“Do You Have the Recipe?”

I am a self taught cook and I began with baking. Measuring ingredients is an essential part of baking. In fact in recent years I have even used a scale to get the precise amount that a recipe requires. In tricky baked goods my “just about a cup” isn’t good enough. I have a drawer full of various measuring cups including 2/3 and 3/4. Three different sets of measuring spoons hang from the backsplash over the kitchen counter. I know the difference between dry measuring and liquid measuring and use the appropriate cups for each. In short I understand baking as a mathematical activity giving me a chance to frequently use the fractions I learned in grade school.

My first husband cooked by sight, taste and smell. He had grown up with a mother who never consulted a cook book and he had an acquired understanding of how to make a meal from whatever was on hand. He frequently called what he made “gumbo,” but it was never the same meal twice. I was constantly in awe of this talent as I continued to consult cook books to make dinner, applying the same baking rules to cooking.

Recently Sam Sifton, of the New York Times, published an article promoting his newest cookbook called, ironically enough, No Recipe Recipes. He shared a pork chop dish and gave approximate amounts for each ingredients. Basically he was demonstrating in small steps what seasoned cooks, unhampered by the rules of baking, already know. Sight, taste and smell can guide you as you make dinner. At 73 I am just beginning to consider that cooking doesn’t have to be “by the book.”

Baking, however, will continue to be my forte. Things turn out just like the pictures because I FOLLOW THE RECIPE.

45 thoughts on ““Do You Have the Recipe?”

  1. I cook the same way your first husband does and so does my mom and everyone else in the family.

    I consult recipes for baking though. Still trying to find the perfect brownie recipe!


        1. I am afraid that so many brownies I encountered at your age were “amended” that they come to mind whenever I see the word “brownies.”


        2. Haha, I’ve never had one but I almost did. I was at a rave in Jamaica and someone was handing out brownies. I was one bite away when a friend slapped it out of my hand. I was so mad, but then he explained it was “amended”. He knew I didn’t dabble and he didn’t either, but he had eaten one just like that before. No one had warned him. He said he was outside holding on to the blades of grass and begging everyone to stop him from falling off the face of the Earth. 😂😂😂


        3. I had no idea people amended brownies until then. But now I know. I also don’t accept tootsie rolls and a few other sweets. Those are often amended too and then repackaged in the wrapper.


  2. that’s probably why baking is not one of my culinary skills. I have recipes, but tend to substitute if I don’t have what’s called for.
    It’s another matter entirely to throw together a meal with whatever is available. Especially using up leftovers so I have space in the fridge for this week’s shopping. I used to shop for four kids who fed themselves while I was at work (and fed half the school too in their summer break) so, even though it’s only me and him now, I still have enough in the fridge (and freezer) to feed whoever might drop in. It’s a hard habit to grow out of.


  3. I’ve always needed to follow a recipe when I cook. But in the past few years I’ve enjoyed watching chefs on TV and learned some of their secrets, including how to approximate and substitute ingredients. In fact, ‘Chopped’ is one of my favorite shows.


  4. I love baking as well, and have numerous recipes for different things (not that I’ve been baking of late) but I’ve also had disasters even when measuring. Sometimes, the goods are still edible, but occasionally nothing makes it all better.
    I have recipes that have no name as well, or the name given isn’t exactly what it is.
    I for savoury main meals, I will often add something – because once I know something from a recipe, I will do “additions” – and sometimes the meal doesn’t end up looking very nice BUT it often is the best taste…and then I can’t remember if it was a pinch of this or a bit more than that!

    When we were in lockdown this time last year, I had very little flour. Flour got into the same issues as TP – my helper overcame that.

    Here I’m today, making out a grocery list, maybe I should see what other box cakes are on offer… particularly as I’ve not been baking much at all of late…


    1. That was one of the funniest accounts of baking I have ever read. I have just added her to my list to read. Thanks for adding your own experiences. I do sometimes forget if I have added three or four of something. I occasionally leave out something central–like yeast.


  5. My guess is this has something to do with whether we tend to be more left-brained or right-brained. My wife is much more the type to throw things together without measuring. I’m the one who likes to carefully measure everything.


  6. My husband can make award winning soups from what ever leftovers are in the fridge. When I suggest an ingredient, he tries to explain how the flavors would never go together. Some people just have the knack. I will stick to measuring precisely!


  7. I cook by the feel and rarely make the same dish twice, even the ones I really liked. I just can’t seem to leave anything lone! If I read someone else’s recipe, my mind is already racing ahead and making changes. Can you tell I prefer cooking over baking?


  8. I am mostly a pitch it in and see what happens kind of cook but this is disastrous with so many recipes and especially with baking. So I say – stick the recipes where these things actually matter. They will then work. But then – when you don’t have all the necessaries and anyway precision is not the name of the game – make it up and don’t look back.


    1. I too often just stop when I see a weird(to me) ingredient. I really like when it says “if you don’t have Tunisian yak milk feel free to substitute ordinary cow milk.”


  9. I both bake and cook, although I bake more frequently than I cook because that is my mom’s job and she gets very cross if I interfere. I do measure when I bake but I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. I am an improvisor and can usually tell if something won’t work in a recipe. Most of the original recipes are from the UK or USA and altitude impacts heavily on the amount of raising agent required for a recipe. I am good at working out what is needed. I make all sorts of changes as I go along. I try to remember to write them down so I can remember for the next time around.


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