Sometimes when I talk to people about a dish they’ve cooked, they clarify that it wasn’t anything they special, they simply followed a recipe. They know I cook a lot from scratch and feel like their recipe following is inferior to just throwing things together from what’s in the fridge.
But I love to follow recipes. While being able to cook off the cuff is a great skill to have, let’s be honest: not all my food comes out really good. There have been meals that my boyfriend is obviously suffering through, but too nice to say anything. I have had to tell him that it’s OK, dinner sucks, let’s go get pizza. There have been many meals that are simply OK—I’ve learned a thing or two and the next time I make it there will be an improvement, but it’s nothing I want to share on the Internet.
Recipes guarantee an outcome. Typos aside, they are generally a great way to have a really delicious home-cooked meal. There are certain sites like the Food Network and Bon Appetit that I will return to again and again for new recipes. Not only are the meals usually straightforward with easy to come by ingredients, but users can also rate the recipes they cook. I especially like to read the comments section on Bon Appetit because you will find readers discussing what worked and what didn’t, ingredient substitutions, or other versions of the recipe they liked better.
Following a recipe also makes me a better and more interesting cook. When I’m feeling stuck in a rut, I will go through the many magazines and links I have saved up over the years for some inspiration. Sometimes I don’t follow them exactly, but many times I will for the learning experience.
The other night, I was feeling something different and we had purchased pork sirloin steaks during a buy-one-get-two-free sale. Earlier in the week, I’d stumbled across a recipe for Orange Ginger Chicken. I had never made a dish like this before, so I followed the recipe exactly. My sole change was including two of my mom’s dried chilis into the sauce for an extra kick.
I juiced and zested a bag of oranges to double the recipe. I grated ginger. Peter helped me cut the pork into bite-sized strips. We chopped a lot of scallions. The serious elbow grease that went into juicing all of those oranges was totally worth it in the end. Not only was dinner delicious, we had leftovers for several days’ worth of lunches and I have a few new ideas up my sleeve for how to incorporate orange juice into future meals. And that, darlings, is the real beauty in following a new recipe.
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