Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cooking vs Following Recipes

In my pursuit to get healthier I was looking for an exercise program I might actually enjoy and therefore actually do. (The weight loss is not going exactly as planned which might have something to do with discovering Carmel MilkyWays) Surfing the web, I came across a guy's website where he told me in page after page how he could teach me Tai Chi from a kinetic perspective rather than a visual perspective which is what most classes and videos teach he says. He likened the difference of visual vs kinetic Tai Chi to cooking vs just following recipes. When I finally got to the end of his million words (who teaches this kind of marketing?) he wanted 600 dollars for the program so I declined. He still sends me emails hoping I will change my mind. But anyway it got me to thinking. Is there a difference between cooking and just following recipes and if there is how do we learn how to cook? And can anyone follow a recipe.

This week's recipe from Women of Great Taste is a testament that I can't follow a recipe. I made Chicken Picatta. Basically you are frying chicken breasts. I mixed the flour with the salt, white pepper, nutmeg and and marjoram. I Beat the egg. Then the recipe called for dried bread crumbs. I didn't have any dry bread so I considered crackers and finally decided to toast my roommate's Wonder bread. After toasting I put the bread in my food processor and came out with still moist bread crumbs so I stuck the crumbs in a low oven for about 15 minutes and they got dry. I mixed those with the Parmesan cheese. Now here is where I messed up. The recipe called for 4 chicken breast halves. I was only going to use 2 but decided to go ahead and just make the whole recipe. So I had a little flour, egg and bread crumb mixture left over But here is the real problem. I missed the part about pounding the chicken to make it thin. And I had the amount of fat in the pan for 4 breast instead of two. I realized my mistake when I read that I was suppose to cook the chicken 4 to 5 minutes per side. I knew that my thick chicken breasts would never get done in that length of time so I cooked them a little longer until they were pretty brown and then stuck them in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. I was suppose to deglaze the pan with wine but because all the fat had not been used up I had to get rid of most of it and then deglaze the pan. There wasn't as much good stuff sticking to the pan as there should have been. But all in all the chicken was done and tasted very good and the sauce was good. The recipe called for a thin sauce but if I do the recipe again I would thicken it a little.

So here is what I think. Since I never went to culinary school (does 7Th grade homemaking with Mrs Meyers count?) and I don't remember my mother teaching me the art of cooking, I think I've learn to cook mostly by trial and error. (I've undercooked chicken several times). I may or may not be able to follow a recipe but I can usually fix my mistakes. Sometimes however I throw the whole thing in the garbage and call for pizza.


  1. What a way to start the day reading your blog. You really had be laughing outloud today.

  2. The thought of laughing at the same time your sisters are - cracks me up even more!
    (and one brother) love, your sister-in-law

  3. I cook just like you. I wing it and then see that what I've done doesn't quite fit the recipe, ie. thick breasts cooking in 4 to 5 minutes per side. You just tell yourself you made up your own recipe.

  4. Randy tells me I never follow recipes. I do unless I don't have an ingredient I need which is almost always so I improvise. Usually works out but I never substitute raisins for chocolate chips.

  5. Sounds like you cook like I make violins. The only problem for me is my errors are harder to undo. (one very recent one has cost me at least 10 extra hours) Anyway good job again. Funny and very real at the same time.