Recipe Writing, Intuitive Cooking, and a Poll

Measuring, it appears, can be messy.

I’ve been doing some reading.  Recipe reading.  Recipe writing guidelines, to be more specific.  And I’m feeling a little rebellious. 

Applying common sense to measuring ingredients, it seems,  is frowned upon.  “Dash,” “pinch,” and “handfuls” are dirty words.  Developing recipes suddenly becomes a little more intimidating, and a little less creative.  This all seems so counter-intuitive.

I’ve had the term “intuitive cooking” rolling around my brain for the last few years.  I’ve dreamed of writing a cook-work-book; a book to take someone, incrementally, from a strict recipe follower to the kind of cook that can look in the fridge, survey what’s available, and make a meal happen.  A delicious meal. 

Some people, such as my mother-in-law, are intuitive cooks by nature.  As a new bride, I learned never to trust a recipe card written by Lois.  Now, Lois is a fabulous cook, one of the best, but she truly pulls measurements from her, um, she pull them from thin air.  Best just to watch her make a recipe and then try to repeat it at home.

Intuitive cooks are sometimes born, but I believe all cooks can become intuitive with a little experience, a consciousness of flavors and ingredients, tapping inner creativity, and, most importantly, a willingness to sometimes <gasp> FAIL. 

Besides, failure is an excuse for take-out.  Or at least a very large glass of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers.

So, when perusing writer’s guidelines for recipe writing, I find myself thinking that these guidelines seem misplaced in intuitive cooking, and more specifically, local and seasonal eating.  We take what the farmers grow that week.  Sometimes we get 5 large leeks and a pound of beet greens, but the next week we may only have 2 leeks, a small bundle of swiss chard, and whole lot of potatoes.  The point is that sometimes you really only have two handfuls of sweet potato greens, not exactly 3.5 cups.  And who really measures their greens by cups anyway?  Or weighs them? (British friends excluded.  You also drink tea instead of coffee.  I’m just sayin.’)  And that’s okay.  It will still turn out delicious, even though the flavors may be slightly different from the last time you made it.

Granted, I can’t apply the same freedom for baking.  Baking deals in the realm of food alchemy and scientific art…don’t skip the measuring spoon, unless you like sunken cake, of course.

There is hope among the professional world.  Rachel Ray’s recipes sometimes stray into intuitive cooking — using common sense ingredient measuring and cooking shortcuts that don’t rely on precise measurements.  For example, I love her trick of counting to 2 when pouring olive oil into a pan to approximate 1 tablespoon.  She is not afraid to use the word “splash” on occasion, when referring to vinegar or wine.

After all that, I recognize that sometimes I am just being lazy and I don’t want to measure out my ingredients or commit to an actual number.  I apologize.  And I will perform a penance of making chocolate chips cookies without measuring the salt, arguably the most critical ingredient.   

Now it’s your turn.  Vague measurements…Pet peeve or creative license?


About Jill Thaxton

Wife, mom, writer, cook, professional Googler. I can't seem to narrow my interests to one topic, but love to ponder people, culture, faith, health, food, relationships, and science. I specialize in minutiae. Oh, and I will forever regret quitting piano, in case you were interested.
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3 Responses to Recipe Writing, Intuitive Cooking, and a Poll

  1. daisy says:

    I loosely follow recipes and love to tweak a recipe to my own taste which means adding more of something and eliminating something else. I keep tasting as I cook to adjust the seasonings or add more flavor. I like your concept of intuitive cooking.

  2. OfBaking says:

    I absolutely agree! When I cook, I eyeball just about everything! Now that I’m blogging, of course, I need to measure and, well, it can be a drag.

    But what I really love is your comment about a willingness to fail. We wouldn’t have gotten puff pastry if a French chef hadn’t once failed. It’s important to experiment and it’s just as important to look for the good in and what we can learn from our mistakes.

  3. My well loved recipes are noted for the scribbles off to the side for my own variations on the theme. I would truly love a cookbook that says “1-2 handfuls, to taste”. A pinch of this, a dash of that. I can certainly decide how much pepper my family really loves, and whether I truly need the amount of salt called for. After all, a recipe really is just guideline, a starting off point. 🙂

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