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*dusts off podium*

*taps mic* Hello, is this thing on?

So, since the inauguration of this comm I've cooked for myself a lot more (and made Becca's avocado egg salad like, ninety times) but I've done almost no experimentation. This morning I want to try making some English muffins, and I will no doubt follow the recipe word for word, ounce for ounce, and produce something certainly very close to the original (although it's less likely with baking than cooking since I come from a long line of dreadful bakers). But I can't imagine adding my own stuff! The closest I come to changing a recipe involves adding salt to it or substituting ingredients because I don't stock baking powder in my bunker apartment down south.

Do any of you have this problem? If you do experiment, how did you get started trying?

To ensure that this is not totally navelgazing, here is the recipe I want to try, and here is an extended meditation on the art of the five minute chocolate mug cake.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
I... generally don't work from recipes, actually. Recipes involve going out and buying ingredients, and I'm only cooking for myself which makes it hard because it's sometimes difficult to get small amounts of things, so pretty much all of my cooking is experimentation on a theme. The theme of... whatever I have in my cupboard, really. I do need to get more experimental, though; my parents got me a gluten free cookbook for Christmas, and I have some cool secondhand food mags, so here's to that. XD
Jan. 4th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC)
Are you able to, like, picture what everything will taste like in your head before you put it in...? Or are you just a constant sampler? Or ... this is totally baffling me! I can't even imagine that. I cook for myself too but then I end up making four portions anyway :P
Jan. 4th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
Ummm... well I know that various things go together due to having seen my little Smaller flatmate cook them - she's more the recipe type - and there are certain herbs/spices that are associated with various culinary arenas, but it's also a smell thing. And a... er. Like, a timbre thing? How ridiculous is the use of musical terminology for this heee. I mean, like, if I have a rich, thick, dark brown kind of taste - like the mexican molé, with cinnamon and paprika and chocolate and chili, then my inclination is to use something kind of thin and sharp and high-pitched to cut through it, like bulgar wheat with lime. Celery is a kind of flat taste in soup, so you need brightly coloured red onion (it totally tastes brighter than white).

Jan. 5th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
No that actually makes perfect sense to me, frighteningly enough. Though I associate taste with sound more than color. But I know a tiny bit about tone color so that's all right. Hmm, I will have to try this next time I make soup.
Jan. 4th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, and, I totally cook larger portions, but it depends on the shape of it and whether it can be reheated on the hob, 'cos I have no microwave and I rarely remember to defrost. If I have to keep it in the fridge and therefore cook and eat over a shorter period of time it doesn't happen so much, 'cos I get bored.
Jan. 4th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
My dad is one of those miracle Iron Chef-type cookers who can take seven randomly chosen ingredients and a flat stone and miraculously turn it into a gourmet meal. I . . . am not that kind of cooker! I am very much a recipe-worker, but I do try and play with recipes as I use them - for example, when baking, I will often taste-test the batter as I go and add different spices (I am a horrible unhealthy batter-eater, it is true) or substitute out ingredients, or switch out vegetables or add extra of vegetables I like to recipes and so forth. But I always need a recipe to work off of to begin with, or else I just stare at the bewildering array of ingredients in my cabinet and flail a little.
Jan. 5th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
Batter is DELICIOUS. But I'm glad to hear it's not just me.
Jan. 4th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Some food types are just naturally easier to tinker with than others. Like, generally speaking unless you're really well-informed about the chemistry involved, you don't want to mess too much with the proportions in baked goods, because things could easily go terribly wrong. Confectionery can be the same way. (I had an unsuccessful fudge incident the other day, so I'm bitter.)

Soups, on the other hand, and slow-cooked things like pot roast, and some kinds of sauces all have miles of room for variation with herbs and spices and throwing things in that have been hanging around your fridge. And salads are hard to get wrong. You put in a little bit here and there, tasting as you go, or you think about how the main thing tastes and whether the new ingredient would go well with that.

At least, that's my philosophy. Which explains why I cook a lot of soups and sauces and don't often bake.
Jan. 5th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
Hahah, baking scares me for exactly this reason, which I guess is why I've been doing so much of it. But perhaps I will try being less scared of my soup. What happened to the fudge?
Jan. 5th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oh Lord, what didn't happen to it?

Okay, well, first off at the store I somehow managed to grab evaporated milk instead of condensed, despite having it very firmly in my head that condensed was what I needed. Naturally, I didn't notice this until I had the double boiler on and things portioned out. So I scrambled for a recipe that used evap instead.

Really, what I should have done at this point was to turn off the heat, slow down, and make sure I did everything right, but instead I decided to use a torn-in-three-places recipe from the inside of the can's label, which may help in explaining why I threw in the whole can's contents instead of measuring. As it turned out, this was about a third again too much. I tried to make up for it by throwing in more sugar and, because at this point I had completely lost my head, spoonfuls of cocoa powder to make it darker. IDEK.

Ultimately, what I ended up with was this incredibly dark, dense, delicious ooze that looks something Willy Wonka would use to try to take over the world. Depp!Wonka, not Wilder!Wonka, so you know it's scary.

I stuck it in the freezer to see if it would solidify enough for me to cut it; when I tried, it very nearly ate the knife I was using, and also my hands went numb from the cold. I scraped it off into a tupperware and have been eating it by spoonfuls. Like, one a day, since it's too rich to eat more. It would probably be great over ice cream, except that my apartment is freaking freezing and I have zero desire to buy or consume ice cream now.

Jan. 5th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
I am not much of an experimenter with baking, because I don't know the chemistry of it well enough. I'll often add more spices than a recipe calls for, or throw some extra cocoa powder into a recipe I expect isn't going to be chocolatey enough for my taste, or swap one sort of nuts for another I like better, or something like that. Beyond that, though, when it comes to baking I'm very much a by-the-recipe, measure-precisely sort.

With any other sort of cooking, though, I hardly measure at all. Even when I'm cooking from a recipe, I tend to eyeball everything, and make changes on the fly if I feel they'll work better. I do tend to taste-test as I go, but I also do a lot of it in my head. "What other spices should go in this? Let's look over the spice rack and smell a few and see what presents itself! I like thick sauces, so let's make a little more roux than they want. Hmm, what do we have in the fridge that would go well with this mixture?"

I don't really know how to describe how I do it, because you just... do. Trial and error, I think, mostly. And I inherited the tendency from my mother and how she cooks, although she sticks to a recipe rather more than I do.

My main use for recipes, and why I keep meaning to use them more, is that they remind me to branch out from my standard repertoire of Stuff To Do With The Usual Things In My Pantry.
Jan. 5th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
I'm starting to think I need to just make shit up under somebody's supervision so I don't panic. I am amazed and impressed it comes so easy to you!
Jan. 5th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
That is basically how I learned to do it, yeah! That, and also watching somebody cook something and then attempting to replicate it from memory and guesswork later. There's a lot of freedom in just taking a leap and hoping your instincts and memory work together well, and having it come out right.

You could also start with a recipe, and have someone around so you can say, "I think I could add mushrooms to this. AM I CRAZY TELL ME IF I'M CRAZY." And then they can tell you you're not crazy! Or if you are.

Oh, the other way I make stuff up is that if I don't know how to make something, I'll often look up a few different recipes for it online. Put them together, look at the common points and the differences, and make up my own mishmash from them all. It's the Avatar fauna version of cooking!

The other aspect of making stuff up, which is also totally a comfort zone thing, is learning to remember that it is no big deal if the food comes out less than ideal. Yeah, it's better if it comes out sublimely tasty, and yeah, it's kind of frustrating to spend time and effort cooking something and not like the result. But it's usually edible anyway, and it's a learning experience: "Okay, I won't do this next time. If that didn't work for X reason, maybe Y change would instead?"

And if it turns out to be an epic disaster, hey, you have a learning experience and a story to tell! (I have a friend who tried making a cake, and put in MSG instead of sugar and marinated onions instead of oranges. I am still not sure how in the hell she managed that one, but when she told it I spent the entire latter half of the story in helpless laughter.)
Jan. 7th, 2010 12:14 am (UTC)
I'm the type who tends to go for a recipe the first few times I try to make something-once I've got the hang of it, I may add a little extra but for the most part, I'm a boring cook. Soups and stews though are a completely different matter! You can pretty much bung anything in and just let it cook, stew has to be my favourite as it's always amazing but different each time. I'm scared of cake baking as that involves actual KNOWLEDGE of what to do and all the recipes I've dared to look at assume a lot of know how.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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