There’s a perfectly good reason I’m a cook and not a baker. A cook can substitute ingredients, alter seasonings and generally make whatever course corrections necessary to ensure that a dish comes out just right.

While bakers can experiment with recipes, they can’t take too many liberties before they run into the likelihood of ruining the end product.

I like flexibility when I cook; not everyone appreciates it. Some home cooks like the rigidity of a recipe and never want to experiment. As a food writer and cookbook author, I have to admit, I love those people. Whatever recipe I write reflects the dish as I see it, or more precisely, as I enjoy it. So to those people I say, “Thank you.” I’m just not one of you. I rarely follow a recipe precisely; I like to make a dish my own.

Such is the case with this recipe for Vegetable Almond Fried Rice. I’ve loaded it up with broccoli, sweet red pepper, carrots and sliced almonds. I did that because that’s what I like — and it’s what I had in my refrigerator. (You’d be shocked by how many recipes are born just that way.)

If you, on the other hand, don’t like broccoli or almonds, use what you like — or what you have on hand. Toss in zucchini, onions, roasted butternut squash or hot peppers. If almonds aren’t your thing, or if you’re trying to figure out how to use that jar of peanuts in your pantry, this is a perfect solution. Or leave nuts out entirely. It’s your dinner, after all; make it exactly the way you want it.

Enjoy the freedom. Your family will enjoy the results.


Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.