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Old 12-30-2007, 09:24 AM   #31
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I'm not much help since I like, errr have to cook with a plan as well...

But I do have a friend that can start chopping and pulling out spices and dragging stuff out of the fridge and pantry before he is even really sure what the finished product will be. He's amazing. Drives me nuts.


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Old 12-30-2007, 11:21 AM   #32
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It certainly helps to have lots of things in the pantry, but when that's not an option something I like to do is variations on simple preparations. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are pretty much the staple protein around here, and it can get old pretty quickly, as I'm sure you all know. However take fried chicken for example. You can do regular homestyle fried, cornmeal fried chicken strips (which are great in wraps too), you can use regular breadcrumbs, specially seasoned breadcrumbs, cornflake crumbs, tempura, cordon bleu, kiev. If you want to do a braise you can use tomatoes, peppers and onions for cacciatore, you can use chicken broth, and some small diced veggies and noodles for chicken noodle soup, mole, chili. Beyond that, there's whole roasted chicken, there's pan roasted breasts, which are great with a simple veg and a variety of sauces. You can stir fry, which opens up the possibilities for a myriad of flavors.

Those are a lot of options, and not even all of the options, for just one protein.

Just look at the things you have, and ask yourself, what is the method of cooking to bring these flavors together?

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Old 12-30-2007, 12:11 PM   #33
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Think of casseroles,soups you make those with just about anything in the house.A casserole could have beans,rice,or noodles etc so think what would go with that canned drained tomatoes or a canned soup take the vegies you have like onions,celery,carrots,mushrooms whatever you have that goes together etc and saute them add some garlic and some herbs of your choice add some leftover meat maybe some cheese and bake.Bake off the french bread you keep in freezer.If you dont have lettuce for a salad maybe you might have a cucumber,or tomatoes slice them add some onion or scallions bits of cheese and salad dressing or a simple homemade vinaigrette.But I still think the key is to have a few non perishble items on hand I keep canned mushrooms just for that purpose because town is 45 miles away they can make a great addition to just about anything.
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Old 12-30-2007, 01:55 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by CherryRed View Post
I agree - I also think that's what separates the cooks from the bakers. I'm pretty good at baking because I measure exactly and know just what to look for in each step of my recipe's preparation. However, I completely fail at adding spices "to taste" or letting things cook "until done." I have absolutely no aptitude for judging when it's right. I feel that people who are detail-oriented and precise in the kitchen are likely to be better bakers than cooks. People who can create dishes based on what feels right are more successful as cooks than as bakers. Just an idea I've always had. Any thoughts on that?
I'm a baker first and a cook second. Maybe that is why I always feel the need to have a recipe infront of me. Baking is chemistry and I don't mess with the measurements.

Like Dina, I tweak recipes to my own liking but I fail at improvising out of the fridge. Maybe it's an issue of better stocking the freezer and pantry. I think if I did that then I'd have a lot of options.

This thread has really taken off. What an interesting discussion.
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Old 12-30-2007, 02:45 PM   #35
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Try to think ethnically. Take something as simple as...pork chops. Well...Asian would have you adding ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallion, chili, sugar, garlic. That could be served with vegetables, rice or noodles. Mexican would see you use cilantro, lime juice, garlic, cumin, tomatoes, olive oil and maybe corn. You could serve this with torts, rice or beans. Italian would have you pound it out, add tomatoes, cheese, garlic, basil, oregano and serve it with pasta. German would see breaded pork with apple compote (apples and sugar heated) and served with potatoes, dumplings and vegetables. Indian would have you make a curry.

These are total generalizations and simplified for clarity, but if you look at food in this way - the only way really - you see things broken down into cooking methods and different ingredients.

Take the pork chop: You could bake it, fry it, boil it, braise it, roast it, grind it up into a burger and grill it, BBQ it.........the list is endless. These are cooking methods.

The ingredients you add can be as simple as thinking, "What ingredients are in Asian cooking?" Find the answer and use them.

Someone here in another post was speaking of marinating a boneless rib roast in soy sauce and basil. Personally, I wouldn't use them together. Knowing how to combine herbs and spices effectively can again be a answered by regional or ethnic cooking styles. Just look at things simple and see the patterns.

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Old 12-31-2007, 12:02 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Bilby View Post
I found that by looking at lots of recipes, you can break them down into components or styles, and then most are just variations on a theme. Cooking theory becomes a lot easier then - may not help your technique but it does help your understanding of what you are doing. The other thing is to learn what flavours work together and that is personal preference as much as classic pairings.
If I have something in my fridge to use up and I don't know what to do with it, or I want to try something new...I google it. I find something that I want to try and then I start looking at a variety of recipes that work. Then I piece it together on my own and try it.
Then I write down the recipe I've "created" and reuse it if it was good...if not, I find something better. I know its not the best improvising, but it works for me... maybe it'll work for you...
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Old 01-05-2008, 08:24 AM   #37
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I usually follow a recipe when I cook, but I also make sure to use the ingredients in the fridge. And you can easily do both searching for recipes containing the ingredients you have. You can even use one of the online "emtpy your fridge"-services.
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Old 01-05-2008, 11:28 AM   #38
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I'm a single mom, I'm d*mn good at improvising with what's in the cupboards. I keep staples around to mix with other things.

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