I often receive mail from readers who write to ask if this ingredient or that can be substituted with something else.
Although a few of the substitution ideas are a bit alarming, at least they suggest a cook who is prepared to experiment. And that is the heart of original cooking.
But how about letting a recipe develop itself?
Quite by accident, on a recent trip to the supermarket, an idea for one thing morphed into another - and produced an entirely different version of one of my favourite cakes.
I needed a few things from the supermarket. While I was there, I looked for inspiration on what to bake - a cake, a loaf or something for dessert. Should it be something for breakfast, dinner or something in between? Or, as it turned out, something suitable for any meal.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: SHREDDED COCONUT AND BANANA LOAF
80g shredded coconut
250ml plain yogurt
100g melted butter
2 large or 3 small bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
140g caster sugar
220g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground clove
1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
2. Lightly grease a 9x20cm loaf tin and line the bottom with baking paper.
3. Put the coconut in a bowl along with the yogurt. Stir to combine and then allow to soak for about 15 minutes.
4. Place melted butter, mashed bananas, beaten eggs and sugar in a large bowl and stir in the soaked coconut mixture. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together into the bowl and stir well to combine.
5. Spoon batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.
6. Allow the loaf to cool in the tin for five to 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. Dust the top with a little icing sugar.
I was inclined towards something using bananas, just because there were a few becoming extra-ripe at home.
While picking up eggs, flour and other groceries, I was cruising along an aisle when a bag of shredded coconut caught my eye. Aha, I thought, a coconut and banana cake or loaf would be a good idea.
Next, I was at the cold-food section for some butter and milk and thought why not add yogurt to the loaf or cake to give it some tang? So a small pot of plain yogurt went into my shopping trolley to join the shredded coconut.
Once back home, I set to making the recipe that had pretty much developed itself from my shopping trip: a shredded coconut and banana loaf.
The result was something that could be eaten any time of the day.
It is different from the standard banana bread you may be familiar with and versatile too: Toast a slice for breakfast and serve with butter and jam; serve another slice plain for afternoon tea; or add fruit, ice cream or custard for a tasty dessert.
To add to the ad-hoc nature of the recipe, an equally good but subtly different result could be obtained by substituting the yogurt with buttermilk for a creamier taste.
A handful of fresh raspberries or blueberries folded into the batter before baking would also add another dimension to the taste.
Another touch might be to sprinkle shredded coconut on top of the loaf before putting it in the oven to add a little bit of crunch.
As for over-ripe bananas, I was once given a tip worth passing on.
It sounds a bit odd, but if you do not have time to cook anything to use up over-ripe bananas, you can freeze them.
There is no need to put them in a freezer bag as the skins act as their own protection.
When you are ready to use them, simply take them out to thaw, mash and use in the recipe.
• Tan Hsueh Yun is away.