Recipe Deviants: Adding Your Own Twist to Your Favorite Recipes

I am a self-confessed recipe junkie. I don’t like cooking things for the first time (or second or third, depending on how complicated they are) without some instructions and measurement guidelines. So, this post will feature my advice to you concerning recipes and whether or not to follow them.

Firstly, YES, you should follow recipes. Especially if you’re just starting out in the kitchen – nothing will turn you off faster than putting a lot of work into food that ends up not tasting or looking so great. Why does this happen? Usually because someone didn’t follow the directions. Well-written recipes tell you to do things in a certain order and add things in certain quantities for a reason. Don’t go into your kitchen and haphazardly start throwing things into a pot loosely based on something you read in a magazine. You know what that’s a recipe for? Failure, disappointment, discouragement, and, ultimately, having to order take-out.

Consider the shortcomings of two mindsets:

The “I don’t need no stinkin’ recipes. I know what I’m doing.” Maybe you do know what you’re doing. But if you’re reading a blog about cooking for people like us, you probably don’t really.

The “Real cooks don’t need recipes.” Is this true to an extent? Sure, you won’t often see a Michelin-starred restaurant’s head chef cracking open a cookbook and carefully reading an ingredient list. That doesn’t mean they could whip up a mind-blowing souffle when they were two years old.

Once you start really taking your time and following recipes, you’ll pick up the skills you need to be able to make your own variations and still have them come out tasting great – sometimes even better than the original. Just remember that great cooks aren’t made overnight. Maybe you have a natural flair for food, but even the best chefs in the world spend years training before they get to actually be the best.

Your grandma spent years perfecting her amazing spaghetti sauce or homemade chicken soup. Sure, now she can throw everything into a pot and make it look effortless – but I bet as a teenager or young woman, she had her fair share of recipe disasters.

Maybe you think your creations taste just fine, and maybe they do – but try really following the directions for a good recipe to the letter and see how things turn out. Looking back at when I first started to cook, I can remember being satisfied with the dishes I made. When I think about them now, though, I cringe and wonder what I was thinking. Remember: Taking a half-assed approach to cooking produces half-assed food. I know some great cooks who still carefully follow recipes just to be sure they’re getting it right. Your food is an investment; why risk ruining that investment when all it takes is a little care and patience to get the maximum return (a happy tummy and the admiration of all your friends and loved ones)?


Now, let’s say you’ve been following recipes and practicing different techniques for awhile now. You have a pretty good idea of what makes a really good chicken casserole  and how to balance out different types of spices and ingredients, and you know how to go about baking a nice loaf of bread or making evenly cooked omelettes without having to run to the internet for help.  Now is the time to start making your little tweaks to the recipes you already know well. Use your intuition and the skills you’ve picked up (learning by doing is always the best way) to make some executive decisions that might even lead to someday being what makes your signature dish so special.

Keep a recipe notebook handy and make a note of any substitutions or alterations you make to a recipe; what worked, what didn’t work, and what you’d like to try next time. You’ll be surprised at how you can really take your food to the next level (even if you didn’t think a next level was possible).

Some practical tips:

  • Be careful when messing with the liquid quantities in a sauce, icing, bakery item, etc. You can use water instead of milk or vice versa, yogurt instead of sour cream, et. al.,but make sure its in the same quantity and has the same relative consistency.
  • Need to substitute something for something else? Here’s a big list of recipe substitution links!
  • Add to the basics. Make white bread and add some raisins and cinnamon: bam, you’ve got cinnamon raisin bread. Make pancakes and add chocolate chips – bam, chocolate chip pancakes. It’s okay to add to base recipes to make something different; just make sure you’re not adding too many dry or wet ingredients that might mess up the consistency and cooking time.

Someday, you’ll be able to hide your “secret ingredient” from everyone, whatever that may turn out to be. Until then, be patient, keep learning, and have fun!


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Categories: recipes


I'm a writer of web content and advertising copy in the interactive space. I'm kind of a geek, but I like other stuff, too. My passions and loves include cooking and food, travel, music, and reading; my husband & favorite architect Jonathan; my wonderful family and friends; and my loyal, quirky dog.

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One Comment on “Recipe Deviants: Adding Your Own Twist to Your Favorite Recipes”

  1. February 2, 2010 at 6:04 am #

    I’m a big fan of changing up the liquids called for in recipes. Lemon Juice, White Wine, Chicken Stock, Apple Cider, and Red Wine are pretty much interchangeable. Unless the acidity matters, in which case chicken stock is out. But just by changing one simple thing, you get a whole new flavor profile.

    My favorite was to use recipes is to find 3-5 recipes of what I’m cooking. Glance them over, absorb the basics of proportions, quantities, and technique. Then shut the computer, and step into the kitchen. A combination of the recipes I read, plus a little self motivation and variance, usually provides for a good end result.

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