Food Recipes are Just Guidelines

Being able to follow food recipes is not the most important thing in the world. To eat healthily, it is more important to know the basics of cooking, because healthy food is home-made food. If you are one of the many people who buy cookbooks, with the best of intentions, but never really use them, don't worry. You are not unusual in this!



In fact, trying to use cookbooks and follow food recipes, could be the very reason that you find it so difficult to incorporate regular home-cooking into your everyday routine!

This may surprise you, but I don't really believe in cookbooks, or in following food recipes too precisely. I find them too constricting, formulaic and quite honestly, too boring to follow!

If I am flicking through a magazine and see some food recipes that look enticing, I don't bother tearing it out, or copying it down. I'll just try to remember what are the main components that make up each dish. I might jot them down. Then I'll use whatever amounts of each I think would be right (the weighing scales in my kitchen is virtually unused). I'll flavour it as I fancy and cook it as the dish itself guides me to cook it---through smell and sight and sound and taste.

In my view, following food recipes kills the joy of cooking. It's like doing an imitation of a work of art, using paint-by-numbers. Be inspired by another artist, by all means, but make your own version and develop your own craft and technique. Instead of following food recipes, learn how to understand the process of cooking through practice. That way, you start honing your own cooking instincts and start using your own sensory awareness of the cooking process. This really is the only way to really learn how to cook.

Before you panic, don’t worry, it makes everything a lot simpler for you, and will help you understand cooking in a way you never can when you are fretting about measuring out grains of this and grams of that.

When it comes to Food Recipes
Don't Sweat the Math!

Did you know that most cookbooks on the market, written by the best and most celebrated chefs, are frequently submitted to the publisher without the specific measurements being included in the food recipes? This is because these wonderful chefs have no idea how many grams, or litres of something to use. Their idea of food recipes is very different to the final formulas that appear in their books. They usually just have a notion in their head of what a dish should be comprised of, to which they will add their own creativity and intuition as they create it.

They are good at what they do, because they use their cooking wisdom and common sense and they just know the right proportion of ingredients to use. They are artists and can’t be bothered fiddling around with measurements so that Mrs X in her kitchen can make precisely twelve muffins!

The publishers then employ testers, whose job it is to work out exactly how much of each ingredient is to be listed in the food recipes. This is why embarrassing mistakes sometimes occur, when things are left out, or the wrong amount is printed and the person whose name is on the cookbook has to apologise for the mistake, even though they themselves would never make such a mistake when they are cooking.

Like most people who love to cook, I rarely bother measuring out exact amounts of ingredients and I would encourage you to learn not to bother with them either. I have learned, over the years, how much of different things I need to use to make a dish work. There are actually very few recipes where you need exact amounts of everything.

Generally, you need to work out what is the main ingredient of your dish. For example, if you are cooking a lamb casserole, obviously the main ingredient is going to be lamb. Without a food recipe, instinctively, you would figure out how much lamb you are going to need to feed your family. Then you go shopping for it and whatever vegetables you fancy cooking with it.

Or, you’ll have already bought these before deciding you want to make a casserole from them. And so, you chop up as many onions, carrots and potatoes as you want, in proportion to the lamb you have. You add enough water to simmer the casserole, but not so much that it will be too watery. You add seasonings and herbs according to taste. You don’t actually need any measurements, because it’s all about proportion.

It starts with the main ingredient and only you know how much of that you need to cater for your particular family. Then you work out how much of everything else you need, in proportion to the main ingredient.

As I said, I rarely follow cookery book instructions, by measuring out teaspoons of this and dessertspoons of that. The food recipes seldom cater for the amount of people I want to cook for, so to follow them necessitates getting into strange mathematical calculations. Mathematics is not my forte.

Then there is the whole issue of imperial and metric measurements, to complicate things further. I believe that trying to slavishly follow these instructions is more likely to make the dish go wrong.

chef cartoon

Develop Your Own Cooking Wisdom

What I want you to do is to learn as I did, by trial and error and so connect with your own cooking wisdom. Use recipes as a springboard to becoming an instinctive cook, as all the best cooks are. Understand what you are doing and become independent of cookbooks!

Begin with the main ingredient of each dish and work out how much of it you will need to cook for your household. Then add in everything else, in proportion. When you start cooking this way, you are on the way to cooking freedom.

This imprecise method of cooking works even for pastry, cakes, biscuits and bread, though it takes a bit more practice getting these right if you have never baked them before. However, the same principles of proportionality hold true for these recipes also. If you use measurements as a springboard while you are teaching yourself to bake, you should soon be able to do without them and be guided by the texture of the mix between your fingers, rather than by the maths!

Don’t be surprised if you make mistakes, learn from them, it’s all part of the process of understanding. "Try again. Fail again. Fail better!" Some cookery writers like to make out cooking is a science, and a very dull one at that. I believe cooking is an art, and a joyous one. I hope you will gradually tailor whatever recipes you use to suit yourself and create your own way of doing things, as your cooking intuition guides you to.

More important than following specific instructions, is learning to understand the process of cooking and the theory behind all recipes that is never explained. Many people find cooking difficult, because they simply don’t understand it. They have never grasped the basics, perhaps because their own mothers didn’t cook much, or because it was never something they considered important, until they had their own children.

In some cities now, apartments are being built without kitchens, because what on earth would you need a kitchen for when you can buy everything ready-made, or ring the takeaway on the next block for a delivery? Apparently, these apartments sell very well. But sadly, the young professionals who live this lifestyle, will someday have children and will not know how to cook for their own children.

Many people today cannot make a pancake, a pot of home-made soup and do not know that yeast makes bread rise. If this sounds like you, rest assured, you are not alone! Meanwhile, sales of frozen chips, waffles, frozen vegetables and pizza are increasing exponentially. This has all occurred within a single generation and can best be described as a loss of ‘Cooking I.Q.’ within a population.

Ironically, parallel to these lifestyle changes, there has never been greater interest in cooking, in the abstract---TV food programmes get great ratings, chefs are celebrities and glossy cooking books adorn our coffee tables. Yet fewer and fewer people can, or do, actually cook. They would like to, and they buy the books and follow the recipes, but because they don’t understand why they are doing the things the recipe tells them to do, they don’t really learn a lot about cooking. They only learn how to follow that recipe.

Providing a recipe, without explaining it, is like a maths teacher giving you a theorem to learn, without teaching you the theory behind it. When you follow a recipe without learning anything about cooking, it’s never going to get you any closer to really being able to cook-----you miss out on some little detail, the recipe doesn’t work, and you become frustrated, you think cooking is more difficult than it really is. But I promise you, cooking is easy once you understand what you are doing.

What I want is to help start you on the journey away from slavish dependence on food recipes, towards cooking freedom. What you need to do is connect with your own cooking wisdom and creativity, which everybody has, including you! I hope this will lead you beyond the pages of this website, to create your own unique food recipes and ways of doing things. Many cooking books and gurus would like you to believe that their way is the right way and what they say has to be adhered to. They create a mystique which keeps you slavishly following them and dependent on them, instead of using their knowledge and experience as a springboard to develop your own knowledge and first-hand experience.

To do this, you need the confidence of understanding the art of cooking, as opposed to the art of following food recipes. For those of you who think you cannot cook, or who are a little bit daunted by the whole idea of cooking, give it a try. The only way of learning is to do it!

If you understand the simple, basic techniques, and know the essential elements used in different cuisines, you can apply them to any set of ingredients you feel like cooking. You can take a look in your larder, fridge and freezer, see what’s there and be able to conjure up a fabulous dish from whatever you have in stock.

Some of the most celebrated chefs in the world, periodically dazzle us with their ‘new inventions’. But really, they are not that new, just new twists on old knowledge. The way they create these 'new dishes', is by understanding what flavours belong together and applying these principles in an original way. They are not reinventing the wheel.

Take brown bread ice-cream, for example, which created a bit of a wow when it first appeared. But it wasn’t really that revolutionary. It contained very traditional ingredients, whiskey, cream, brown bread----all Irish flavours, but never blended together in an ice-cream before.

Once you understand how different groups of flavours work together, you too can create your own great culinary inventions. You can start to evolve your own unique dishes and grow your own cooking wings!

Just remember, in the art of cooking, there is no magic formula. Learning to cook is a process, a journey you are embarking upon, a subject whose depths you can never exhaust. There will be mistakes and failed dishes along the way, but you will be experiencing cooking first-hand, relying on your own growing knowledge and learning from your mistakes. Then you will be queen of your own food recipes and not a slave to anyone else's!



To see my guidelines on the basics of healthy cooking, click here.

Is microwave food ruining your health?

For those of you not yet ready to give up the maths, here are some handy conversion tables to help you work it all out!

Healthy Recipes to Get You Started

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Remember, healthy eating is enjoyable!

Blessings on your table!

The Good Food Angel.



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