My favorite way to cook is without recipes, using only ingredients on hand. I'm not sure if it's my personal genius, my innate laziness, or just an inability to take direction. In fact, my favorite "cookbook" is Culinary Artistry which is more of a guidebook than a cookbook. You can look up an ingredient and it lists a variety of ingredients that complement it, as well as preferred cooking methods. It's a dream for someone like me. I've always used cookbooks for inspiration, rather than actually following a recipe.
For example, I wanted to use sweet potatoes and some wild sockeye salmon steaks that I had on hand to make dinner tonight. I've already combined these for a great dinner in the past, making hash browns out of the sweet potatoes and poaching the salmon in wine. Tonight, I had no white wine. So, I poached the salmon in brandy (Culinary Artistry lists cognac as an ingredient with salmon - I fudged). I ended up making a puree of the sweet potatoes (a preferred prep/cooking method) using butter and cinnamon. Then, just for fun, I spread the sweet potato puree into a souffle dish, sprinkled brown sugar on top and stuck it under the broiler for a poor-man's brulee. Yum.
Did the kids like it? Yes and no. Bug inhaled it. Peanut did her usual pick and pull. She actually ate some of the salmon which is a new food for her, added this past month. She's usually a self-proclaimed vegetarian, save nitrate-enhanced meats like hot dogs and ham (her favorites).
The only downside to my style of cooking is that we rarely get a repeat 'round these parts. So, if you loved dinner, you really better savor the moment as it's likely you'll never have it quite the same way again. It was also a bit painful in the early years when the flops were more frequent.