Dear Lynne: Where others improvise like crazy in the kitchen, I plod. I have two left feet in the make-it-up-as-you-go department. My mantra is, follow the recipe to the letter, or fail. Can you actually learn to improvise? -- Stymied Sam
Dear Sam: You, too, can learn to riff. Here is what to remember:
Follow the technique to the letter (using common sense when needed), but vary ingredients and/or seasonings.
Let's take the basic burger. Usually, it is merely ground beef slow-cooked on a grill to 160 degrees degrees at its center (to avoid any tricky organisms). That is the technique; stick with it.
Here is the improvising. The juiciest, tastiest burgers that won't crack the budget are made with 85 percent lean ground chuck. Improvise seasonings by gently working in salt, pepper, minced onion and, if you like, basil, oregano, hot pepper sauce or smoky Spanish hot paprika.
Keep the patty tender by lightly shaping it into a 4-inch ball, burying a tablespoon or two of shredded cheese in the center. Gently work it into a round that's an inch or more thick. Grill as the recipe instructs.