This story contains an affiliate link to a book on Amazon. But just the one 🙂 and it’s about the best advice Katie Couric ever got.
What’s the biggest difference between baking and cooking?
In my mind, it boils down to one difference:
Baking follows a rigid recipe: skip the baking powder and you’re in trouble!
Cooking follows a guideline: there is room for improvisation. That’s where the creativity comes from.
Of course, in baking, you can substitute walnut pieces for sliced almonds. Or double the milk chocolate chips instead of white chocolate chunks. Or substitute butter with canola oil.
But if you disregard the wet to dry ratio, you end up with a failed product.
Cooking is much more forgiving.
And, that’s the key to cooking fast and delicious.
Recipes are just descriptions of one person’s take on one moment in time. They’re not rules. People think they are. They look as if they are. They say, “Do this, not this. Add this, not that.” But, really, recipes are just suggestions that got written down.
— Mario Batali, from Katie Couric's book The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives (affiliate link)
Following Mario Batali’s wise words, that’s why I don’t follow recipes.
Instead, I keep a library of recipe formulae. It is the second pillar of the 4-part meal planning system.
They are inspirational, easy, and fast. Assuming basic cooking skills, it’s about how to bring ingredients together to make something when you are not motivated to cook but still want a fresh and healthy meal.
It works like formulae (or formulas, in American English) in algebra: you build a model and substitute the main variables with the ingredients du jour.
You can call it a recipe template or recipe pattern. Honestly, this is not revolutionary. You probably already cook like this when you see a recipe and substitute bits and pieces based on your palate preferences and ingredients on hand. Let’s formalize the process to save your mental energy!
Examples of the Recipe Formulae in Action
Here’s a list of the different recipe templates in my library. I use them to guide my meal planning and reverse shopping list.
|Dish||Protein||Vegetable/ Mushroom||Flavor + Extra||Pantry|
|tofu salad||extra firm tofu||cucumber||cilantro||peanut butter, dark soy sauce|
|ground meat stir fry||ground pork||shiitake mushrooms||garlic, green onion||light soy sauce, dark soy sauce|
|vegetarian stir fry||tofu||cabbage, carrot||garlic, green onion||dark soy sauce, sriracha|
|hot pot||sliced lamb||carrots, baby corn||cilantro||peanut butter, dark soy sauce|
|coconut curry soup||tofu||lettuce||curry paste, kaffir lime leaf||coconut cream|
|curry||tofu||potatoes, bell peppers||curry paste, kaffir lime leaf||coconut cream|
|dumpling soup||pork dumplings||cabbage, crimini mushrooms||cilantro, green onion||LaoGanMa|
|tofu bowl||tofu, shrimp||broccoli, baby corn, straw mushrooms||cilantro||LaoGanMa, sriracha|
|cream soup||heavy whipping cream||mushrooms||roux, butter||bay leaf|
|pizza||salami, mozzarella||mushrooms, bell peppers||cheese, onions||pizza sauce|
|stir fried noodles||eggs||bean sprouts, cabbage||garlic, green onion||oil!!! dark soy sauce|
Example ingredients added to show how to populate the formulae. We'll often substitute cauliflower for broccoli or kale for cabbage.
How do you create your Recipe Formulae?
1. Decide on the building blocks
“what will I add to this dish to make it taste good?“
2. Always stock a handful of ingredients for substitutions.
- carrots, and
- green beans.
I know that no matter what the recipe template, I can find a way to bring in one of these vegetables. For proteins, my go-tos are
- tofu, and
- ground pork.
For flavor, it is
- garlic, and
- green onions.
I always have these items in the fridge as backups. What are your go-to items?
3. Take a realistic look at the meals you actually cook.
I never make pasta casseroles. So, it’s absent from the list. On the other hand, soups and stir-fries are staples in the Rider household. So, we have not only one but several variations on stir-fries and soups 🙂
What are 2 recipe templates you can add to your repertoire today? If you can’t think of any, you have permission to steal ours.
Leave a comment to share your favorite recipe formulae!