Follow The Recipe ? Who ? Me ? - Swampy's Kitchen Blog at - 301301

Swampy's Kitchen

Follow The Recipe ? Who ? Me ? 
Apr. 19, 2013 11:25 am 
Updated: Apr. 26, 2013 6:22 am

I remember a surprise quiz that my 5th grade math teacher, Mrs. Conroy, gave our class one spring morning. When she handed out the two sided quiz she made sure to tell us in her two pack a day raspy voice to read the all of the problems on the whole quiz before we started our work. Yeah, yeah, yeah I said to myself. I was in a competition (in my own mind) with a girl in class for the unofficial title of “Fastest Mathlete in 5th Grade” and I wasn't going to let something like reading the problems ahead of time slow me down. When Mrs. Conroy croaked out "Begin" I tore into the problems like a swarm of hungry grasshoppers in a new field or your co-workers at the annual holiday office potluck lunch. I was on question #4 when I heard someone behind me who definitely was not in the competition for the “Fastest Mathlete in 5th Grade” say "Done" followed immediately by two others who weren’t exactly “A” students either saying the same thing. “How could this be ?”, I said to myself as I glanced around and took in the chirping chorus of "Dones” accompanied by the clicking of their pencils being placed on their laminate desktops. I desperately started reading the test to see what I had missed. When I got to Question #20 I read with horror - Now that you have followed my directions, flip your paper over.  Do not do any of the problems. Put your pencil down and say “Done".  It was then that I realized that the whole class was looking at me. I was the only one who wasn't "Done" yet. This story was kind of a roundabout way of my saying that I have never been very good at following directions and that especially applies when we start to talk about the kitchen.


I have a confession to make. I am terrible at following recipes, even my own recipes. I’m always tinkering with those. I don’t think there is anything that I have ever made exactly the same way twice. Not exactly what you expect to hear on a recipe website, especially a recipe website such as this one where I have more than a few published recipes. It’s not that I think I know better than the person who came up with the recipe, I don’t. The recipe was developed with their likes & dislikes in mind, not mine. It’s just that most of the time I either don’t have one of the ingredients the recipe calls for and I have to substitute or there is an ingredient that I just know I don’t like so I switch it out for something else in my pantry or fridge. So it is actually rare that I follow a recipe ingredient by ingredient or measure by measure from start to finish. That is until now. Recently as an Allrecipes Brand Ambassador I have had to follow recipes exactly and that has been a real struggle for me.  Kind of like the struggle I had with putting on a tie and going to Sunday School as a kid which may have been the reason (Who am I kidding ? It was the reason.) I made the traveling 11-12 year old allstar hockey team as a 9 year old but that is another blog for another time on a another forum. Suffice to say, I even change my Grandmother’s recipe for Apple Delight and she got that recipe from her Grandmother who know doubt got it from her Grandmother too so following recipes by complete strangers or spice adverse middle of the tastebud road companies just isn’t going to happen while I am manning the burners.


I know I am not alone with this affliction because for years both here in the Blogs and over on the Buzz (Recipe Exchange for you oldtimers out there that haven’t gotten sick of my ramblings yet) there have been countless blogs & postings lamenting the reviews that people get & give for dishes that were made in their own way and not in the intended manner yet are reviewed as being done in the same manner as the original recipe. I can’t help but shake my head at those misguided missives & their complainers and move on. Like snowflakes & fingerprints, everyone’s tastebuds are different and opinions are like *expletive deleted* and everyone has one.   


I guess what I am ultimately trying to say is, have fun with your food. Make the recipes your own. Don’t blame the recipe if it isn’t good, you never have to make something exactly the way it is written and whether it is good or bad doesn’t make it right or wrong. To me, Walk/Don’t Walk signs & crosswalks in New York City are merely suggestions while to many others, they are the law. To me, Julia Child & her culinary descendants are merely Crossing Guards there to help you across the culinary divide. So go enjoy yourself in the kitchen and don’t worry, there really is no such thing as the Kitchen Police. You really can get wild & crazy and add bacon if you want.

Apr. 19, 2013 11:36 am
This is me, in a nutshell. I too have issues following recipes, even my own. In fact, I taught a community ed class class just last night and when I handed out the "recipes" before class everyone was surprised that each was only a list of ingredients. No amounts, no instructions. I did however leave space on the paper and pens on the table for them to make their own notes on amounts and preferences as we cooked together. I figure they, like me, were going to change it up anyway so why not make it easy for them?
Apr. 19, 2013 12:17 pm
LOL! Good blog. Like you, I also don't think I can throw out the same dish twice....
Apr. 19, 2013 12:31 pm
DM: I feel like I am in the minority. I generally follow recipes fairly close. Any tweaks I make are usually pretty minor. In the other rules of life, that's another story. I refuse to follow anyone's script. I have a unique job and unexpected hobbies. And I like it that way.
Apr. 19, 2013 1:12 pm
I agree with you that we should play with our food. I'm not the best at following recipes either, but I have changed my mind about recipe reviews. The simple fact is that if you are reviewing someone's recipe, then it should be their recipe, not your interpretation. It isn't fair to them. They are looking for other people's opinions of their work. I'm guilty of changing recipes and then reviewing my version. I guess that's me being a kettle and calling the pot black. I am trying to change though. Now, if I think a recipe is worth trying to change to put my mark on it, then I will think out what I might do and then add that into the review.
Apr. 19, 2013 2:00 pm
I generally follow a recipe exactly the first time, then change it up after that. And my 5th grade math teacher had that same test!
Apr. 19, 2013 2:05 pm
I normally follow directions to the letter, but when It comes to food, I may deviate A Bit.
Apr. 19, 2013 2:11 pm
I am glad you had some time to waste at the airport again, Doug. Nice blog! Now about those recipes - honestly, until I came to AR recipes were merely inspiration. Like Jan, a list of ingredients did just fine. When I started reviewing recipes here I didn't follow the "rules" - I didn't know there were rules.....then I found the Recipe Exchange and learned the 'rules'. I also learned that people actually wanted EXACT recipes. How odd! I am getting better about following a recipe but man, those recipes sure slow me down in the kitchen!
Apr. 19, 2013 2:34 pm
What a great story! Reminds me of one time in 6th grade when I completed a test early. I didn't think to turn the page over! My teacher caustically commented that "SOMEONE thought their answers were so good that they didn't even need to take the WHOLE test!" I didn't like Mrs. Hite very much, and that comment didn't help the relationship very much. I agree with you Doug, that palates are unique, and that experienced cooks are confident enough to know what will work for them and what won't. That's the problem with some cooks, though. They lack experience in the kitchen.
Apr. 19, 2013 7:29 pm
Love the story of the test, Doug! I needed that laught tonight. And I think I am absolutely incapable of following a recipe exactly. I just cannot do it. Part of that, too, comes from my cooking teachers. My grandmother and great grandmother cooked by feel and taught me to do the same. You have a basic suggestion of an amount, and you do the rest. It's always worked pretty well for me, but I'd be a failure at being an ambassador. : ) Have a great weekend!
Apr. 19, 2013 8:44 pm
Great story Doug! I, being a rule follower, had the same test in the 5th grade. Yes, I read the whole test as directed, turned my paper over and stood up. (Stand Up was the last sentence of the instructions) There was one poor boy in the class who was frantically reading through the test, doing the problems and getting all panicky. I slid over to his desk and said, "turn your paper over and stand up." When I learned to sew and knit, I was taught to completely read through the instructions before I picked up fabric or needles. So, it's been drilled into my head from a very early age. I think it also might be my nature too. I'll read through a recipe 10 times before I start cooking. Or, is it a retention problem? Hmmmmmm!!!
Apr. 19, 2013 11:52 pm
Guilty as charged and proud of it. I do read a recipe all the way through before I decide to use it and I will refer back to it before I cook the dish, just to ensure I have used all the ingredients I planned. In my mind, cooking is an art, not a science, with the exception of baking. I know several people who still require recipes after decades of preparing the same dishes. They stress over it. I enjoy "playing with my food." The only problem with my method is if I get a head cold I can't cook confidently.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:09 pm
Good afternoon Cookin Up A Storm and I like your idea of just a list of ingredients. I may start listing my recipes that way too.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:10 pm
Hi Maggi & thanks - hope you have a had a good weekend.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:12 pm
Hi bikerfamily - my wife sticks to a recipe like white on rice. She hates me for my freetstyling ways in the kitchen. Keep ad-libbing on that "script". Have a great weekend.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:13 pm
Good afternoon Doc - I can tell from your blogs that you like to make a recipe your own too. Hope it's been a good weekend.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:14 pm
Hi Mother Ann - that really is the best way to handle any recipe. When I do follow, I make notes on what I would change as I cook. Have a great rest of the day.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:15 pm
Hey King - hope your back is feeling better. I had a feeling that you were one to follow a recipe. Have a great rest of the day.
Apr. 21, 2013 12:17 pm
Hi BN - I can't help myself, rules were made to be broken. I have a couple more flights coming up and all of them have connections. Looks like I will be writing a lot more. Have a great rest of the weekend.
Apr. 21, 2013 2:20 pm
Doug for me the stop signs in parking lots are just a suggestion a helping hand of sorts. I follow recipes at least the first time after that things a rarely made the same again. I like trying new things and new styles of cooking and the recipe are helpful. Bill says in cooking and gardening experimentation is key.
Apr. 22, 2013 3:25 am
Good morning Bibi - I think we all had those moments growing up when "everyone" was looking at us. As for experience in the kitchen, I remember when I thought cutting slits in a hot bog before boiling it was high cuisine. Have a great day.
Apr. 22, 2013 3:26 am
Good morning wisweetp - both of my Grandmothers were by the book cooks - exact measurements, never varied. They would both shake their heads at me now if they were still around. Have a great week.
Apr. 22, 2013 3:28 am
Good morning Candice - I wish you had been sitting next to me back in 5th Grade Math. You know, I can read a recipe 10 times and still miss something. Now that is a retention problem....have a great week
Apr. 22, 2013 3:31 am
Good morning BigShotsMom - I couldn't agree more that cooking is an art but I don't have to have pretty food on my plate every meal. Of course a head cold can really mess with your tastebuds. Have a great week
Apr. 22, 2013 3:33 am
Good morning Joey J - I do pay attention to stop signs when I am driving but they mean nothing to me when I am walking in the City. I do try an make recipes the "right" way the first time but I know I'll make changes that 2nd time too. Hope you have a great week and I'll have a gardening blog up soon too.
Apr. 23, 2013 10:00 am
I always feel the need to follow recipes to a T, but then my OCD turns into ADD pulls me somewhere else and I forget a step or two...or 3. It's all fun to me.
Apr. 23, 2013 4:28 pm
Good evening 1st Lady - I get distracted by "shiny things" quite often in the kitchen. It does make things interesting. Hope you have a great night.
Apr. 25, 2013 4:36 pm
Hi Doug, really enjoyed you blog, I to, hail from NJ born and raised in an Italian neighborhood then moved to Forked River. I currently live in SC big culture shock. I am like you in that I just can't seem to follow directions especially on recipes but isn't that what it's about (personal tastes) I agree on the ratings and get behooved at the ones that give bad ratings for what they did or did not do wrong. Cooking is fun and should be treated as such, if you mess up chalk it up to experience and start over. I develop new recipes all the time and wife says you have to write it down I say you do it I can remember. I'm learning now to measure after I prepare. I guess that looks like enough don't quite cut it for most, Oh well I'm having fun. Love you humor, Thanks Gene
Apr. 26, 2013 6:22 am
Good morning Gene - glad you stopped by. Even when I write the recipes down as they come into my head I am already changing things. It's the nature of the beast I guess. I have only been to SC once on business, I guess it would be a little bit on the different side if you hail from the Northeast. Isn't it great ? Have a great weekend.
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Doug Matthews

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Princeton, New Jersey, USA
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Mendham, New Jersey, USA

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Mar. 2000

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About Me
My mother decided early on that her sons would never have to rely on someone to feed them so we all learned to cook at an early age. I really started to branch out when I moved out west to Denver, SF & Dallas. Combine that with extended business travel to Louisiana & my growing love of spices and you get a real mix of flavors.
My favorite things to cook
Love to make cajun food with my favorites being crawfish pie, alligator stew & alligator chili - I go nuts on Super Bowl Sunday
My favorite family cooking traditions
We didn't have a lot of traditions per se but you could count on pancakes or waffles on sundays - dad making scrambled eggs twice a year on christmas morning & mother's day - veal parmagiana on christmas eve, Thanksgiving with Grandma Matthews and any menu of your choice on your birthday. We weren't a spicy family so I learned a lot of good strong basics in the kitchen from Mom that I have carried over into my cooking today.
My cooking triumphs
I love to experiment with variations of dishes I try around the country. My biggest success is here on allrecipes where I had 2 recipes published in the same cookbook - Southwestern Turkey Soup & Curried Carrot Soup. I think my corn muffins are a great starting point and my alligator chili has become a much requested Super Bowl favorite.
My cooking tragedies
There have been a few times in the past where I tossed everything and took everyone to a restaurant instead. I'm not too proud to say my cooking is awful when it really is.
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