People post all the time about the fact that they're considering buying a new cookbook, or just got a new cookbook, and want to know if the recipes are reliable.
Now I'm familar with unreliable cookbooks, so I can relate to that concern. The Silver Palate cookbooks come to mind. I think they were what turned me into a cook, rather than a recipe follower. I got the first Silver Palate* book when I was 22, and it had fabulous-sounding recipes. But, after making several, to the "T", I was somewhat perplexed. I didn't think I was doing anything wrong -- it was just that the final result wasn't what I expected it to taste like.
At first, I'd follow a recipe, and if it didn't taste great (I'm reminded of making the Navarin of Lamb recipe from Silver Palate), I'd be disappointed, and like I said above, perplexed, but it posed a challenge, too. I started in with the adding a little of this, and a little of that, until it tasted okay. I think since that time, I've always taken recipes as a guideline, and will innovate where innovation seems needed. Most recipes are starting points for me. I'll follow them explicitly, if others or my own experience has shown me that's the only way, but often, I end up playing with proportions, etc., until it tastes right to me.
Of course, I'd never try this with baking, which still intimidates me!
How about you? Cookbooks: strict manual or simply inspiration?
*After Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I learned to cook from as a teenager, the next two books I cooked from regularly were the Silver Palate and The Best of Gourmet 1989 (I received both the year I graduated from college in '89.)