Can you cook wthout a recipe?

Even when I follow a recipe I have to fool with it based on our tastes. I despise rosemary. I adore onion, he won’t eat anything if there are visible onions, that sort of thing.

I read recipes for inspiration, not direction, unless it is an unusual dish I have never made before, typically something foreign.

Except for bread, which my grandmother taught me how to make “by feel” when I was a child, I do use recipes to bake. I learned this the hard way.

If its the first time I’ve made something, or I haven’t made it in a long time, I’ll usually like to have a recipe on hand so I don’t forget a step or an important ingredient.

Other than that, I don’t use them at all. I actually prefer to make small variances in what I cook, so nothing that I cook is exactly the same as how I’ve made it before.

If I relate my recipe to someone else, my measurements are usually in pinches, dollops, or glugs.

I also just make stuff up from time to time. I had to professionally do so every night for a few years, so it’s fun to stay with the habit. I have a good enough ability to imagine flavors that I can build a flavor profile in my head, and it almost always comes out as I expected.

My main use for recipes is to build a shopping list, actually. That’s when I a most likely to forget some ingredients.

When I learned to cook as a child, my mother taught me to follow recipes ever time. But I don’t. After about age 30, i started freestyling a lot more than just with eggs and veggies. I suddenly started paying attention to the memory of taste, texture, and scent. I wonder what she would think if she saw me. There are still many things I use recipes for, especially when using new-to-me ingredients, or following my grandmother’s recipes, which require methods and items modern cooking doesn’t play with any more.

I think watching chefs work in videos has really upped my game to another level these last few years. For example, I got some lovely peaches and decided to make a tart, which turned out a bit too sweet and bland. So I thought, this needs some almond paste below the fruit and less sugary topping. So I switched it up. It turned out perfect.

Then I googled it because I decided that surely I wasn’t the first person to have thought about such a thing and I found many recipes for that same dish.

I grew up watching my grandma cook. She never used a recipe- everything was a pinch / a palm / a shake. I’d ask how did she know if it was right, and the answer was always a shrug and “you learn as you go”. My mom can’t cook worth a damn. Suffice it to say, my culinary education was severely lacking.

I have to start with a recipe first. Once I’m comfortable, I’ll tweak to make it mine. But I’m still nervous about messing it up and wasting food.

Baking is a different story. Grandma and Mom both baked a lot. My earliest memories include sitting at the table playing with a bowl of flour while Mom kicked out tray after tray of cookies, bars and cakes.

Whereas savory cooking scares me, desserts are my happy place. I have the family favorites stored in my brain. Anything else requires a recipe.

Yes. This.

I’m fifty-fifty. I follow recipes when unfamiliar with the dish or when one looks interesting.

Like many, here, I’ll wing cooking things, but not baking things. Well, not baking things like cookies and cakes.

When I played with the SCA, I did medieval cooking. Have you ever seen a medieval recipe? Prepare yourself for phrases such as “until it be enough”, “add good spices”, and “until it be done”. (My favorite phrase is “smite it to gobbets”, but that’s pretty straightforward.)

My favorite was siege cooking. It was a contest in which you were given a scenario (to settle location and century) and you could research ahead of time and bring up to three staples with you. At the contest, you’d be given your ingredients and you had to figure things out from there. Hint: wine is a staple and it can add a lot.

I cook without a recipe all the time. I also cook with a recipe all the time.

I am fairly adept in the kitchen and can both cook and bake from scratch, often without a recipe. Cakes, cookies, pies, muffins… no real recipe needed in most cases.

I have many soups, pasta dishes, curries, sauces, glazes, etc. that I can make with no real need to refer to a recipe and I can make some kind of food in those forms no matter what spices/accoutrements are available, etc.


I also have certain things that I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it just the way I want AND be able to make it repeatedly to be exactly the same: that’s what a recipe is for.

My apple pie, lasagna, salsa, chocolate chip cookies, etc. are all MINE. Nobody else knows how I make them and I can make them the same every time but only because I painstakingly wrote down each and every change I made to the recipe until I finally got to where I didn’t need to make any more changes. And you can bet that when I make those things, I follow my recipe exactly. Folks look forward to the food I make not just because it’s good food but because they have an expectation that I satisfy.

There’s a lot of good things about recipes and being able to create/use them.

Yesterday’s dinner was oatmeal bread and white bean soup.

I’ve made bread hundreds of times over the last 30 years, and I have lots of variants that I like. This version–honey, water, yeast, salt, white bread flour, whole wheat flour, soaked steel-cut oats–is one that my family loves. I measure everything but the flour and know how to do it by heart and feel.

I’ve never made a white bean soup before. We eat tons of black beans, but not many white beans, and I wanted a variant. So I looked at half a dozen different recipes, from Tuscan bean soup to vegan variants to ones with sausage to ones with parmesan. Then I thawed my turkey stock from Thanksgiving and made up a recipe using the parts of the different recipes that looked good and that I had ingredients for, plus whatever I knew my family would like. I’ve never made white bean soup, but I’ve made enough soups with similar flavors that I could figure it out. Nothing got measured.

If I’m making a food that’s really unfamiliar to me–say, I want to try my hand at making Carolina vinegar sauce for pulled pork–I’m gonna follow a recipe. If it’s a baking recipe that’s outside of my wheelhouse, I’ll follow a recipe pretty closely (maybe adding/subtracting/modifying flavors without changing the bones of the recipe).

I cook a lot of medieval recipes. And I use the word “recipe” very loosely there. - medieval recipes are very imprecise Otherwise, a lot of freestyle.

First time through I’m likely to follow the recipe. Once I know what it tastes like and what it lacks, I fiddle. Brewing, OTOH, is almost completely Jedi. I’ve made so much beer over the decades that muscle memory can handle it.

For things that involve precise chemistry, like pastries or candies, I follow the recipe. But for the most part I think of cooking a dish the same way I think of painting a painting: flavors and textures are like colors and brushes. I create a piece/dish then move on to the next. Of course I sometimes get a “keeper,” a dish that’s worth repeating, but I don’t write stuff down so inevitably there are variations. I have several friends who when I visit them, I’m challenged to come up with something using only the ingredients they have on hand. Cooking this way is what makes it interesting for me.

And my frequently free-style cooking gets me in trouble when he says "make this again. "

I almost never follow a recipe, but I read them constantly for ideas. Until I pared it down to 200 or so, I had over 400 cookbooks in my collection from all over the world.

If I’m not familiar with how a dish is supposed to turn out, I’m more likely to make a recipe exactly as written, at least the first time. But even then I may say, “oh, that sounds like way too much sugar/too little salt/a terrible ingredient” and tamper with it.

Many people say they use recipes for baking even if they don’t otherwise. For products leavened with baking soda or baking powder, I do as well. But for a yeast bread, I just grab stuff and start mixing and kneading.

When I freestyle something that turns out unusually wonderfully, I quickly write down what I did so I can duplicate it. In fact a few months ago I put a recipe of that sort on this board. I’ll have to look it up here if I get a craving for it.

I try to, but don’t always get it right. So I keep fiddling with my recipes.

Yup. This afternoon I made cranberry apple pie. Easy, you say. Yes easy as pie. But… How much apple do I actually want? I mean, I want to generously fill the pie pan, but I want to be able to shove it all in there. So… a few times ago I wrote down quantities:
“fill the second largest of the glass bowls level with apples, and use a 12 oz bag of cranberries”
There’s an annotation that says, “that was too much, maybe a cup less. Probably about 1 Kg”.
So today I weighed the fruit as I cut it. I did a lot of little apples first, and thought I might not have enough that I’d brought upstairs to reach 1Kg. But there was one large apple in the bowl. Wow! you get a lot more apple from a large apple. Anyway, I hit 1 Kg on that large apple, and was at 1.1Kg when I was done. But also, the cranberries are a little old, so I probably threw away an ounce or two as I cleaned them. So… about the same total volume of fruit.

And the spices. This recipe uses a LOT of spice. One year my husband wrote down quantities, and you know what, those quantities work well (he wrote them down as I tossed spice in by eye/nose). So now I just follow that recipe.
3/4 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp clove

Before I had a recipe, there were years when I added too much clove, or too much allspice, and it came out… funny.

I used a new pie crust recipe this time, though. :smiley: Gotta mix something up.

I swing both ways. I sometimes read several recipes for the same dish, then extrapolate the critical parts.

I am one of those people who steadfastly don’t cook. My diet consists of a mix of eating out/takeout, microwaveable food, ramen noodle soup, cold plates, and similar. I literally can’t boil an egg. However, I recently decided I wanted to at least learn to make some soups, being a soup lover. One of my favorites is tomato beef macaroni, which you can’t get where I live. What I did was I looked over several recipes, including instructional videos on Youtube. Then I tried it without taking exact measurements. My first attempt was palatable, but too heavy on tomato and the beef element was limited to stock. The next time, I put in steak tartare meat that I first fried with the onions. It was better, but still too much tomato and I added too much salt. The third time, I used proper ground beef. This time, it was much closer to what I was aiming at. And I had managed to get there through experimentation.

Not only do I almost always use a recipe, I check it multiple times while cooking. “Was that 1/2 or 1/4 tsp?” I made mac and cheese the other day. Same recipe I’ve used for years. Still have to check how much butter, flour, milk. But also, since I’ve made it a bunch, I know where I can fudge it. I didn’t have enough milk for the sauce and breakfast (and wanted to avoid the store over the weekend), so I used evaporated milk and water. I know I don’t need finely shredded cheese and how much extra cheese I can add before it’s just gloop. So I use the recipes, but I tweak them as needed where I know I can make changes and not ruin it. Extra garlic, skip the peppers. I think chicken cutlets and burgers are the only things I just do from memory/instinct.