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Old 11-09-2006, 06:52 PM   #1
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Simple recipes

For some time I've had a mental road-block when it comes to getting a bit creative with cooking. I've learned to follow a recipe and get the result I'm supposed to, but I can't really think up of anyway to spice things up myself. The problem, as far as I can tell, stems from the fact that I haven't got a clue how to make a basic dish.

As a good example, I can tell you a dozen different homemade rubs to spread on ribs, yet until I asked a someone at work I had no clue you could actually cook good ribs without a rub. May sound stupid, but no one (at least as far as I can tell) mentions cooking ribs without a rub because its just a basic non-nonsense dish. Likewise, I learned how to make potato salad by taking dozens of recipes I found and then cutting out all the ingredients that weren't common between them because I couldn't find a simple recipe anywhere.

Am I just missing some obvious source of information with that in it, or does everyone assume that you know that to start with? Or that you have someone to ask to explain that?

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Old 11-09-2006, 07:12 PM   #2
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I have the same problem at times. I can follow a recipe just fine, but lack creativity when it comes to exploring various seasonings. Today I was in the mood for something different, so I ended up buying a few things that I like and just added various flavors to it. Just experiment and have fun!
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Old 11-09-2006, 07:25 PM   #3
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You know what? Sometimes we try to complicate things too much. It's amazing what delicious flavours you can extract from just using salt and pepper on ribs...
To give you another example "close to home":

Every year I invite 40 -50 people home for Xmas lunch, on the 25th.
Last year, I cut the carrots into sticks, barely poached them, then added:
butter
cream
salt
pepper.

People went wild wanting to know what the "sauce" was...
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Old 11-09-2006, 07:26 PM   #4
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That's a ticklish question! On the one hand you want interesting recipes, on the other you want to get right back to basics. So I'm a little confused. It sounds like you are a perfectly capable cook, who has actually learned to walk before you can crawl!

It depends a lot of what you want to make. When you're starting off with, say, cakes, you can't do without a recipe. Once you've learned the basic recipe, you can then play around with it to please yourself. For instance, you can turn a plain cake into a chocolate cake, or a lemon cake or a raisin cake, or whatever.

When it comes to things like potato salads, just try to keep it simple. A potato salad is really just cooked potatoes chopped up, with some sort of dressing on it, right? You don't really need a recipe - you can add other ingredients to please your own taste buds. I happen to like using a home-made mayonnaise as the dressing for mine (made from condensed milk and vinegar), and I like to add chopped mint, and some finely chopped onion. Doesn't get more simple than that, but occasionally I might add other things - chopped boiled egg, chopped crispy bacon, omit the onion and use shallots (scallions) instead. Maybe toss in some red capsicum. Whatever takes my fancy at the time.

It's the same with something like a fruit salad. I've never used a recipe in my life for fruit salad. I simply chop up whatever fruits I happen to have on hand, mix them altogether, and that's that. I happen to believe that fruit salad isn't fruit salad unless it has passionfruit in it, but that's just me. I've never used any sort of dressing or other flavours in a fruit salad. It's not needed, but I daresay if you wanted to add some mint, or a dash of liqueur or something, you could.

I think it might be useful to you if you tried cooking without a recipe! Take a trip back in time, and start cooking 'plain'. Meat and 3 veges, plain stews, that sort of thing. Forget about the fancy sauces, and just make gravy. Just fry or grill (broil) your meat, serve plain veges on the side -carrots, mashed potato and peas, for instance. Nothing else. You'll be surprised at how tasty it can be! For a stew, just toss some meat and assorted veges of choice into a saucepan with some water, season it to taste, and thicken the liquid. Again, you'll get that 'natural' flavour which is delicious. Gradually, you'll want to experiment a bit more by adding assorted herbs, or other flavourings like curry or whatever.

I think with so many recipes to choose from, we've forgotten the true flavour of the food we cook. Having too many choices isn't a thing that makes like simple! It actually complicates things. It IS possible to serve meat which hasn't been marinated, rubbed, or has sauce on top, and it can be GOOD! Unadulterated vegetables are very tasty. It's worth trying.

I'm not sure if that's the sort of thing you're after, so I look forward to your response - and that of others.

Here are some sites I found for 'back to basics cooking'.
http://southernfood.about.com/od/instruction/
http://www.sallys-place.com/food/col...learn_cook.htm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/back_to_basics/
http://www.reluctantgourmethttp://ww..._Cooking/.com/
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Old 11-09-2006, 07:37 PM   #5
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Creativity is my special gift. Sometimes ideas rush through my brain one after another.
But you can learn how to be creative. Here are a few suggestions to help:

*Do learn about basic cooking methods. When I was learning to cook, I went through Joy of Cooking like a bible.
*Plan your menu around what is available and fresh, keeping in mind what you already have on hand.
*Stop and think about what would taste good together, like fruit with pork and ham, or tomatoes with beef, or celery with chicken. Once you get the hang of it, start experimenting with new things.
*Always be willing to try new foods. You may find something you like!
*Keep a good pantry if you can, of basic items used in a lot of dishes, and some frozen items, if you have room. Then, when you get a sudden inspiration, you'll have what you need.
*Be patient with yourself. Everyone has failures. You wouldn't believe some of mine. Learn how to laugh and order a pizza.
*Never stop learning...and never be too proud to try new methods or products. I've seen a lot of changes in 50 years of cooking.

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Old 11-09-2006, 08:03 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nessin
For some time I've had a mental road-block when it comes to getting a bit creative with cooking. I've learned to follow a recipe and get the result I'm supposed to, but I can't really think up of anyway to spice things up myself. The problem, as far as I can tell, stems from the fact that I haven't got a clue how to make a basic dish.

As a good example, I can tell you a dozen different homemade rubs to spread on ribs, yet until I asked a someone at work I had no clue you could actually cook good ribs without a rub. May sound stupid, but no one (at least as far as I can tell) mentions cooking ribs without a rub because its just a basic non-nonsense dish. Likewise, I learned how to make potato salad by taking dozens of recipes I found and then cutting out all the ingredients that weren't common between them because I couldn't find a simple recipe anywhere.

Am I just missing some obvious source of information with that in it, or does everyone assume that you know that to start with? Or that you have someone to ask to explain that?
nessin, your post is insightful and, I believe, represents the biggest challenge to people learning on their own to cook at home today. The celebrity chef and foodie culture is increasing the interest in good food, often made from scratch, but the necessity for each chef's, magazine's, and TV show's recipes to be unique makes it very hard for a novice learn from those sources.

For this reason, I think a fairly comprehensive book like Joy of Cooking or Bittman's How to Cook Everything, that assumes no advance knowledge and covers as much as possible from how to boil an egg to how to make a demi-glaze, is much more helpful than the latest published recipes from Rachael Ray or Emeril Lagasse.

I also think that a sub-forum on this site dedicated to simple beginning recipes would be useful and would help to attract and retain new members.

Most of this, I've said most of before so I apologize to those to whom I am repeating myself.
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Old 11-09-2006, 10:36 PM   #7
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nessin:

You haven't been doing anything wrong. I have done the same thing, expecially when I want to make a classic recipe. Often, ther is no single correct recipe for a classic dish. I compare several versions of the same recipe and create a 'master' recipe for me to cook from.

You do have to force yourself to experiment. Think of some favorite recipes and try changing one or two of the key ingredients. If you like shrimp scampi, try chicken or pork scampi. Add some chopped tomatos, try some basil. Try a version with crumbled feta cheese.

This will get you into the idea of accepting different combinations. You can eat and enjoy a lot of your experiments.
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Old 11-10-2006, 10:07 AM   #8
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Nessin - I have one idea for you - rush out immediately and buy the book, "Culinary Artistry" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. This book provides you with ideas for food and flavoring pairings. It will suggest what herbs/seasonings go with what foods and you won't belive how much you will learn from this info.

It's a fun wonderful experience.
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Old 12-01-2006, 07:56 PM   #9
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That is a dilemma everyone has throughout their entire cooking "career". It just takes a matter of trying different ethnic cuisines to see what flavors/spices/herbs go together. I discoverd Vietnamese food and realized I loved soy sauce, lime, and cilantro together, or soy, lime, basil. It just takes looking at recipes, making them, and realizing what flavors go together. You'd be surprised how just ribs marinated in balsamic vinegar are - or chicken in just balsamic - then if you want to add some garlic to the marinade that is ok too. But it just took someone telling me they marinated their ribs in balsamic for me to start experimenting with it. Then I learned that you could reduce balsamic into a thicker glaze - oh my - that was wonderful so I started using that as a drizzle on salads, or goat cheese, or stuffed mushrooms.

It just takes experience.
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Old 12-01-2006, 08:16 PM   #10
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The simple basics of cooking.

Cooking is very progressive. Our products change and over time, we modify our recipes to accomodate such things. Cookies for example once were made from scraps. Once we started buying a "bill of groceries" and had better storage conditions (refrigerators), we started making them from scratch. Now that candy making is not as common in many home kitchens, we are finding some ingredients in our cookies (chocolate chip is now chunky chocolate cookies). To find basic recipes that you are looking forward to mastering, look into the culture that you grew up in. The spices that you favor will tell you a lot about yourself and your ancestors. There is as much romance among spices as there is fruit.
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