I own more cookbooks than I dare admit. And my list of foodie bookmarks is well into the 3 digits. I love recipes.
But when browsing recipe websites, I often see comments from people saying that wish they could do a recipe but they are allergic to this, intolerant to that, don’t like the other thing or just simply ran out of something else and this kind of comment frustrates me so much!
Recipes are great, but they are just guidelines. You should feel free to make modifications to suit your dietary needs, reduce food waste, stay within budget, and avoid ingredients you don’t like.
The problem with recipes
Recipes are not rules. Especially when it comes to home cooks.
We don’t have to serve the same thing every time to keep our clients happy. My ‘clients’ have no choice but to eat what I cook! My kids are not going to go to a different mum because the soup had a bit more carrot in it than the usual recipe calls for, or because I used couscous instead of quinoa. Of course I try to give them (and myself) tasty food, but I don’t stress over the little things.
There’s also the fact that recipes are made to please the recipe creator. They might absolutely love it, but I might think it’s terrible. It doesn’t make it a bad recipe or them bad recipe creators, it just makes us different people with different preferences.
Customising and adapting to what you have
Cooking at home and understanding why and how things happen gives us the ability to do whatever we want and get inspiration from recipes instead of having to rush to the supermarket half way through cooking because the recipe calls for onions when I could be using leeks, or a mashed banana instead of an egg.
For example, I am lactose intolerant and my daughter is allergic to walnuts, I also have my husband who doesn’t like desserts that are too sweet. I could spend hours trying to find a dairy-free walnut-free not-too-sweet cheesecake recipe, or I could just understand the reasons why and how some ingredients are used and replace them to suit my needs (and taste buds) and I can make a cheesecake that is just as good with cashew nuts or tofu, almonds and a bit less sugar.
Don’t burn the cookbooks just yet
Next time you grab your cookbooks (or recipe websites) instead of blindly following recipes try to understand why things are done in certain ways or why certain ingredients are used.
There are many resources out there to learn these things, but not as many as there should! I always try to go into as much detail as I can on the science and whys of food when I write here, but the internet is massive and full of people who know a lot more than me.
10 tips for following recipes
If you are just getting started in the kitchen, trying a new cuisine, or simply want to learn a new skill following a recipe can be really useful. It’s a way to learn new skills and how ingredients work. However, there are a few things you should take into account.
The first time you use a recipe, follow it the way it was written
You won’t learn anything from a recipe if you make changes before you have even made it once. There is nothing worse than someone who changes 4 out of 10 ingredients and then calls a recipe ‘bad’ on the review section.
A recipe could be terrible or great, but you’ll never know unless you do it the way it was meant to be done. Once, you’ve tried it, start making changes. You can even make changes before serving if you’re not the biggest fan. You can always add some herbs and spices or some vegetables to change the flavours.
Read the recipe before you start
Don’t do anything until you have read the recipe thoroughly, and you understand what you’re supposed to do. If there are steps or terms you don’t understand, check online.
Have all your ingredients ready
And by that I mean: have them all ready to go in the amounts and way the ingredient list specifies before you start the actual cooking.
If the recipe calls for 100 grams of sliced onions, don’t just get an onion out on the counter. Prepare 100 grams of sliced onions.
Find a recipe that is at your level, or just above
A challenge is always good, but you don’t want to discourage yourself by trying a recipe that is way above your current skill level.
Some recipes will list the skills needed. If the one you want to try doesn’t, read it and see if all the steps seem ‘doable’.
Keep your recipe accessible
You’ll need to check the recipe throughout the process. Make sure you have your recipe book open on the correct page. If it’s online print it, copy it, or keep it on a screen that won’t turn off automatically.
Give yourself plenty of time
Most recipes are developed by people who are extremely experienced homecooks or professionals, and they often don’t include prep time (the time you need to do things like cutting vegetables) or the time is a lot shorter than it would take a less experienced home cook. Make sure you give yourself lots of time to prepare the recipe.
Have your tools at hand
You don’t want to have to rummage through your drawers to find that one measuring spoon you need.
Wash your hands before you start, wash your hands after handling meat, wash your produce, wash your tools as you go, wash, wash, wash. And keep things tidy.
You will have less work once you finish cooking and it will make your cooking safer.
Don’t try a new recipe on a busy day
You might run into unexpected problems or delays. After work when you’re hungry and only have 30 minutes to prepare dinner is not the time to try something new.
Be ready to fail!
Sometimes recipes just don’t work out. Luckily most can be rescued somehow.
5 tips for freestyling recipes
As I mentioned, recipes are guidelines and you should feel free to change things if you feel like doing it. But there are still a few things you should keep in mind when trying to modify recipes you come across or even want to start creating your own recipes from scratch.
There are always alternatives
No matter what your diet or whatever ingredients you may be missing, there are always alternatives and ways to do things. So don’t despair! Check online and you’ll find options if you can’t think of any.
The internet is your friend
When in doubt: use the internet. There are loads of resources you can use when something doesn’t go as planned or you’re missing something.
Don’t go overboard with the modifications
If you’re trying to follow a recipe, don’t change too many things or you’ll end up with something completely different.
Check several recipes for inspiration
Most recipes have a million and one versions (even traditional ones). Check out a few, and come up with your own version. You might like it better than the ones you took inspiration from!
Experiment with only one new ingredient
If you’re trying new ingredients, use only one at a time. That way you will be able to see how it cooks and whether you like the flavour or not. If you combine a bunch of new ingredients, the flavours could get mixed up.