To Recipe or Not to Recipe

Do you cook from recipes or do you cook from what’s in your head? I am really curious about this and don’t know how to find the answer other than to ask all of you. I would love to hear your thoughts, so please share your recipe (and non-recipe) experiences with me.

The reason for my question is that I cook from what’s in my head. I may be inspired by reading cookbooks and perusing recipes, but it’s more likely I will get new ideas by watching a cooking show. Few of the meals I routinely prepare for my family come from written recipes. The fact that I have nothing in writing has come up in recent years as my daughters have moved away from home. Occasionally one of them will ask me for my “recipe” for their favorite meal. I tell them I don’t have the recipe, but I will figure it out. Then I go shopping for the ingredients and once back home proceed to “make the recipe” while I measure all the ingredients and write down the instructions.

No Title / Arvind Grover / CC BY 2.0

Where this gets even more interesting for me is that one of my daughters asked me where the original recipes came from. When I told her that some of the “recipes” were from watching family members cook and some of the recipes were just out of my head, she was amazed. I had never really given it much thought and was intrigued by her perspective. Where do “recipes” come from? Are some of us just born knowing how to put different foods together? Is this an innate gift or a learned skill acquired over years of practice? It even takes a certain skill to follow a recipe and have it turn out right.

My oldest daughter and some of her twenty-something friends started a cooking circle to share recipes and cooking techniques. One night a week they take turns going to each other’s apartments to cook and enjoy a meal together. The host for the week picks out the recipes to prepare and shops for the ingredients. Then all the “guests” participate in preparing and cooking from the recipes with some assistance provided by the more experienced cooks. This has helped the less experienced cooks feel comfortable learning how to follow recipes and navigate in the kitchen.

I was the lucky recipient of the results of the cooking circle at my daughter’s apartment recently. I was able to watch this entire process in action. It brought to light that there are distinct differences in skill and comfort level when it comes to working with food. This still left me pondering, where does this skill level come from? Where do recipes come from? When someone is a good cook, what does that mean? Cooking in general and chefs and food and cookbooks are a booming industry. From numerous TV shows to online recipe exchanges to the New York Times bestseller list, there are multiple recipes and/or cookbooks vying for the top spot.

So, this article has brought me full circle back to the original question at hand. Do you cook from recipes or from what’s in your head? I would love to hear your thoughts!

About our Nutrition Expert

Lori Kaley MS, RD, LD, MSB is a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori has 30 years of combined experience working in healthcare and public health creating policies and environments to help families and children have access to healthy foods and beverages. She is currently Policy Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Lori’s greatest achievement and joy has been in raising her three daughters to be healthy and productive young adults, each with their own particular love of food, cooking and being physically active. Lori’s passion for nutritional community outreach has been a cornerstone of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori regularly contributes to the Guiding Stars blog.