Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Yup. You read that correctly.
As important as I think it is to not follow a recipe, I think it is equally important to be able to think for yourself and learn about flavor combinations that work together and what you like.
In high school, I spent a lot of time watching the food network. I was obsessed. But, it came with some perks. I learned the basics of baking and cooking, everything from knife skills to new flavor combinations. This expanded even further when I moved into my own place and had to cook for myself. And my horizons were broadened again when I went vegan and had to start experimenting with new foods and flavor combinations that would jazz up my food.
But, why is this important?
For me, it's access to ingredients and quite frankly being too lazy to go to the store:
- Out of a certain herb or spice? Substitute for another one or just leave it out.
- Don't have the right type of milk? Use what you have.
- Don't have any vegan butter? Use another type of fat, applesauce, pumpkin, etc.
- Don't have the "correct" vegetables? Use what you have.
The key here is to be able to learn to be flexible. Learning how to not use a recipe will also save you money, time, and waste. Some recipes call for the most random ingredients that you will probably only use one time and that, to me, is so wasteful.
So here are some tips for learning how to not follow a recipe:
1. Educate yourself! Weather that's watching food shows or just studying recipes, if you want to get better at not having to follow a recipe step for step, start learning.
2. Experiment. Maybe you're feeling like making your chili extra spicy. Try new types of spices to see what you like. Maybe you want your cookies to taste different. Try cinnamon or extra vanilla.
3. Learn what you like. Maybe you don't like your foods to be as salty or as spicy. Omit what you don't like and add what you do.
4. Learn your equipment. Every stove, oven, pot, and pan is different. Heck, even your environment can have a difference on cook time! Learn what temperatures and times work best for your equipment and your environment and maybe one day you won't have to use a timer.
No recipe is perfect and no recipe has to be followed "correctly" or step by step.
Some common ingredients I rarely or never measure are:
- Spices. Everything from salt to cinnamon to cumin. I always put in a little, taste it, and add more if it needs it.
- Vanilla and other additional flavors to cookies.
- Chocolate chips and other mix-ins
- Vegetables if the recipe is specific (i.e. 2/3 cup of chopped carrots). I throw in what I like and however much I want.
Some common recipes I always make up:
- Chili and most soups, after all it is just a pot full of broth and veg.
- Smoothies. Like most other things, figure out what flavors you like, add some nutritional boosts, and voila! A smoothie!
- Oatmeal. I love how versatile oats are. You can add fruits, nuts, seeds, butters, chocolate. The combinations are endless.
- Mashed potatoes. Boil some potatoes, add some milk and butter and mash. Easy peasy.
The goal here is to reduce on food waste and learn to use what you have. I hope you keep learning and keep experimenting with your foods and learn to love working in the kitchen.