The secret to cooking without ‘recipes’


Like most people, when I was learning to cook I was a slave to recipes. While it was a good way to start learning different techniques and ingredients, it did have some frustrating limitations.

Like what happens when you can’t buy a particular ingredient? And what do you do with that leftover half bunch of herbs? Or jar of sauce?

Or worse still, what do you do when you need to cook something but don’t have the luxury of time to pour over recipes and go shopping for exotic ingredients?

Over the years, with a lot of trial and error, I began to learn to cook more instinctively, on my own.

Without other people’s recipes.

In my head, without really being conscious of what I was doing, I started thinking of recipes in general terms rather than specific ingredients.

From there, I developed a collection of starting point or ‘template recipes’. So whenever I walked into the kitchen and looked into the fridge to figure out what to cook, I had a head start.

I knew what had worked before to make that soup or stir fry and could use that knowledge as a springboard for a new dish or meal.

Why try ‘template recipes’?

Template recipes provide a stepping stone or ‘training wheels’ to help you take the first steps to freedom from recipes.

They’re designed to give you some support and structure while also providing plenty of ideas to get you started.

At the same time they are there to encourage you to think for yourself. To try new things. To experiment and develop your own recipes and style.

Like to see an example?

I’ve included a template recipe from the 2-Minute Meal Plan below…


ketchup ‘baked’ legumes
from The 2-Minute Meal Plan.

I’ve never been a fan of baked beans out of a can. These ketchup beans are a whole other story. The onion, the paprika & the ketchup combine to make a dish you’d swear had been ‘baking’ for hours.

per person
1 tablespoon butter, optional
1/2 aromatic vegetable, chopped
1/2 can legumes, drained
2 tablespoons ketchup (or ‘tomato sauce’ for the Aussies!)
1 teaspoon spice, optional

1. Heat a medium fry pan on a medium heat. Add butter and aromatic veg and cook for 5-10 minutes until the veg is soft and lightly golden.

2. Add legumes, ketchup and spice.

3. Stir and simmer for a couple of minutes to make sure everything is hot. Taste & season.

butter alternative – any oil you normally cook with.

aromatic veg – onions are my favourite but celery or carrots would be good instead..

legumes – I’ve used cannellini beans in the photo but any canned or cooked legume will work. Try butter beans, borlotti beans, black beans, chickpeas or lentils.

no ketchup? – I really recommend getting a small bottle to try with this dish. I’m not really a big ketchup fan but I adore these legumes. Otherwise try tomato paste and a big pinch or three of brown sugar. A good BBQ sauce will also work.

spice – first choice smoked paprika. Next choice other paprika, dried chilli (you may like to reduce the quantity if really hot). Coriander seed or cumin would be interesting. And curry powder would work if you’re in the mood for a curry.

higher protein – Preheat the oven to 180C (350F) while the onion cooks. When the legumes are done, make a small well in the middle and crack and egg into it. Bake for about 10 minutes or until egg whites are set and yolks still runny.


Wondering if the template recipes in the 2-Minute Meal Plan will work for you?

It’s not for everyone…

If you’re happy with your current meal planning system, then it’s probably not going to add much value. Unless you’d like to learn to cook more freely and creatively.

But if planning your meals each week causes you problems, then more than likely, the 2-Minute Meal Plan system will help you.

Just like it’s already helped these readers…

Amy, 2-Minute Meal Planner
“I just purchased the ebook and I am only on page 57 of the first part, but can already tell I LOVE IT. I was so excited when you announced this a few days ago, and knew it would be just what I needed. AND it is!!!! I’m so excited to start implementing the things I’m learning, and to gobble up the rest of the books.

Thank you a million for this ebook, it is absolutely brilliant. I really can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a purchase. I think I will also be getting a much happier husband thanks to this book :)”

Cat, 2-Minute Meal Planner
“I really like the recipe templates, and the formula for figuring out how much produce and protein to obtain for each person. I also love the problem solving tips and suggestions for vegans.”

Kate, 2-Minute Meal Planner.
“The whole system was very useful to me. I learned better planning of meals for a week and, besides that, to improvise with ingredients. Preparing food ceased to be stressful factor and became a joy!

2MMP Video 3D Cover

To pick up your copy today, go to:

Jules x

ps. A big THANKYOU to all the early birds who have already purchased the 2-Minute Meal Plan. I’m super excited about the response. Really appreciate you supporting Stonesoup!


  • My procedure is usually:

    – Pick ingredient or craving (say white beans in tomato sauce)
    – get inspiration (google for recipe in my favorite place (like ;) .. hmmm… curried white beans with tomatoes … sounds nice)
    – Check ingredients (improvise if need be.. like I didn’t have any bacon that was supposed to go on top, but I did have some sun dried tomatoes.. they’re salty, should go well with the white beans in tomato sauce .. problem solved)
    – Apply appropriate method.

    • Willem
      Sound like you’re nailing it.. don’t you love google!
      And glad to hear you’re including Stonesoup in your searches!

  • I THOROUGHLY recommend this! I work unti 8pm every night and this along with all the other books has been life changing for me! Just off to make my warm legume salad from the pantry! No longer a slave to my many many cook books!!

  • Ugh… I would LOVE to start cooking like this (on instinct rather than according to a recipe). As it stands, I look in the fridge and see eggs and teriyaki sauce. In my pantry are lots of baking ingredients (I much prefer baking) and chickpeas.

    Eggs? Chickpeas? Teriyaki? Nope. I feel like if I combined those three ingredients, it’d be gross. So instead I just make something processed and in a box. Shameful. I’m really trying to break this habit.

    Thanks for your continuous tips!

    • Jenna
      We need to get you to just try!
      I know it can be a bit scary at first… especially if you’re a baker and used to precision.. but the only real way to learn to cook instinctively is to trust your instincts and give it a go.
      Hope we’ll get you there soon :)

  • I used to follow recipes also, but wondered why I felt so frustrated and defeated every time I cooked. I never had every ingredient necessary, and it never turned out the way it should have.

    I don’t know when or how it happened, but I just stopped using recipes. At first, I had to learn how to substitute ingredients when I didn’t have them. (The internet is awesome for suggestions). Then, I started guesstimating measurements for spices/oils/vinegars, out of laziness, of course. Then one day I realized I’d been cooking for months without a recipe in my hands.

    I only use recipes now for inspiration and cooking instructions. I want to know what goes good together, and I want to know how long to cook it for. After that, I just wing it! Check the fridge, grab a few items, throw everything at the pan and see what sticks. Didn’t turn out the way I hoped? That’s okay! I know I didn’t follow a recipe, so I don’t feel like I failed. And it’s still food, albeit not very flavourful, so it doesn’t go to waste.

    Oh, and to Jenna: Eggs, chickpeas, teriyaki? Add some fresh or frozen veg and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal!

    • Nice one Manda!
      Lovely to hear your story.. you’re all over it
      And I’ll second the egg chickpeas teriyaki + veg suggestion..

  • What a coincidence… I just tried this recipe last night! I bought your two-minute meal plan ebook, and I love it. I know I’ll have a learning curve, but your book makes it easy to get started. The beans turned out great. My kids are used to the usual canned baked beans (some of which have a lot of weird ingredients BTW), so they didn’t love this recipe right off the bat. But I am committed to cooking this way, I know they’ll get used to it. My husband and I loved the beans, all I had in the fridge were green onions, so I used those. See, your method works! If I’d been following a strict recipe, I’d have said “Oh no, I don’t have regular onions” and given up.

  • I get a lot of flack for not following recipes. My “old standby” dishes have a bit different flavor each time. And people say to me, “Why can’t you just follow a recipe?”. In my mind, having it taste different each time makes it more exciting! And lets me know what works or doesn’t work.

    Funny story, I once had my best friend in the kitchen with me while I was making a simple sauce for our pan seared pork chops. I deglazed the pan with the bottle of white wine we were drinking, she handed me some garlic and parsley which I added, I put in some dijon mustard and whisked the pan while we were talking. And she said to me after the meal, “You have to teach me how to make that sauce”. I said incredulously, “You just watched me make it!!!!”.

  • This turned out amazing! I used chickpeas, red bell pepper instead of onions for my aromatic, added a sprinkle of dried red pepper and just a tiny dot of bbq sauce. I’ve eaten canned baked beans all my life and these really surprised me with how good and simple they are!

  • I really love your recipes. It is always quick and easy. Thanks for sharing. I always decide my cooking plan depends on what ingredients I have in fridge. Just cook whatever I got and fit it into cooking methods that in my knowledge. :)

  • I wasn’t unhappy with my meal planning but didn’t always want to take the time to sort through recipes, etc. before going to the store/market. Sometimes I would just get x types of meat and x vegetables but I was usually left trying to figure out what to do with it all (which is when I would google recipes with the ingredients I had).
    I got the 2 Minute Meal Plan and think the template recipes are genius. I love the flexibilty of the recipes and the ideas for variations. Not to mention that I can shop the way I want to and have plenty of ideas of ways to cook up the food that I buy. I love the live links and all of the extras that were included. You said this may not be for everyone, but it’s perfect for me. That doesn’t mean I won’t use regular recipes on special occassions, but I am really glad that I purchased it. Thanks Jules!

  • Fab suggestions!! I find working without set recipes often results in some unexpected outrageously yummy meals!!

    Definitely need a fairly well stocked pantry to make this work though.

    My fave template is my lentil soup – fry the spices, onion, garlic and ginger, add tomatoes (can or paste) add potatoes (if you have them), add lentils (any kind), stock, boil away. Then, after about 40 mins, either add chopped up fresh greens or frozen spinach! Hey presto, simple and yummy!


  • Thank you thank you thank you for this recipe! I have been searching for a baked bean recipe that I can adapt to my needs. I’m sensitive to salicylates and salicylates are in pretty much everything with flavour – tomato’s are out, spices are out….but….legumes are in! I used spring onions (normal onion is also out), 4 bean mix as it was all I had in the cupboard, and my homemade “tomato-less sauce” made mostly from kidney beans and pears. I added a pinch of brown sugar to sweeten it a little and the result was not too bad. I’m wondering, do you think garlic would add to the flavour in place of the spice?

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