Recipes, Recipes, Recipes
Paper or Electronic?
I know the younger generation might do everything electronically, but I still love paper. I might look up recipes on the Internet, but I still end up printing them. Often, I don’t follow the recipe. For me, a recipe is usually just a starting point. Then there are the preferences of family members. Add to that food intolerances or allergies.
Since the recipe is the starting point for me, I am usually writing in changes before I even start. Additionally, a printed recipe – be it in a book or a recipe off the Internet – is just easier to read through, write down notes, changes, timing, etc. And then while actually making the recipe, sometimes you run into issues and want to write notes. Finally when it’s all done, a good chef will write notes for the future – even if it’s, “This was AWEFUL, mark DO NOT MAKE AGAIN in computer.”
How Many Recipes Do You Have?
I’m thinking about moving to another state. Recently I went through all the recipes I had printed over the years and am sorting them in a way that make sense to me. A bunch went into the trash. Some were 30-50 years old. We may have liked them years ago, but tastes have changed, and my methods have improved, so some were just trashed. I still have a stack on the coffee table that I haven’t finished putting either into binders as keepers or into the folders I created to “try.” One folder is just labeled “cookies.” I’m hoping to make many different kinds this December for the holidays and keep only the best recipes.
What about You?
What is your process? Do you have just a few “go to” recipes, or do you have thousands, like I do? What are your challenges? As we head into fall and hopefully cooler weather (we are still having July temps here in mid-September), what recipes are you hoping to make, aching to make? Is there anything that’s a struggle for you? Are you a recipe follower or a creator?
Here are some of my challenges: My biggest problem is that I don’t have anyone to cook for anymore. I want to try hundreds of recipes, then create my version of those recipes. But cooking for one has it’s own challenges. When I make a loaf of bread, or a chicken, or whatever, I’m either eating it for days or freezing part.
Then there’s health in the senior years. My health this past 18 months has been a huge challenge to cooking, too. Losing the use of my dominant hand for 8 months, the surgery that followed took another 8 months of rehab. Breaking my big toe while I was still recovery from that surgery and trying to get that back into place has been painful and a challenge. On and on it has gone, one health challenge after another. I’m still struggling with a brain issue. I started having minor strokes called TIAs in my 30’s. That has left some residual challenges, and currently, debilitating headaches have caused me to lose entire days when I have wanted to cook, but have been unable to.
I’m NOT saying this for sympathy but to point out that we ALL have challenges. Some of you have a bunch of toddlers at home. Maybe you have a family member with serious allergies. Or maybe you’re the caretaker for an ailing parent. Maybe you work full time and have a family. Maybe you never learned to cook growing up and are just lost in the kitchen. We all have challenges. But I’m hoping we can build a community of women who are helping other women in the areas where we struggle.
Recipe Follower or Creator?
I’m watching the MasterChef finale right now as I write this. Watching Nick do his gastronomy dishes are amazing. I’m glad that he will be training at Alinea with Grant Achatz in Chicago. I’d love to go and eat when he’s training down there before I move too far to make that trip. Watching Dorian do short ribs in 45 minutes is mind boggling. One thing about the MasterChef series is watching these chefs create. Occasionally, they had to duplicate a dish they are being taught, but usually they are creating.
My Dad, The Creator
My dad was a creator. He seldom even looked at a recipe. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, standing in front of the stove, looking at the spice rack and saying, “What am I going to create tonight?” He took the protein that was available and created from there. We always had staples in the house: flour, breads, potatoes, rice, pasta, home canned fruits and vegetables, frozen vegetables, and more. So he was working from, “I have this protein, what do I do with it? What would taste good together?
My Mom, The Recipe Follower
My mom, on the other hand, had to follow recipes. She also didn’t like to cook. Actually, to be really honest, she hated all things homemaking. Her plan was to pass off the homemaking chores to me as soon as possible. All of us older kids had chores from an early age, but being the only girl, I had extra chores, including the cooking. She started me at age 9, if I remember right, and by age 12 I was doing most of it, along with my dad.
The Creator in Me
Being ADHD, I liked the way my dad cooked. But I also understood that some recipes – like many baked goods – need a recipe or at least a very good understanding of food science. They are more technical, there’s more science involved. I like variety. I like to be creative. So, for most dishes, I’m creating – even in baked goods.
When I had my muffins in grocery stores, the baker I hired asked how I came up with the process to incorporate SO much bran and make it so soft and “invisible” in the muffins. I had fluffy, delicious Bran muffins. When I took them to events, I had to put a warning that they were LOADED with fiber and to only have one. So, even in baked goods, once you understand the science, you can still create, or as I call it, “play.” But that’s me. I love to play in the kitchen. I love to create.
A Master at Creating
Grant Achatz is a master at blending flavors and creating a full-sensory dish. If you watch Master Chef, you saw him a few weeks ago (Season 10, Ep 18), you learned a little about what he does. He created a green apple flavored edible helium balloon to give to the judges when he walked on stage. The helium is what was flavored, not the edible balloon.
I’m not saying as home cooks we need to go that far, but I am saying that he is a master at creating food that excites all the senses.
How Do You Create?
When I was in culinary school, my Food Science teacher showed us a video of how Grant’s team creates a new dish. They sit down with a blank sheet of paper in the center of the table. They write in the center of the paper the food they want to use. It’s large and they circle it. In the video, if I remember right, it was some fresh organic raspberries that their produce vendor brought to them and asked if they wanted first pick. From there, the chefs started calling out flavors they would pair with the raspberries. Nothing was discarded at this point. Anything goes. It was not unlike my dad standing in front of the spice rack, or peering into the fridge or pantry, they just did it on paper. They were writing down what was possible in no particular order – just scribbled all over the sheet. They might have had 50 items on their sheet. Then they started drawing lines. Raspberries go with almonds, chocolate, pecans, Cointreau, champagne, meringue… But if we decide to use Cointreau, what pairs well with Cointreau? Will Cointreau be IN the dish, or served WITH the dish? Cointreau has an orange flavor, so we know orange would go well with it. Orange goes well with chocolate (draw a line) and almonds (draw a line). What could we create with these flavors? Are we using dark chocolate or white chocolate? Raspberries are sweet and delicate in flavor, but could we cook them down into a thick syrup and make the flavor bold? Do we want to? In their scenario, they would draw lines to the different flavors that pair well with each other. As they are doing it, they are thinking about how they would use that flavor. Because they are super experienced at this, the entire process didn’t take that long. They soon had the flavors they wanted and then talking aloud how they would use them. Then they would make a sample. Does it hit all the sensory points like they imagined? How is it presented? It has to take the breath away when it’s first seen. On and on it goes.
Creating – for the Untrained
But how do we, especially someone who never created on their own before, know what pairs well together? I talk about it a little in a base soup recipe I wrote a few years ago. But you can also buy a book called “The Flavor Bible.” My Food Science teacher told us about it and I ordered it before I left class that day. I have been cooking for over 50 years now and am pretty good at thinking about two flavors and saying “yum” or “eww, no!” But I learned very quickly in culinary school that my flavor repertoire was very limited. The book helps me expand the possibilities.
Lentil Soup – A Base Recipe
As I mentioned, a while back I did a post on creating a Lentil Soup recipe with the flavors YOU like. I gave a base recipe. I have made it so many times over the years that I wrote the blog without even looking at the recipe. I encourage you to identify flavors you like and start creating from there. Here’s the Blogpost: Lentil Soup – Base Recipe.
Learning Flavor Affinities
The Flavor Bible lists around 75 things that go well with Lentils. Then it lists some flavor affinities – those that traditionally go well together. It also lists a couple of dishes (not recipes) that are chef favorites. Chef Gabriel Kruether states, “I like lentils for soup with a smoked ham hock. For seasonings, I recommend thyme, bay leaf, and a pinch of cumin. You can add bacon or sausage, or serve it with potato galettes on the side.” You won’t regret getting this book. I pull it out regularly.
While his shows aren’t always cycling on one of the stations, Chef Michael Smith open his “Chef at Home” TV series with the phrase, “Cooking – without a recipe.” As he goes through the show, he explains what goes well together, ratios, and more. He eases you into the thought process of cooking without a recipe – playing in the kitchen.
I bought one of his cookbooks and have made some of the recipes. What I liked about his cookbook Fast Flavours was that you picked the speed of cooking: Conventional, slow cooker, pressure cooking, etc. So each of the recipes gives the preparation method instructions that fit your time frame. This book was written right before the Instant Pot came out, so don’t expect Instant Pot specific directions. All I had was a small stovetop pressure cooker, which worked well for me at the time.
He has other cookbooks. Two that really speak to our topic of creating without a recipe are Back to Basics: 100 Simple Classic Recipes With a Twist and The Best of Chef at Home: Essential Recipes for Today's Kitchen. Both of these will explain the science, then train you how to add your own twist or flair. One of the “aha” moments I had watching his show was making biscuits using frozen butter. What a game changer!! I know the recipe is in the book, The Best of Chef at Home.
Bringing it Home
Going back to some of my original questions, are you a creator or a recipe follower? Do you like paper or electronic? Do you write notes on your recipes? Do you have such a large collection that even if you made three meals a day and never repeated a recipe, you might not cycle through all of them in your lifetime (that’s me!!)? Or do you have just a few favorites? Do you want more tried and true recipes? What type of challenges do you face? Let’s get a discussion going.
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