Welcome to Recipe Off-Roading, where the recipe isn’t in charge—you are. In this series of articles, we’re celebrating how cooks take liberties in the kitchen, whether that’s substituting an ingredient, adapting a technique, or doubling the salt (because you’re wild like that). So buckle up and let’s go for a ride.
If I want a wonderful recipe for chocolate chip cookies, I ask Dorie Greenspan. And if I want a wonderful recipe for cherry crumb tart or mocha-marbled bundt cake or even butter-poached scallops, I ask…Dorie Greenspan.
Let me guess: you do too.
The author of 13 cookbooks—most recently, Everyday Dorie—and winner of five James Beard Awards (yep, five), Dorie’s recipes are famously reliable, encouraging, and delicious. They’re also free-spirited, with countless “Playing Around” postscripts, telling readers how to substitute ingredients and change up instructions.
That’s why I couldn’t wait to talk to her for our Recipe Off-Roading series, all about ditching the rules in the kitchen. Do bakers ditch rules? And what does Dorie make for dinner after testing a bunch of cookie recipes?
Here’s all that and more. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
EMMA LAPERRUQUE: How often do you cook new recipes during the workweek? And how often do you just wing it?
DORIE GREENSPAN: Workweek or weekend, I’m more likely to wing it, to find something to cook by foraging in my pantry and fridge, or by coming upon something that calls out I could be dinner in the market.
EL: Do you prefer to try out new recipes or techniques on the weekend?
DG: Even when I’m winging it, I often end up coming up with new recipes and techniques, but that’s random and accidental. If I’m going to try new recipes or techniques, I usually do it on the weekend and usually invite friends to share my experiments.
EL: After spending all day recipe developing baked goods and desserts, what’s your go-to not-recipe for dinner?
DG: I have a few go-to not-recipes. One is a vegetable soup made with whatever I’ve got. It goes something like: Sauté onions, garlic and—if you’ve got it and want it—celery, a sprigs of herbs, and maybe some ginger. Pour in about six cups of broth. Drop in a pound or so of cut-up vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, and broccoli. Add a potato if there’s one around and you want a thicker soup. Simmer until the vegetables are mashable. Puree, or don’t. Soup, bread, salad, and cheese makes dinner.
I’ll also spatchcock a chicken and roast it in a cast-iron skillet. I’ll soften some butter with herbs and spices and run it under the bird’s skin or, if I’m in a hurry, on the skin, tuck garlic and onions and whatever I’ve got under the bird, add some wine and broth and slide the set-up into a hot oven to cook through.
Editor’s note: Want the full recipe? Check out Dorie’s latest book, Everyday Dorie!
EL: What are some ways you like to riff on roast chicken?
DG: I don’t think I ever make the same seasoned butter to go under or over the bird’s skin. It all depends on what’s around and who’s coming for dinner. My husband doesn’t like things too spicy, but if he’s not going to be at the table, I’ll go for a harissa or hot sauce blend. If I’ve got a few small potatoes or some carrots or leeks, I might add them to the skillet. And sometimes I’ll boil down the liquid to make a pan sauce, but most of the time I won’t—I’ll just encourage everyone to dunk bread into the skillet and enjoy.
EL: Do you have a go-to not-recipe for dessert?
DG: I have several go-to not-recipes for dessert, but my most favorite is an ice cream sundae. It can be as simple as a couple of scoops of ice cream with some crunchies in between, or it can be a tower of ice cream, nuts, fruit (dried or fresh), sauce, and whipped cream. My Salted-Chocolate Hot-Fudge Sundae is one of my signature desserts. The basics are:
- Ice cream
- Hot-fudge sauce—I make my own since it keeps forever in the fridge, but store-bought works
- Chunklets of dark, salted chocolate—you can chop up a favorite chocolate bar, but I make these myself by melting chocolate and salt, letting the chocolate harden and then chopping it and stowing it in the freezer for sundae days
- Toasted nuts
- Whipped cream
That’s the fully-loaded version, but you can swap or omit any of the elements, add berries, sneak in some cracked pepper to go with the salt, make a different sauce. It’s just a template, which is why I love it.
EL: A lot of people are hesitant to riff on baking recipes, but I love how your cookbooks encourage people to get creative. What advice would you give to aspiring dessert recipe off-roaders?
DG: Baking recipes are most riffable if you just fiddle around the edges. Keep the basic recipe and think about changing a spice, adding fruit or nuts, substituting a small part of the flour for cocoa or almond meal or whole wheat flour, or using a different size pan. Change the frosting on a cake. Make a pie with different fruit, or a different crust, or only a top crust, or use the filling to make a crisp or a cobbler. If you hold on to the bones of the recipes, you’ll be just fine. You’ll also end up with a dessert you can call your own, and that’s a pretty great thing.