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Old 10-27-2004, 05:50 PM   #1
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Cooking 'outside the box'

I hope this topic will take off - There are a lot of us here who are quite adept at finding, assembling, and cooking from a specific recipe. What I'd like to do is open a discussion on how to get beyond the 'I need a certain recipe for a certain meat/veg/fish' way of thinking, to enable us to get outside that 'box' and be more creative.

As an example, debthecook mentioned some recipes specifically for 'black striped bass'; I suggested that maybe instead of looking for specific recipes for that particular fish, that we look for the 'type' of fish, best methods to cook that 'type', and go from there.

Outside of baking, which does require pretty specific measurements (although some room for play can come in), cooking to me is not an 'exact' science; once you have methods down; the basics of say, different cuts of meat; and what flavors appeal to you and go together, it's only up to your own creativity to decide how you want to prepare an item.

Any thoughts? Please jump in - I think this could be a fun discussion!


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Old 10-27-2004, 06:07 PM   #2
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when I try a new recipe - I will gather 3 or 4 cookbooks and look at the same recipe from different points of view - then I"ll take those recipes and pick the parts I like best, then add a little more or a little less depending on my mood - for anything other than baking - which I don't do much anyway!!! Then after I've tried it - if it's a do-over, I'll continue to make changes to my version...I've come up with some interesting combinations that way!
One of my favorites was to combine a recipe for cold avocado soup with one for cucumber soup and OMG I can put a couple quarts of that in the fridge and live off it for - well a couple days anyway!!!

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Old 10-27-2004, 07:23 PM   #3
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I wish I could remember the exact quote I read somewhere once upon some time ago ... but it went something like: cooking is a fine art, a recipe is paint by number.

Baking is a science - of temperatures and ratios. You can play with flavors, but you have to stick to the basic formulas.

Cooking really allows you to get creative and explore far more with less restrictions. All you need is to understand basic techniques, your ingredients, and know what the base flavors are. It's like knowing that blue and yellow make green ... and you get to play with combinations to find the shade of green you want.

I guess I learned to "wing it" when I was a single dad with 2 sons ... and it was a couple of days until payday (and I didn't own any cookbooks). I just looked at what I had on hand, though "what would the Furgal Gourmet make out of this" - and went with it. Of course, my sons were also "Frug Fans" - so we often had a joint discussion on what to make. Humm ... cooking with kids before FoodTV had the idea ... :?

I'm also like TXDeb - I'll look at several recipes and try to imagine the flavors in my mind .. and pick and choose what I'll do with the recipe. I used to make beef stew the way my mother did ... but then I played around and discovered how much better it was with a little red wine and beef broth instead of water. My chicken noodle soup made with stewing the chicken with the bones (to get a real stock) and using the stewing liquid as the base for the soup instead of tossing it and using water like the recipe I had said to do. I've been making shrimp gumbo for years ... but recently I had the bright idea to boil the heads and shells to make a shrimp stock to use instead of water ... I gave one of my sons some and he called me the next day to ask what I changed in the recipe because it was the best I had ever made.

Yep, marmalady, once you know the basics - you're only limited by your imagination.
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Old 10-28-2004, 02:40 AM   #4
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good topic, marm!
i don't really use recipes, 'cept for when i bake. and i don't bake very often at all.
some people- like my Mom- NEED a recipe for even the simplest thing, like instant mashed potatoes. she can't cook without one. and my Dad needs recipes for anything he hasn't been making for the past 25 years. all of thier food is basic and lacks creativity, and it's always the same dishes week after week.
i have a hard time using recipes, though. too restrictive.
i remember watching in fascination as my Grandpa just threw together a pot of instant potatoes when i was little. i think that's when i learned that you don't always need a recipe to cook.
don't get me wrong; i read cookbooks and recipes like novels, and i take mental and written notes, but measuring cups and measuring spoons and recipes are not kitchen items that i often employ.
i just made a curried carrot soup, and i had skimmed through recipe after recipe. not one of them sounded like something i'd like. so instead of following a recipe that didn't float my boat, i just opened the cupboards and fridge and started setting ingredients that just looked like they would work in a carrot soup out on the counter. my soup turned out yummy, but had i followed a recipe, i'd have probably ended up with a finished product that i didn't like very much at all.
i kind of just add as i go along, and sometimes charge blindly ahead and figure my recipe will turn out all right.
and i don't much worry about being traditional... if my food turns out yummy, and people smile and make that almost inaudible, 'mmmmm' sound as they're eating something i cooked, well... THAT'S what matters.
i believe that life would not be complete sans comfy 'ol tee-shirts, the Golden Girls, and the color pink
& rock on, PITTSBURGH-
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Old 10-28-2004, 09:35 AM   #5
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On my kitchen counter are the following books:

The Professional Chef, 7th Ed. (CIA) - CIA Textbook.
On Food And Cooking: The Art and Science of the Kitchen (Harold McGee) - VERY useful science, covers all forms of cooking and bakery.
Le Guide Culinaire (Auguste Escoffier) - THE BIBLE
Culinary Artistry - Useful flavor matching guide.

Using the techniques and guidelines in these books, plus every now and then an idea picked up from a recipe, you can make anything... ANYTHING.
- Weeks
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Old 10-28-2004, 09:38 AM   #6
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My wife always says that this is the type of cooking I'm best at - no recipe, just grab some of this, a bit of that, etc...

It's definitely how I came up with bourbon/teriyaki chicken and rice....

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Old 10-28-2004, 09:42 AM   #7
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I'm with JRsTXDeb - I try to find a recipe in three or four cookbooks. Sometimes one recipe is the clear winner, but more often than not I take the parts I like from several recipes and combine them.
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Old 10-28-2004, 09:45 AM   #8
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i take most recipes and try to sub things to make it a little healthier, which doesn't always work. but when it does, it fills you with a great sense of accomplishment.
in nomine patri, et fili, et spiritus sancti.
beidh ar la linn.
wisdom is often in short supply within ones' ego.
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Old 10-28-2004, 09:46 AM   #9
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Great topic Marm!

I find that the internet is a great way to help me cook outside the box, although I admit this is something that I am not great at yet, but am striving to improve. I like to look up recipes online and get a whole bunch of them for the same dish. I then compare and see what things are similar and what the differences are. From there I can get an idea of other things I can try that might still work.
You know you can't resist clicking
this link. Your eyes will thank you. VISUAL BLISS
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Old 10-28-2004, 09:54 AM   #10
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My thought process, on a recipe runs like so:

I'll read a recipe on a site or wherever and think, "Wow that sounds good!" But something just won't click with me, or an ingredient will be hard to find, so I'll scrap an entire flavor set and start thinking about how I can take the technique and move the flavors in a new direction, such as taking a chili and instead of using steak, cayenne and jalapenos, use chicken, white pepper and poblanos with parmesan cheese and cream for a white chili. *shrugs*

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