.

 

How would you do this?  chopped mushrooms, some sort of dairy product, flour, and seasonings, right?  I tried this last week, used milk.  It wasn't as thick as canned cream of mushroom soup.  

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Like what? I really have no idea. Soup, like a cream of mushroom or something?

 

Cream of mushroom soup would be pretty heavy.

 

How about some lemon juice, a little shaved lemon zest, a touch of olive oil, perhaps some parmesan, dill or parsley, garlic, etc?

 

That would keep it fresh and light.

 

Bill

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I use canned soup for several things. Good old Campbell's is my friend.

 

Find new friends.

 

Bill 

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Yes I can toss together a recipe from "this and that" but the thing is - the "this and that" are from my particular range of staples, and I know what they do with each other. I wouldn't be able to afford to follow recipes strictly on a routine basis because of having to buy many disparate ingredients. And trying to find recipes that precisely target a few ingredients would be equally frustrating. Our cooking around here tends to go in cycles of cooking a lot of the same types of things, with ingredients that are largely interchangeable, for long periods (like up to a year), then gradually shifting emphasis to something else. Some of these phases have been revisited a bunch of times and how to do them has gotten more ingrained in memory; others require (or are inspired by) delving into recipe books and websites. When I am interested in a new kind of cooking I try to really learn it in order to make the most out of the ingredients I'll have to buy. Very rare that I would do a totally unfamiliar recipe as a one-off.

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Nope. I'm like you, I need recipes, even for things I cook regularly. I think my problem is that I'm picky. I want what I want, and I want it to taste pretty much the same each time, or I'm disappointed. I do have the confidence and expertise to be flexible within my recipes and new recipes--make substitutions, increase veggies (I almost always do this), fiddle with oil amounts, adjust technique or do things out of order, etc. But I still need the recipe structure to work from. So, for example, I make this amazing shrimp stew, and I've been making it for years. I still look it up every time to remember how much stock I need, how much onion I use, how much flour to add at the thickening step, and so on, and then I may add extra stock because I have more to use up, I may use a bit less flour because I'm adding a couple of extra potatoes, I'll use lots of carrots because I love them in stew, I'll use less onion than it calls for because it upsets my stomach, I'll use garlic granules because my fresh garlic turned out not to be so fresh, etc. 

 

I'm adventurous in that I'll eat a very broad spectrum of things, but I really don't want to waste my time and ingredients and end up with a meal I'm disappointed in, so I love my recipe database :lol: 

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Yes. But only because I've been doing this since I was a teen, over thirty years now, and I love cooking. It's my creative outlet. My dh says that his favorite meals are when I say "I just made this up."

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While I improvise often when cooking, I may be more inclined to follow recipes when baking.  I don't use recipes for basic breads (since yeast dough is incredibly forgiving) but am inclined to use recipes for dessert items.

 

I agree with the previous poster who mentioned that her CSA forced her to improvise.  "You get what you get" is my line here. And what folks get is usually pretty good if you start with good ingredients.

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How would you do this?  chopped mushrooms, some sort of dairy product, flour, and seasonings, right?  I tried this last week, used milk.  It wasn't as thick as canned cream of mushroom soup.  

 

I would sautee mushrooms in butter with onion and garlic, add some flour to thicken, add broth or milk; puree the soup if you want it smooth, add heavy cream when it is not boiling anymore.

 

If you want it really thick, you can use more flour in your roux. Or use less liquid per solids.

Edited by regentrude
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yes, I can. When I was first married, I bought a huge 'how to cook everything book.' Dh and I had fun working through it!

By about halfway through I had an idea of the most common recipe bases/flavours.

 

whenever I Google to try and get ideas for something new to make, I'm mostly left with the impression that it's all just variations on the same thing.

For something new *and* complicated, I study a few recipes until I understand what the base idea is.

 

I do often still check baking recipes because getting the proportions correct is important.

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How would you do this? chopped mushrooms, some sort of dairy product, flour, and seasonings, right? I tried this last week, used milk. It wasn't as thick as canned cream of mushroom soup.

Most "cream of anything" soups can be substituted with basic white sauce plus the "flavour of the soup". To do cream of mushroom, I would sauté some mushrooms separately while I made the white sauce.

 

White sauce is like this:

(You need a small pot or pan, and a whisk)

1 Tbsp of any oil, fat, or grease (I like butter)

Heat it, and add spices (like pepper and garlic salt).

Sprinkle in 1 Tbsp of all purpose white flour and stir around the flour/oil mixture for a while.

With one cup of liquid (milk or broth) in your non-dominant hand, and your whisk in your dominant hand: pour in about a third of the liquid, whisking constantly. This will make like a frothy paste. Keep adding the liquid, and keep whisking until it's all in and all smooth.

Heat it until it bubbles.

Add the hot mushrooms. Also, you could add maybe a Tbsp of actual cream. That's much more decadent than "cream of" anything from a can.

 

Assess whether 1 Tbsp : 1 Tbsp : 1 cup meets your thickness needs. Make adjustments for next time, to increase the flour to make it thicker (or increase the liquid to make it thinner).

 

This makes all kinds of thick sauces or soup bases. Everything from brown gravy to macaroni and cheese sauce is, functionally, a variation on this basic fat & flour, then liquid based 'white sauce'.

Edited by bolt.
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Yep pretty much. I rarely buy something just for a recipe, but rather buy the produce and proteins that I find on sale and throw them in the freezer to be used as inspiration strikes. 

 

But I didn't start here. I started by following recipes very tentatively. 

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Yes, I almost never use recipes except a few core staples I use as a jumping off point.

 

Thank you, Alton Brown, Mark Bittman, and Melissa Joulwan.

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I've always consider a recipe to simply be a list of suggestions.  I don't know if I can follow a recipe exactly if I tried.  Once upon a time I followed recipes but then was when I was first learning.  Once you have mastered something, experimenting a little.  Trying switching the spices up, switching up the veggies, using a different starch.  Learn what types of spices are typically used for a recipe (Italian = oregano, basil sometimes parsley, Mexican = oregano, cumin,  Thai = frequently uses coconut milk, curry) and play around with the amounts.

 

For your stuffed peppers here is some options.

 

Inside the peppers I only put rice and meat, around the peppers I put extra rice and meat with the tomato sauce (I'm not a fan of the tomato part either).  You could just eat the filling of the peppers and let DH eat the portion outside that has tomatoes mixed in.  

 

I always add cooked lentils with my hamburger so my filling is actually rice, hamburger and brown lentils.  

You could sub couscous or quinoa for the rice.  

Instead of the tomato sauce you could use salsa and use mexican spices, you could also add corn to the filling.  

Your cream of mushroom sauce could make an interesting variation.  

You could sprinkle some cheddar cheese on top.  

You could mix some cream cheese with the filling for a creamy meal.  

 

But really the best way to learn is try new things.  Some will work and some won't but that is okay, that's how you learn.  

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I can't often follow recipes due to food intolerances and/or lack of specific ingredients. I do look at several similar recipes and "wing it" from there.

 

I don't enjoy cooking much, so I try to make "boring" meals as much as possible! A hunk of protein and veggies of some kind and a salad, then call it good. My SIL gets so frustrated with me when she asks for my soup recipes though, because I tell her it's all done "to taste" so I have no idea how much salt, pepper, etc. that I put in.

 

I'm not a master chef, but the food is edible. :)

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Can you toss in a bit of this and a bit of that together and make a meal? I can only cook by following recipes. I love watching cooking shows and I'm amazed they can throw together a meal with what appears to be little thought. I have no sense of what pairs together well or how things cook.

Yup.  Every night I pretend I'm on Chopped Canada where contestants get a few key ingredients and have to make something with those ingredients.  I have a well stocked pantry so I always have good ingredients to compliment the main ingredients.

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I guess I am.  If I am in the mood for something I will look online at multiple recipes, get an idea of ingredients needed, and then put something together myself adjusting as needed to make it taste right.  I don't read recipes, I just use them as a guideline for ideas on how to make a recipe.  It drives DH crazy b/c I just throw things together.  I research before I do it though. :)

 

This is what I do. I'm never confident enough to just make something out of the blue, but I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want in it. I look around at several recipes that are close to what I want and often skim through reviews of those recipes if it's on a site that has that. Then I do my own thing. I just do this the first time I make something and then I just keep adapting from there. Unless it went horribly wrong and then I scratch it and look again. 

 

But I don't often get to try new recipes at all due to a very difficult to feed child, so it's not like this happens regularly. 

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I rarely use recipes.  I'm not a particularly inventive cook -- more a get a reasonably nutritional dinner on the table before we run out of steam kind of cook -- but over the years I've worked out how to get what we like done on a kind of little-of-this-pinch-of-that automatic pilot.  My poor young adult daughter goes nuts when she calls me for recipes.

 

I don't bake, other than one bread recipe I do every Friday (so that's equally automatic pilot) and a handful of holiday classics that again I've done so many times I have them memorized.  Baking IME requires measuring; measuring is too fussy for me.

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How would you do this?  chopped mushrooms, some sort of dairy product, flour, and seasonings, right?  I tried this last week, used milk.  It wasn't as thick as canned cream of mushroom soup.  

 

Chop up a white or yellow onion (white is slightly better).  Saute in a little butter until limp.  Add 1/2 lb of clean, sliced mushrooms--just the regular kind is fine for this.  Saute until limp and until the liquid they give off has pretty much evaporated; this will turn the onion a little golden as well.  Add about half a bunch of fresh, chopped parsley--if you want it to be pretty smoothish soup you discard the thick stems as you are chopping it up.  Saute until just wilted in. 

 

Then add 2 cups of beef broth.  Better than Buillon is fine for this.  (someday I will learn to spell that stupid word) 

 

Heat to bubbling gently, then simmer for 15 minutes.

 

Then process until smoothish in a food processor.  A stick blender doesn't quite cut it for this particular soup.

 

Return to the pot and warm up until very hot but not boiling again.

 

Turn off the heat.  Whisk in 2 cups of full fat sour cream, gradually to avoid lumps. 

 

Sloooooowly heat to soup temperature, do not let boil or even bubble.  Serve immediately.

 

If you want a low fat version, this recipe works well if you:

Use Pam instead of butter, adding some when you add the mushrooms

Use nonfat canned or box broth, or the cubes, to make up the beef broth

Use nonfat sour cream, but whisk 2 tablespoons of white flour into it before you add the sour cream to the soup

 

 

 

Edited by Carol in Cal.

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I'm finally understanding the "eat from the freezer" threads I've seen. I've never understood them. I buy exactly the amounts needed from the recipes that I buy from every week. There is never some sort of unexpected meat in the freezer. Everything is 100% accounted for and allotted to a specific recipe and I don't deviate from how the recipe is written. Now I see that most of you are magic chefs and buy random ingredients and mix them together. :)

 

Oh no, the two don't necessarily correlate. 

For instance, my mother is the kind of cook who reads the instructions on the back of frozen peas Every Single Time.

But she has a freezer full of food in the basement so she can take advantage of sales.  She freezes ground beef in one pound packages, beef roasts, whole and cut up chickens, butter, cheese I think, and bacon in packages, among other things.  They used to sell concentrated milk that you would dilute 1-3 with water, and that froze well, too.  Then she would occasionally make and freeze batches of this thing we called Stewp--it was a thick hamburger-based soup with noodles and veggies in it that improved if you froze it and then chipped off and discarded the fat that would congeal on the surface.  When we went on vacation she would put a whole bunch of this kind of thing into a big cooler, and we never had to buy ice for it--everything would stay very cold until we reached our fridge to stash it in, 5-6 hot hours away.

 

Personally, I freeze things so I have quick meals available that I can throw together fast.

 

What I freeze is things like homemade tomato soup base (just add milk and sherry, voila!), homemade spaghetti sauce, homemade bean soups, those cornmeal pizza crusts, and cheese tortellini.  That way I have a Larder, with food in it that I can always get on the table really, really fast in a pinch.

 

Edited by Carol in Cal.
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I use canned soup for several things. Good old Campbell's is my friend.

 

I use Campbells Cream of Chicken--I have not found a substitute I like as much, and it's a nice fallback if I'm in a hurry for a light meal--a can of that, a can of chicken with rice (both of which I stock routinely), and a can of liquid--whey if I have it, milk or water if I don't--Mm mm good!

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I have no taste or smell so I worry a lot if not using some kind of guideline. I don't usually measure anything, though, as my just eyeing it always seems to work.  I need a basic recipe for most things though as I can't taste it to see if it's right and I can't smell it while cooking. So far, dh and the dc have no problem with my cooking so I keep doing what I'm doing. 

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How can you bake without measuring anything or following a recipe? A substitution is one thing, but just throwing things together won't make a cake rise.

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Nope. I am an OK cook, and a good baker, but I have no desire to improvise. 

 

Cooking is not a creative outlet for me. 

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Kind of? I don't use a lot of recipes. I tend to use them more as suggestions, but I often use different amounts of ingredients or change things. I'm not a super interesting cook, but I generally cook decently enough.

 

My husband will be more adventurous and combine random things. A few weeks ago, he was making a burger while I was out with the kids. He ended up throwing together shredded potatoes, artichokes, and some cilantro chutney, plus cheese and guacamole ranch dressing. Then he had to repeat it because I kept hearing how good it was. It was indeed! I wouldn't have ever thought to put some of that stuff together. He's more like the cooking shows than I am, but he cooks maybe every couple of weeks, whereas I cook pretty much every day, most of the meals every day.

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Yes, I am.  But I used to frustrate my mom as a kid because only about a third of my early experiments were delicious.  1/3 were edible, and 1/3 were awful.  I got yelled at for wasting food a lot before I started to figure out what flavors work well together.

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Usually. I mean, it's happened that I've made a mistake, but generally, I can figure out what might work pretty well. Like, when I was 15 or 16 or so, I once made dinner by looking what we had at home... and made a casserole of iirc rice, peas, peaches, and some sort of sauce made from a roux with galangal root powder (maybe there were more ingredients - this is like half a life time ago). My mom looked at me like I was crazy and was (I think) already digging through the take out menus... but it actually turned out to be quite good. 

Edited by luuknam
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I would rather copy a picture than follow a recipe.  If I do use a recipe I usually substitute ingredients or omit them, either because I don't have them, don't like them or for health concerns for my kids.

 

I don't know how to make many things but I have invented many things by copying a picture or a mix of things I have eaten in the past.  My children and my tastebuds inspire me and it most often turns out very yummy.  I made an amazing lunch today and it was from a combination of pictures I'd seen in the past and using ingredients we have at home that I thought would fit.

 

Until this thread I thought I was the only one who cooked this way and that it might be a bad thing.

 

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Until this thread I thought I was the only one who cooked this way and that it might be a bad thing.

 

No sort of cooking that gets your household fed reasonably often and reasonably nutritiously can be a bad thing.

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How can you bake without measuring anything or following a recipe? A substitution is one thing, but just throwing things together won't make a cake rise.

I bake bread by ratios and feel. A cake needs a recipe.

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I almost always cook without a recipe. If you are always learning new dishes and modifying them to your liking, you'll get a sense of what goes well together.

 

I could go into just about any well stocked kitchen and throw together an edible meal. I enjoy cooking though.

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I'm finally understanding the "eat from the freezer" threads I've seen. I've never understood them. I buy exactly the amounts needed from the recipes that I buy from every week. There is never some sort of unexpected meat in the freezer. Everything is 100% accounted for and allotted to a specific recipe and I don't deviate from how the recipe is written. Now I see that most of you are magic chefs and buy random ingredients and mix them together. :)

 

I'm not a magic chef. Recipe, exact amounts, nothing exciting in the freezer.

 

I certainly don't "buy random ingredients" and throw them together. :) I guess I have a decent catalogue of recipes in my head? But I'm guessing you do as well. There are probably simple meals you can make without a recipe. Tacos? Spaghetti?

 

So I'll plan my meals ahead of time and I know what to buy. But those ingredients might not necessarily get measured out. I discovered this when I was asked for a recipe one time and I began to write it out and there was a lot of, "Mix in the sour cream till it seems right..." But if I was going to make that dish, I'd be sure to get the sour cream. I don't have a recipe, but I remember what all belongs in the dish.

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I use recipes as suggestions. If I want to make dish x, I will Google a bunch of different recipes (vegan and non-vegan) and use the components/flavors/substitutions I like to make my own thing roughly following the general direction of the recipe(s). It is not unusual for me to start out with one idea in mind and end up somewhere else because that was where it was going.

 

I can, if faced with my pantry and fridge, but not specific meal in mind, get a tasty dinner on the table without going to the store. I can also repurpose leftovers into something new. A number of recipes live in my head. Some of which dh badgered me into writing down for fear that it could potentially be lost forever. He seems way more conceremd with losing my chili recipe, for example, than he is with being unable to access our bank accounts or any other (in my mind) far more essential piece of information should I become incapacitated. That one started out with meat and ended up vegan.

 

Baking requires some more precision, but at it's base are ratiosthat can generallybe applied in any number of different recipes provided you keep those ratios in mind. I always cut the sugar. Always. I often subsome portion of the flour. I can tell when the salt is way off in a recipe.

 

Dh is a by the recipe kind of guy which he always feels the need to appologize for. Eh, I don't know why. It's always a treat for me when someone else makes dinner. :D

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I use recipes as suggestions. If I want to make dish x, I will Google a bunch of different recipes (vegan and non-vegan) and use the components/flavors/substitutions I like to make my own thing roughly following the general direction of the recipe(s). It is not unusual for me to start out with one idea in mind and end up somewhere else because that was where it was going.

 

I can, if faced with my pantry and fridge, but not specific meal in mind, get a tasty dinner on the table without going to the store. I can also repurpose leftovers into something new. A number of recipes live in my head. Some of which dh badgered me into writing down for fear that it could potentially be lost forever. He seems way more conceremd with losing my chili recipe, for example, than he is with being unable to access our bank accounts or any other (in my mind) far more essential piece of information should I become incapacitated. That one started out with meat and ended up vegan.

 

Baking requires some more precision, but at it's base are ratiosthat can generallybe applied in any number of different recipes provided you keep those ratios in mind. I always cut the sugar. Always. I often subsome portion of the flour. I can tell when the salt is way off in a recipe.

 

Dh is a by the recipe kind of guy which he always feels the need to appologize for. Eh, I don't know why. It's always a treat for me when someone else makes dinner. :D

 

I can see why people do that.  As this thread shows, people admire those who can seemingly pull together a meal out of a bunch of ingredients without glancing at a recipe, and it's a point of pride for some folks. The stereotypical grandma who "never used a recipe in her life" is a revered icon.   I know some people who are dismissive of those who rely on recipes and express the opinion that "real cooks" don't need them. 

 

I can also see why your husband might be more worried about the chili recipe than bank access, which is retrievable; family recipes that are stuck in someone's head are not.  

:001_smile:

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I am good with this. I don't remember the last time I used a recipe. If the flavors are in my wheel house (Mexican, Italian, and some Asian and American) I can adjust and change things up to make all kinds of dishes. I will ever-so-often look up how to do a certain technique, but almost alway stray from exact ingredients.

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Yes, I am.  But I used to frustrate my mom as a kid because only about a third of my early experiments were delicious.  1/3 were edible, and 1/3 were awful.  I got yelled at for wasting food a lot before I started to figure out what flavors work well together.

 

I never yell at my kid for that!  He is an experimenter for sure and has a very um...unusual sense of taste.  I'd say far less than 1/3 of what he makes is edible.  I don't want to discourage him though.

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