Following the Recipe

Posted 9 April, 2016 by Trish in In the Kitchen / 34 Comments


Following the Recipe

It’s not infrequent for something to go wrong with my cooking a recipe and my husband patiently asking “did you follow the recipe?” To which I normally give him the look and refuse to answer.

I do the majority of the cooking at home because I enjoy it and I like having control over what we eat. But it bothers me to no end that when my husband does make something, he usually has better results than I would. He is a recipe follower. I am a recipe suggestion taker.

This isn’t to say that I’m a bad cook or even a negligent one, but it does mean that I can often cook the same recipe a zillion times and have the results come out differently each time. It doesn’t bother me, and since I’m the one who does make dinner, everyone has learned to eat my dinners with my explaining what I tried and what I might do differently next time. They really are a bunch of good sports.

You might notice that I don’t share a ton of recipes on the blog even though I cook dinner most nights from scratch. A lot of the meals that I make, I use a recipe as guidance but couldn’t tell you exactly how I came up with the end results. A little more of this, a little less of that, and let’s try this spice tonight and see how it goes.

There are recipes that I’d love to share with you–fried rice is a huge hit at my house, but how do I explain how much oil and butter I use when the answer is “add a few swirls and a couple of pats until it seems like you need more and then add again.” I also have no idea how much rice I use as I always use what’s leftover from a prior dinner. Beans and Rice is a favorite, but outside of making the beginning roux, there really are no directions. Add water to the roux, but sometimes I use 8 cups and sometimes 9. Sometimes half chicken stock, sometimes more. Sometimes I add spice, sometimes I don’t. The end product is always tasty, but it’s always just a tiny bit different from the last time I made it.

How do recipe makers figure out exactly how much of each ingredient to use?

Of course this is also frustrating when I’m stuck underneath a nursing baby and yelling cooking directions to my husband who has picked up where I left off. “No honey, I don’t do it that way.” To which he rolls his eyes. Or I’m helping Elle (help me) cook and tell her, “a little more, a little more, a little more…oops, not that much.”

The irony is that there are a whole heap of things that my mom made when I was growing up that I would like to make at home, but she doesn’t have a recipe. Gravy. She was telling me the other day that she adds a little bit of flour to water and I asked her how much. “I don’t know–until it seems right.” It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I first attempted to make mashed potatoes–it just took a bit of experimenting until I got it right, but it’s one of those things that I couldn’t explain to someone else how to do.

Good thing Elle likes to help me cook so much. Hopefully by the time she’s out of the house, she’ll be able to know when the amount of milk added to the potatoes is just right. Though I think I’ll have to send her to grandma’s to learn how to make the gravy.

Are you a recipe follower or a recipe suggestion taker? Or do you really fly wild and absolutely wing it?





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34 Responses to “Following the Recipe”

  1. Frances

    Definitely a recipe suggestion taker. I’m a great believer in watching your mother and grandmother cook! It’s how I learned – and those lessons you never forget. Thanks for the fun post!

  2. I’m a total suggestion taker, which is why I don’t often post original recipes. I’m also nervous when I post recipes from cookbooks or magazines because I know I didn’t really follow the directions as written. I can’t help myself! Poor Mr. BFR: when he says he really liked something I made, I usually have to answer something like, “Oh, I wish I had written down what I did cause I’m not sure I can duplicate it again.” He rolls his eyes and dishes out a second helping.

  3. mae

    I am totally with you! I have loads of stories — like the time my husband carefully watched me make something and wrote down what I did. A few months later, he was ready to make that dish. I watched him and said “I wouldn’t do it that way.” Or when my granddaughter said to my daughter: “Grandma will make a cake and you will tell her if it looks right.”

    best… mae at

  4. Definitely a suggestion taker, which I’m guessing most people are. Will be really interesting to see what most people say.

  5. Oh my my husband certainly knows “the look” he calls the McGuinness glare!! I am like you follow the recipe to a certain point and then ab lib depending on what I have on hand. Last night I didn’t have chorizo so I used hot Italian sausage and it worked fine.

  6. I am exactly the same. I find a recipe and then as I’m cooking, I tweak and modify and add until the end result is unrepeatable. It’s a bit annoying. I made roasted onions once and they were so amazingly delicious, and now I can’t get them right again. :)

  7. I do a bit of both but if I had to choose sides, I am a recipe suggestion person. Often I find adding an ingredient or more of a particular ingredient makes it better for our taste preferences. You are superwoman balancing cooking and three babes under 6!

  8. Jenny

    I’d never really thought about it before. I find the more I cook the braver I get. I mostly stick to the recipe but I do add or take things away too.

  9. You’re my kind of cook Trish! When it comes to cooking I never follow specific instructions as to the amount of oil seasoning etc and am always throwing in things that I think may jazz up a recipe! My mother is the same way so I guess I learnt it from her. So sometimes when I ask her for help with a recipe she cooks, she’ll tell me things like crack the egg into a bowl and fill the bowl with milk. I’m like, what size of a bowl???

    My mother-in-law is a strict by-the-book cook, which I still find very curious especially when it is something she has been cooking for years!

  10. Ugh …I’m not much of a recipe follower (hence the reason I once made a dish where the macaroni noodles were CRUNCHY because I failed to read that they should be cooked BEFORE placing them in the dish ?) my husband always asks me if I followed the recipe and it drives me crazy!! I like to make some changes and add spices to our liking. He’s by the book, has to make it exactly the way it’s written. Drives me bonkers!

  11. Up until a few years ago I rarely used recipes. I would make everything from memory, having watched or helped my mom and sisters (they were 7, 9, & 13 years older than I was) in the kitchen. Then I started posting recipes on my blog, which led me to start searching for new ones, and I had to give the ingredient list and directions. Still, I don’t follow recipes exactly as written. I usually adapt them to my own likes. So I’m definitely a suggestion taker.

  12. I’m an experimenter too, and love to get “inspiration” from cookbooks, rather than follow exactly. I’ve been enjoying all the inspiring photos and ideas in Ottolenghi’s books lately.

  13. Margot @ Joyfully Retired

    If it’s a new recipe I usually follow it the first time and then make adjustments on the following tries. But I have lots of dishes I’ve made so many times that I know them by heart. I enjoyed reading this cooking “essay” of yours. It made me smile and recall my early-motherhood days.

  14. New recipes I tend to follow precisely. Then I go from there – did we like it just as it was? if we make it again, should we add something more? take something away? use less or more of something? That’s when I venture into your same predicament. I made the best baked potato soup I’ve ever made the other night inspired by a Trisha Yearwood recipe but I had to substitute a different cheese, I added more bacon, I used less milk. Recreating it will be impossible…and so frustrating!

  15. I’m definitely a recipe follower! Part of it is I think is because I taught myself to cook and part of it is that I’m really Type A and not creative at all. As I’ve gotten more experienced I’ll adjust things or substitute things but for the most part I follow the recipe. The idea of cooking without one hurts my brain!

  16. I try to follow the recipe the first time I make it – but then I always adapt to our personal tastes every time thereafter.

  17. I don’t follow recipes very often – which is why I can’t bake! I tend to use them as a starting point only. I find it fun to try new things out – and luckily my better half doesn’t mind the ones that turn out so good. Cheers from Carole’s Chatter!

  18. The first time I try a new recipe, I try to follow it to the letter. After that, I make changes (or not) and go from there.

  19. I am definitely a recipe follower. Sometimes I’ll do something small like substitute fresh herbs for dried but I like consistent meals at home. I think this is why I am a good baker.

  20. Great post! I lean heavily toward the suggestion side, seldom following recipes to the letter unless I am testing or documenting them and I when I do post original recipes I do find it tedious to stop and measure. When cooking others’ recipes, I am usually swapping things in and out to make it fit my dietary preferences and reducing the butter/oil or adding different (usually more) amounts of spices, but I try to quantify and document any changes.

  21. SarahBeth

    I’m a recipe follower mostly because I’m not real confident in the kitchen but I have been getting a lot better about adjusting on the fly if I have to. My husband on the other hand uses the recipe as a suggestion and he’s definitely the better cook in our house. If he’s making something for the first time, he follows it pretty much to the T and adjusts after.

    However, I think the one thing that he follows all the time is a recipe for Pepper Crusted Roast. Its amazing.

  22. Andrea ( aka rokinrev)

    As one of the last grads of Miss ( Fannie) Farmer’s School of Cooking in Boston in the mid 70s, I hold by two sayings: ” a recipe is just a suggestion” and “always follow a baking recipe”. Cooking, as we all know, is “sloppy chemistry”, and baking is precise. I’m not saying you can’t tweak baking, but e comfortable with the ratios before you do

  23. I’m a recipe follower. lol. If I find something I like, I don’t change it! The only time I’ll change something is if I don’t have an ingredient … or I’ll leave something out that I don’t like (like cilantro … NEVER cilantro).

  24. Definitely a recipe follower! I have more cookbooks than I will ever use. My husband just throws everything in a pot and it always comes out perfect! I have no idea how he does that. If I tried that, the kitchen would be on fire and nothing would taste good =)

  25. Ha! I always tell my kids that when cooking, recipes are estimates; however, when baking, recipes are required. That is because there is a science behind the baking ingredients that will drastically impact how baked goods turn out. But when it comes to cooking? I don’t think I ever measure anything and have taught my kids to do the same. My advice is that is how you learn what combinations taste good and it allows you to feel more comfortable with experimenting. My husband is a recipe follower and it drives me nuts. His meals typically end up a bit blander than mine, unless it comes to heat. If the recipe calls for chili powder or crushed red pepper flakes, he doubles that ingredient. THAT drives me insane.

  26. Recipe Suggestion Taker! I love it!!

    What I do (although I usually follow the recipe. Ish.) is write down what I did differently in the cookbook or on the printout I have stuffed into a cookbook. Then if it doesn’t work, I cross it out and write the next thing I tried. My mom did that and I adore having her writing and seeing how her brain worked. I want to leave the same for my girls!

  27. I’m generally a recipe follower, but I have been known to switch out ingredients or spices that I don’t enjoy and substitute something else (or eliminate altogether). I also like throwing stuff together based on being inspired by recipes but the final product looks nothing like the original. For example, I make about a million variations of pasta, meat of some kind, veggies of some kind, sauce of some kind. Whatever ingredients I have on hand, throw together with pasta, and boom. Delicious meal.

  28. Oh I am a recipe suggestion taker, but I do write the recipes that I like once I make them (including my variations). It takes a couple of tries and even then it’s a royal pain, but it helps me out in the long run, so I deal with it.

  29. I am a recipe follower for sure. I don’t have natural inclinations for cooking. But, once I’ve made some thing a bunch of times I will tweak it. Always simple though, like in my cheesy potatoes I only use shredded hash browns and I’ve added an extra cup of cheese. And I always write the changes into the recipe.