I've always believed that I should follow a recipe to a T the first time I made it, a rule I've pretty much stuck to. That way I have a good idea what the cook was going for and can base any improvisation from a solid base.
But lately I've been getting a little more cavalier with my spontaneous tweaks and substitutions, even on the first go-around. And the truth is, I usually regret it. It's hard to know if I've improved on something if I don't have the original to compare it to. Plus, I've ended up with some rather colossal failures, which with today's food prices is nothing to shrug off.
If you do decide to go off-road with your recipes, here are some resources to help you do it wisely.
Cooking Without Recipes
• Cooking Without Recipes: Understanding Flavor
• Cooking Without Recipes
• Good Quote: On Cooking Without Recipes from Chef Jason Bond
• Italian Template Recipe: Pasta, Meat, Greens and Cheese