I have fun with food. I enjoy reading about it, shopping for it, chopping it, measuring it, baking it, frying it, sauteing it, and stewing it. You better believe I enjoy eating it.
I hear so many people say that they "can't" cook, or that a recipe is "too difficult" or "too intimidating". It makes me a little sad to hear that, because I want everyone to have as much fun as I do. I will try to cook any recipe you put in front of me. Do I always cross my fingers that it will work and be tasty? Yes. But if it doesn't, it's just a learning experience, and next time will be better. I've had many failures and mediocre dishes, but I'm never intimidated, and I'm always having fun. I feel like I've seen people get so stressed about a recipe or a technique, and they don't understand when I tell them, 'No, I didn't have a recipe, I made this up', or that I got my idea from a recipe but then changed it to suit myself. They don't understand how I can do it.
Here's a step-by-step example of how I take a recipe, and tweak it.
The recipe itself was for a Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Bread Pudding. I will post the original recipe and instructions, and insert my changes and reasons in parentheses, to show the process.
Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Bread Pudding (Caramelized Onion and Bacon Bread Pudding)
10 oz day-old country-style bread, cut into 3/4" cubes, with crust (10 oz 3-day old mini baguettes leftover from the neighborly party earlier in the week, cubed.)
2 1/2 C milk (2 1/2 C skim milk, it's what I had)
2 C heavy cream (1 C heavy cream, 1 C half & half, because that's what I had)
3 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife (3 BIG cloves, mmm garlic)
1/2 tsp Cyprus flake salt (Sorry, W & S, I used some grey sea salt. Why? Because...that's what I had! Does anyone see a pattern here?)
Coarsely ground tellicherry pepper, to taste
1 Tbs unsalted butter (unnecessary, due to later pork substitutions and their accompanying fat.)
1 red onion, thinly sliced (This is what I used, but next time, I'll do a coarse dice for ease of eating.)
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar (2 Tbs sherry vinegar, because I'm mildly obsessed with it lately, and it's delicious with bacon.)
2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Holy expensive cheese Batman! I subbed in a mix of aged gruyere and some plain Chevre. Mmm, tangy and economical.)
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 2 x 1/4 " strips (4 slices thick cut smoky bacon, plus 2 oz homemade pancetta, because I'm on a mission to clean out my freezer.)
2 Tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (Picked from our patio garden, supplemented with 1 tsp fresh thyme, because thyme is one of my favorites, and is delicious with pork products.)
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 2 qt rectangular baking dish. (Nonstick spray, you make life easier.) Have a pot of boiling water ready. (I spent too much time reading blogs that day, and was mildly rushed. I skipped over the boiling water step as I read. More on this later.) Put the bread cubes in a large bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, cream, garlic, salt, and pepper and heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. (Combine the hodgepodge of dairy that was already in your fridge with garlic, salt and pepper.) Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. (Think to yourself: Hmm, I'm steeping garlic in milk, like tea. I'm making a garlic-milk tea. Ha. Ew. Garlic-milk-tea.) Meanwhile, in a saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. (Instead, place the bacon into a medium saute pan and cook until browned and crisp, then remove to paper towels, reserving the fat in the pan. Place finely chopped pancetta in the reserved fat, brown, then remove to paper towels, reserving the fat in the pan. Use this fat in place of butter.) Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown and caramelize, about 10 minutes. (Think about nominating onions-cooking-in-bacon-fat for best smell in the world.) Add the vinegar and cook for 5 minutes more. (Stirring often.) Remove from the heat. Return the milk mixture to medium heat and warm until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. (Or completely miss this step until you re-read the recipe while typing it. The milk was still plenty hot, trust me.) In a bowl, lightly whisk the 8 eggs. Slowly add the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Set a fine mesh strainer over the bowl filled with bread cubes, and pour the milk mixture through it, onto the bread. Stir to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes, then fold in the cheese, prosciutto, parsley, and caramelized onion. Transfer to prepared baking dish. (Greet your Hubband, who has come home during this 10 minutes. Feel rushed, because you want to show him the new patio furniture that arrived that day, so mix the parsley, thyme, chopped bacon, pancetta, and onions in with the bread quickly, and transfer to the dish. Go outside to ooh and ahh over patio furniture. Come back in and realize you forgot to put in the cheese. Use your clean fingers to push cheese chunks in at random spots and depths around the baking dish.) Set the baking dish in a roasting pan. Add the boiling water to fill the roasting pan halfway up the sides of the baking dish. (Ask your Hubband to put the baking dish in the oven because your hands are now covered in eggy-cheesy-parsley bits from your non-traditional method of adding cheese. Neglect to remember the whole water-bath thing until you're eating. There was no pot of boiling water to remind you anyway*. *See beginning of recipe.) Bake until the center of the pudding is firm and the top is golden, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire baking rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
This is what we ended up with:
It was SO good. Even with all of my substitutions and technique mistakes, dinner was delicious. Crusty on top and soft in the middle, savory and delicate in flavor, the bread pudding was so satisfying with a green salad. This wouldn't be out of place on a holiday table, in my opinion.
A note: This was a particularly egregious example of me not reading the instructions very closely. When I'm baking, I do read more closely because of the precision needed for proper results, but savory cooking is a little more forgiving. As far as playing with the ingredients, there was nothing wrong with the recipe as written, but everything I substituted with was already in my fridge, freezer, pantry, or patio garden, and thus I saved myself a trip to the store.