The trend in contemporary recipe books is that of the master instructing a novice and creates an environment that doesn't allow for inspiration or creativity. Sure, there are ways you can “mess up” when cooking, but that does not mean it's wrong, it just might not come out the way you intended. That's the only real key to a successful meal, achieving an expected outcome. To say there is only one way to do things is just ego. Culinary arts are considered art for a reason, and art is subjective and open for interpretation. To be successful in the kitchen, you need to get comfortable with making mistakes and taking risks.
There are a few fundamental things that can help you become more creative in the kitchen.
1. Understand the five basic flavors
Umami is not just a pretentious made up foodie word, its an actual flavor that cannot be easily described and translates to "taste" or "flavor." It is often described as meatiness or savory and is frequently associated with mushrooms, beef and MSG (monosodium glutamate). These five flavors work together to create flavor profiles. Menus are designed to develop impressions based on how much each flavor gets used in a specific dish or course.
2. Stop worrying about substitutions.
For instance, you may discover that you don't have the duck fat that the recipe "requires." Relax and take a breath, think about it for a moment. Any fat can be substituted with a different fat; any starch can be substituted for another starch and so on. Worry less about "what's right" and more about what flavor profiles you want to create. Are you a gluten-free vegetarian? Don't worry; you can still make a roux with avocado oil and chickpea flour.
3. Find the best possible ingredients you can.
Quality can't be stressed enough. Simply buying local, fresh ingredients from farmers who care about their crops and animals will instantly make you a better cook. Think about it this way; if you build a house with rotten wood, it won't stand for very long, will it?
4. Have fun!
Enjoying the moment is the most critical fundamental; the more fun you have with it, the better your food will be. That's why some folks swear you can taste the love that goes into a meal. Happiness should be considered the "6th flavor."
To get you on a more creative culinary track, the book I recommend is “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Again, no book is the "word of God," it's merely a starting point to a possible creative outcome.