It's not just you. I've used online recipes since before the Internet was publicly available, through very old mailing lists and BBSses back in the fog of time, and my experience was always like yours - I would cook those (or obv. from old-fashioned books) and it was almost hit & miss. Even if I did everything just perfectly fine, many recipes just weren't that great. I assume that's because cooking just is a very varying thing. Your ingredients will be of varying taste and quality; measurements are usually relatively vague (especially if you're working by volume, not weight), and so on.
Presumably, even if a recipe works great for the person creating it, or for a percentage of people following it, it's either random chance, or because they correct for those variables intuitively.
For me, I can trace my intuitive cooking back to a few very specific basic "discoveries", or very basic recipes:
- Buying a wok was awesome, as it lets you experiment very easily. A very basic method is this:
** Pick some easy meat, i.e. chicken, cut into bite-size pieceses. Start with that, and roast it in the wok until brown on the outside, and white on the inside. Then push it up the wok to stay warm.
- Throw in some amount of rice that seems about right, and cook that a little bit in the residual oil from the meat, until it smells nutty.
- Throw in water (twice the amount of the rice, by volume), and add spices (salt and whatever else you want), maybe some squirts of tomato concentrate (as spice, not as main ingredient), maybe a pinch of sugar, a few drops of lime juice. The spices I mentioned can go into a surprisingly large amount of foods, certainly in most soup/rice-like ones.
- Push the meat into the mess, and let all of it cook until the water has been taken up by the rice and/or evaporated, and everything seems to have good mouth texture.
A recipe like this is vague enough to force you to understand what the individual bits & pieces are doing, and to give you enough freedom to experiment. Do that! Just look at your kitchen and throw in whatever is not obviously wrong. Experiment with sharp, sour, sweet tasting condiments.
A second great avenue are salads. A very very basic recipe is this:
- A head of green salad, cut into small ribbons per taste.
- Tomatoes, sliced&diced, as much as you want.
- Olives (I love black olives), cut 2-3 times per olive, as much as you want.
- Balsamic Vinegar (look for the label "Modena" if that's available for you)
- Olive Oil
Just throw all of that in a big bowl in this order (no need to mix up the spices/fluids before) and mix it very well.
Then cook any kind of meat you like (i.e., a big rump steak, a few chicken legs, or whatever else you are comfortable with). If it's not finger food anyways (i.e. chicken legs), dice the meat and throw it onto the salad. Enjoy.
The third is soups:
- Throw some diced bacon into a big pot and brown it on all sides. It is fine if it leaves a dark residue on the floor.
- Slice an onion and cook it until it's brown/glassy (reduce heat to avoid burning it; this can take 10 minutes).
- Slice & dice whatever veggies you like (cauliflower is great for me; but also peppers or leek; I also love having really a lot of onion in the first step), and throw all of those in one after the other, get a bit of heat into all of them. No specific timing required.
- Add salt, pepper, optionally something hot, optionally garlic powder (or actual garlic), and/or all other kinds of spices you can imagine. A pinch of sugar, few drops of lime juice, any and all mediterranean spices, any and all Mexican spices... knock yourself out!
- Add a good amount of heavy cream and maybe a bit of water to achieve a consistency you like, to just cover the whole amount of veggies.
- Add a good amount of cheese (Gouda etc.) that dissolves easily.
- Let all of it stew for 20-30 minutes with lid on and very low heat (very slight bubbling, no all-out boiling).
Again, this is a base recipe which is intentionally vague, but each step means something; i.e. you're layering tastes and ingredients. It invites you to vary. You can for example use tomato juice instead or on top of the heavy cream. Nothing in it should be hard or even possible to mess up.
While cooking, try to imagine how the tastes and smells react to each other. Obviously for these recipes there are some ingredients that do not fit well (don't throw in any Nutella :) ). By starting with easy, not critical recipes, you get confidence, and by varying everything (ingredients, heat, time, etc.) you get experience.
Eventually, you can just throw stuff together seemingly at random, and it always tastes acceptable at least, if not great!