Step 1. ??? Step 2. ???? Step 3. Deliciousness!
August 21, 2012 2:01 PM   Subscribe

What are some good template recipes? Series of such recipes are especially appreciated!

I've been expanding my cooking repertoire lately, and I've been finding that I really appreciate recipes that are more like templates. Some examples of what I'm talking about include this chili template and this stir fry technique guide.

I like these because I'm a fairly improvisational cook, and I like to be able to vary a recipe based on what I'm in the mood for or what I have on hand. But if there are important techniques, steps or ingredients, I want to be sure I know them - ie, I know that I can use whatever seasonings I want in a salad dressing, but it needs a base of an oil, an acidic liquid and an emulsifier first.

Either online or in books is ok.

What I am NOT looking for is straight-up recipes with a list of ingredients and steps. I'm also not necessarily looking for baking instructions (I looked at the oft-recommended Ratio, but it seems to be mostly baking), since I'm gluten-intolerant.

Bonus round: ideas on flavors that go well together for certain cuisines would be great!
posted by lunasol to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a guide to general pasta sauces, and here's a guide to matching type of sauce with shape of pasta.
Pasta "sauce" is a pretty vague thing around my house, that means "saute some onion and garlic, add some chopped vegetables and frozen vegetables, and then put in a little bit of plain pesto or canned tomato or splash of oil or wine." It's rarely actually saucey, usually more just a bunch of delicious chunks tossed together, some of which happen to be tortellini, but it's tasty and that's what matters.
posted by aimedwander at 2:12 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out the Recipe Makers from Fine Cooking magazine.
posted by reptile at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you taken a look at Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)? It does have recipes, but it's very strong on general approaches, tables of substitutions/suggestions/flavor ideas, techniques, etc. That's really the main point of the books, I think.

The apps are great, too.
posted by wintersweet at 2:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Put salt and pepper on things.
2. Put things on grill.
3. Deliciousness!
posted by colin_l at 2:31 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing though. Even if you're given a recipe, it's just how that person chose to write the thing out. I can tell you that my chili recipe needs 5 grams of salt, but if you don't like that amount you play with it until you do like it.

For example, on a vinaigrette you take about a 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio and slowly drip the oil into the vinegar as you mix it up. Anything else is just flavor, unless you use mustard/sugar/egg yolk to help it emulsify.

Any recipe can be played with. Today in class I randomly decided that our ranch dressing was going to get some mustard powder. Didn't say that on the recipe, but I knew it would be good and I put it in there. And you know what? It was good considering we did it in about 3 minutes because we were more worried about other things.

Putting stuff together like this is all about ratios and understanding flavor. Unless you're going to argue about how to make a classical dish (which is stupid and that's coming from someone in culinary school) the recipe is right if people eat it and like it.

Just so I have a recipe in here:

Seasoned Vegetables

1 - Boil vegetables so they're par cooked. Seriously, don't finish them. This is just so they don't burn later but they're still cooked all the way through. And don't forget to shock them.

2 - Heat up pan and add fat, because fat = flavor and everyone like that. Butter works well, as does oil. Rendering bacon fat would be amazing except for the part where I always end up just eating the bacon too early.

3 - Throw in vegetables and add seasonings. If it tastes good you did it right. If it doesn't taste good add stuff until it does.

Adding stuff might mean more vegetables. So remember that you can always add more but you can very rarely take stuff out.

And that if it tastes flat you need salt.
posted by theichibun at 2:40 PM on August 21, 2012

HFW's Meat book has a set of protocols for roasting almost any cut of any mammal or bird. They've become my go-to and rarely if ever let me down.
posted by cromagnon at 2:47 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I definitely also recommend the Fine Cooking Recipe Maker listed above - I use them all the time. In terms of books, I highly recommend Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book and How to Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:56 PM on August 21, 2012

Basic Soup Technique

1. Saute aromatics (onions, garlic, celery, etc.) in fat
2. Add main ingredients and seasonings, cook a little bit
3. Optional for creamy soups: add about as much flour as the fat you used, cook until flour's not quite so raw
4. Add liquid (broth, or for creamy soups, broth + milk or cream)
5. Bring to boil then let simmer
6. Add any veggies that don't need to cook very long (greens, tomatoes, fresh peas or corn), let simmer a little longer
7. Optional: Puree
8. Season to taste, bowl up, garnish, and enjoy!


1. Saute aromatics in fat
2. Stir in your favorite risotto rice until coated in fat
3. Add 1/4 c. white wine, stir until absorbed
4. Add a couple ladles of hot broth, stir until absorbed, repeat until desired consistency is achieved
5. Add desired veggies or already-cooked meats
6. Stir in parmesan, add a knob of butter, season to taste, and serve

Roasted or Grilled Veggies

1. Toss veggies in olive oil, salt, and pepper
2. Roast in a very hot oven, tossing occasionally; or grill
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:47 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

2nding Bittman's book How to Cook Everything has nothing but template recipes in it.

Also, Ruhlman's Ratio is right up your alley. Nothing but what you're looking for.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:25 PM on August 21, 2012

AH! sorry, didn't realize you'd already checked out Ratio. Pardon my thickness.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:25 PM on August 21, 2012

My friend wrote a template recipe called The! Science! Of! Vegetable! Soup! I am not entirely sure it's what you're looking for but I've found it very helpful to use along with "Wtf is in my fridge tonight" and make something that feels more like dinner than leftovers.,
posted by jessamyn at 5:43 PM on August 21, 2012

Here's a template for what they call Italian Pasta, Meat, Cheese, and Greens.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:35 PM on August 21, 2012

Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book is expressly designed for this sort of thing. She takes basic weeknight-friendly dinner templates--stir fry, the family of deglazing meat sauce things like Chicken Pomodoro, soup, etc.--and goes over the best way to handle them in detail then offers tons of modular ingredient variations.
posted by ifjuly at 2:31 PM on August 22, 2012
Keep this mix of spices on hand to make lamb or vegetable curry.
Sauté onion, garlic and ginger, add coconut milk if you like, basmati rice on the side.
posted by Kazimirovna at 2:31 PM on August 23, 2012

Wow, great suggestions, everyone. I'm especially excited to try out Cook Without a Book (which I've ordered), and all the other template recipes provided here are really helpful.

posted by lunasol at 10:37 PM on August 23, 2012

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