Just read pitu's post and NYTimes link here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/616701 Included was a "partner article" link to an earlier NYTimes article:
APRIL 1, 2009
A Shift to Recipe-less Cooking
Some cookbook authors are moving away from the rigidity of recipes and advocating improvisation in the kitchen
I particularly like the sidebar entitled "Five Tips For Improvising in the Home Kitchen" and the brief info given for Taste, Focus on Techniques, Learn to Make Versatile Bases, Substitute Ingredients, and Don't be Afraid to Make Mistakes.
All I could think when I read that sidebar was "YES!" If more people were just willing to start putting flavors together after getting ideas from food they've eaten in restaurants or read a recipe but don't like a particular ingredient, they'd be less afraid in the kitchen. Some people I know are SO tied to recipes and all the most minute details are always needed.
Granted, I'm just experimenting for myself - I'm not cooking for a family, so expenses are kept much lower for just me if something gets screwed up. But sometimes you've just got to wing it. :-) If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. You know that for next time. But when something hits a home run on a dish you've put together yourself without a recipe? That is always a feeling of "YAY ME!"
For example - I get a flyer magazine from BJ's Wholesale Club as I'm a member. An article about "Season of Celebrations" in their most recent magazine focuses on summertime celebrations and discussed a product from Cedar's - an Edamame Salad. An accompanying picture showed something I'd like to make - edamame, corn, red peppers, and I wasn't sure what else.
So off I went to BJ's and wrote down the ingredients on the side of the package: edamame, corn (I'd use TJ's roasted corn), roasted red peppers (I'd rather use chopped fresh red bell pepper), onion, dried cranberries, oil, vinegar, cilantro, sugar, cayenne, and "spices". I dislike like cilantro, so I'd substitute flat-leaf parsley and as for those "spices", I'll use whatever looks interesting in my herb and spice cabinet. Perhaps Aleppo pepper, fresh-chopped marjoram or savory.
Why buy it when I know I can make it myself? :-)