Joined Oct 5, 2010
I know another newb with questions. I really enjoy cooking at home.  I can follow a recipe and make some minor tweaks of my own.  My big problem is coming up with my own recipes and flavors.  I do have a decent assortment of cookbooks and am working on getting more.  I do have "The Professional Chef"  I have looked into picking up The Flavor Bible and On Food and Cooking.  Can anyone give me some pointers or good places to start.

I live in the Pacific NW if that help.

Thanks for all the help.
Joined Sep 5, 2008
Maybe if you don't approach it as "coming up" with your own recipes and flavors, but if you approach it as making a recipe your own by modifying it, it'll make the process easier. As in any other art form, one could almost argue that you never really create a dish, more than simply adjust, tweak, modify, personalize, or at best get inspired by an existing dish.

Maybe you like that apple tart recipe but you don't like cinnamon. Fine. Don't put the cinnamon. Or put only a tiny bit. Then someone tells you it's a little bland so you try adding some lemon juice to the Apples next time. Maybe add a little more salt to the crust. Or a little lemon zest. Or a little ground toasted almonds. Hey, wait a mn... almonds would taste great with raspberries! Let's try a raspberry almond tart next time. Etc... After a few tweaks you'll have strayed from the original recipe and made it your own.

And as BDL rightly said, hang around here and ask questions, read discussions, search for topics of interest to you, and you will get inspired!
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Joined Apr 16, 2006
I would recommend The Best Recipe by the Cook's Illustrated gang.  My first cooking bible was The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon.  I think it's out of print but you can probably find a used copy.

Willingness to go ahead & give it a try, and willingness to fail, are also (I think) crucial to becoming a cook.
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Joined Oct 5, 2010
@French - I like your way of looking at it.  I will give that a try and see if I can start making things happen.

@Grumio - Is this the book and edition that you are referring to?

Joined Feb 1, 2007
First off, Lifesavin, welcome to Cheftalk. I'm sure you're going to learn a lot. And, no doubt, contribute as well.

French Fries has given you a great tip. Despite books, and TV shows, and culinary school it's probably how most of us learned; by playing the what if? game. What if I leave this ingredient out? What if I increase this one? What if I add that one over there, the one the recipe author never thought of?.

Just to add a little to it, try and analyze everything you eat, to identify the ingredients. If you don't know what salt tastes like, then you won't know it's missing. In a finished dish, ask yourself why? Why do the ingredients combine in just this way? Why does pan frying make a difference over oven roasting? Why does lemon juice perk things up?

And always keep in mind Julia Child's sage advice: Do not be afraid!
Joined Oct 2, 2010
Hello Lifesavin. I learned a lot from good cookbooks, and I would recommend anything from Australian foodwriter Donna Hay for her simplicity. Look for her Modern Classics, an overview of french, Italian and Asian dishes with a contemporary update. She also has a new book out, I just looked in it but haven't bough it yet.

The best school however is a hands-on approach. Since you're eager to start your own recipes, do as I do many times; select one item dry food such as potato, rice, polenta, pasta... open your fridge, select a few ingredients or left-overs from which you are certain they match together and start cooking! My advice; keep it simple! Cookbooks are allowed of course. When done, write down your recipes! By next week you will no longer remember them exactly. I take pictures and save them with the recipe. I'm also a photo-amateur, but I work with a simple Canon Powershot 5 Mpix for my foodshots + a little Photoshop hokus pokus!

This is an example of something I made with left-overs a few days ago;

I had some left-over lentils which I only use maybe once a year or even less. I took from my fridge a carrot, a cucumber and a piece of chorizo. I used some frozen salmon as you can see.

There are a few things you must have in your kitchen; cooking oils, herbs and spices, but certainly bouilloncubes such as Knorr or Italien Star, a tube of very good quality tomatopaste...

The recipe;

- rince lentils in cold water, put in a cooking pot, cover -2 fingers high- with water and let simmer for 45 minutes. Taste from 30 minutes cookingtime on for doneness! Absolutely no salt, but you could add aromates such as carrot, onion, celery. Throw these aromates away when cooked.

Meanwhile, cut everything else in nice small cubes;

- sweat a chopped shallot in sunfloweroil on medium fire. Add the cubed chorizo and stirfry. After a few minutes, remove the chorizo and add quite small carrotcubes and let soften quite a long time. Add cubed cucumber and just a pinch of chiliflakes. Add a few tablespoons of water. Brake off maybe no more than 1/5th of a bouilloncube (chicken is OK, or other if you like) and crumble it over the veggies. Let simmer.

- Squeeze no more than 2cm of tomatopaste from the tube, this will glue the sauce to the veggies instead of running off. Add chorizo again and the strained lentels when done. I also added some dried sarriette (don't know the english name), chopped parcely and a teaspoon of left-over sourcream. Absolutely delicious!

The salmon is panfried after defrosting and drying the fish. The herb on it is dried citronelle P&S.

Keep cooking, hope this inspired you! And remember, I only keep my successes but dumped a lot more failures.
Joined Oct 5, 2010
Thanks for all the input so far.  I will definitely look into some of those books.  I am also looking for a book that shows some of the different techniques for cooking.  My "The Professional Chef" does have some for sure.  Watching some of the TV shows or even going out to eat makes me wonder how they achieved that. 

Culinary school would be the way to go for sure.  However I am an EMT and enjoy that.  Plus all the programs around me cost a small fortune.  I have been trying to find some cooking classes around that might just teach some of the basics.  Plus it is always good to be a good cook around the fire station.

I will contribute here as much as I can.  I will share any cool things that I come up with or find.

Thanks again!
Joined Apr 3, 2008
Welcome to cheftalk Lifesavin.  I remember feeling just like you did once, I could make a few things, follow a recipe and get by well enough.  But I always felt like I didn't know how to come up with my own recipies.  Well my advice is to not worry about it one bit.  It's a learning process and you can take it at your own pace.  Think of it this way... just because you learned how to play Chopsticks on the piano does not mean you are responsible for composing an entire symphony any time soon. 

Watch a lot of cooking shows.  I know a lot of people would not agree with me but I learn much better if I can watch how something is prepared rather than read about it.  But that's my own learning style.  Do what you're comfortable with, read books, talk about recipes with your friends, join a forum like this and you're on your way. 

Back to being scared about altering a recipe or making up your own for a second.  Recipies can be like training wheels on a bike.  If you start cooking consistantly, even if just following a recipe, you'll start to feel more comfortable about making changes.  One day you'll come across a recipe and you'll think "I'll omit that ingredient" or "I'll put this in instead" and even "I'll cut this up this way instead of that way."  After a while the recipe won't be leading you anymore, you'll be leading the recipe instead.  And from that kind of freedom will grow the ability to venture away from cooking with recipes at all - therefore you'll get rid of your training wheels.
Joined Nov 6, 2004
I know another newb with questions. I really enjoy cooking at home.  I can follow a recipe and make some minor tweaks of my own.  My big problem is coming up with my own recipes and flavors. 
   Hi LifeSavin', welcome to ChefTalk!

   You will pick up so much by sticking around here and asking questions, in three years you'll be surprised at where your cooking has gone.  I'm not really too big on cookbooks, I suppose they're fine...but I learned so much more from eating...and cooking...and eating and asking questions here along the way.

   I would suggest you learn what food taste like.  Sounds easy right?  Start to taste everything and taste it in every state you can think of.  Go get green beans and try them raw, then saute a few, boil a few, try some canned green beans straight from the can, now rinse the can and try them.  Learn what food tastes like in each state from raw to cooked, using different methods of cooking and different methods of storage/preservation.  What does a potato taste like raw?  How about raw corn on the cob.  Boil it, grill different varieties and try them side by side.

   Learn how to season.  Start with salt and pepper.  You may not get much of an effect from canned vegetables, but you may be surprised at how well fresh vegetables can taste with a little bit of oil, salt and pepper.  What's the right level?  What's too much?  Don't be afraid to listen to your senses.  What levels you like today, you may not like tomorrow.  Listen to yourself and continue to try and stay true to the ingredient.

    Start off simple.  Get to know simple methods of cooking simple food.  If you complicate things too much it may become difficult to identify what's working...or what's not working.  Ask questions.  If you aren't sure how to cook different meat to a temperature consistently get a meat thermometer...and use it.  If you want to reach a target temperature pull the meat off of the heat source shortly before it get there, then let it rest.  Notice how the temperature comes up a little bit.  Once you get to learn your temperatures (and how to get there) you may start to notice how much flavor is actually still in the meat.  Buying chicken on the bone has many advantages such as better flavor, texture and a little protection from overcooking.  Learn to season meat properly...don't try to eat chicken raw to see how it taste.  

   What kind of food do you like?  Ask questions.  Where do you live?  Find ethnic grocery stores!  This will come in handy for meat and produce items (along with dry goods!).  Taste the vegetables and compare them to other sources.  Why don't many ethnic stores have a large selection of produce in I want to eat a tomato in winter...taste.  Don't over cook your meat! What piece of meat did you just buy and what do you want to do to it?  Do you cook a pork shoulder the same as a loin?  What do you want to accomplish with one...or the other?

   Plant a garden next year.  Even if it's just a simple small tomato garden to start...start one.  But get some good heirloom varieties that grow well in your area.  Ask questions.  Taste your new tomatoes side by side with some store bought tomatoes that you normally buy.  All varieties don't taste the same.  Taste and always re-visit a new variety like it's a whole new vegetable plant.  

   Surprise yourself and don't be afraid to try new things.  You don't always have to feed an army.  This is another area where it will be nice to learn how to cook rather than follow a recipe.  Grow some of your own herbs next year.  Rosemary, chives, basil for starters (or whatever floats your boat).  Try the herbs raw, in food.  Find a method of learning that inspires and motivates you...what works for me may not work for you.

   have fun!  

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Joined Feb 13, 2008
I dunno Dan.  Your first piece of advice was for him to develop his palate.  That's exactly right.

Joined Feb 26, 2007
G'day & Welcome,  Lifesaving,

You are getting  great tips and advice here, from many people who are really, and I mean Really experienced here, who have helped people at various stages  of cooking and knowledge.  Both within this forum and elsewhere.

Cookbooks can be a great start, and a great resource especially if you like dessert - as you need the quantities to be right.  There is room to tweak a recipe to what you prefer, even with desserts, just not too much.  Try a recipe for what is written.  Then, when feeling brave, tweak it to what you'd prefer.  Say, in a chilli meat sauce, you may like it really hot.  Add some bird's eye chillis.  Or if you like it milder, don't add too much, or lessen it to fit your taste.

Recipes are generally not set in cement.  They may suit you, or not, and this is the joy of cooking.  Make it as you like it.  This will come with practice and time.  For sure, some dishes may be a disaster (i've had a couple recently after 30 years of cooking).  But persevere.  It is fun!

As for techniques etc, plenty of advice here too.  I've learnt a lot, so much, in my time so far here.  Things I never knew.


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