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Know Your Audience

If you want purple but you only have red and blue, what do you do?  How did you learn that mixing the two makes the one?  Either someone told you, or you did it accidentally, or maybe you had a hunch and went for it.  So it goes with food preparation.

It may sound obvious, but it will be quite difficult to play around with different textures, flavors, and spices if you don’t first have at least a basic idea what kind of result you’re looking for (sweet, spicy, tangy, sour, salty, etc.).  Whether you’re cooking just for yourself or for family and friends, knowing what the preferences are of those dining is absolutely key to experimenting with new options.

For instance, I don’t like a lot of salt in my foods normally, so when I cook just for myself, I am able to salt (or not salt, as the case may be) the entire meal to taste.  But when I am cooking for my family, I have to remember that I am the only one with that preference.  Sometimes I split the meal and set some aside for myself; sometimes I focus on other ingredients to compensate for the lack of salt (and hand them the shaker when I place the serving dish on the table).

The same would go for experimenting with a new spice: say, anise seed for instance.  As it has a strong licorice flavor, anyone who does not like licorice is probably not going to like anise seed in their pasta.  Maybe they would like a few seeds on their steak, and maybe they wouldn’t know it unless you surprised them, but don’t be upset if that kind of gamble backfires in your face.  (I’ve seen it happen.)

I guess the idea here is: break the rules, but don’t break them so far apart that the ends don’t justify the means anymore.  Work within reason; use your knowledge of your family’s preferences to help you in your experiments, instead of just throwing caution to the wind and hoping your family will like it.  Try to treat them as you would food allergies; you wouldn’t mess with that, so why mess with a flavor you know isn’t going to go over well?  Instead of viewing preferences as a limitation, try to view them as an extra challenge within which you can still make a great many variations on one recipe.  If you decide to buck this advice and still go for it, at least have a backup option ready to go.

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