Thursday, February 17, 2011

Recipe Searches

I have many pet peves surrounding food industries. One of them is concerning recipes. I have several cookbooks that I've collected over the years. When I first started cooking I thought that if I got one big cookbook like Fannie Farmer or Joy of Cooking all I would need to do is follow them and I would have great food to eat. I quickly learned that just wasn't the case.

A recipe should spell out what ingredients to use and how to prepare them to create a dish. It has been my experience that most recipes in most cookbooks are not good recipes. By that I mean if you follow the instructions exactly as written you will not have a dish that tastes good and/or a dish that works. For example I recently tried making a turtle cheesecake I found in one of my cookbooks. It did taste good but the recipe didn't work because the layer of caramel never solidified. It was supposed to set in the refrigerator but it remained liquid so when you cut into it the caramel just spilled all over. It just didn't work.

I'm left to assume that most of these recipes are either not tested or that the author doesn't know how to write instructions correctly. My bet would be on a lack of testing. They want a recipe book of soups or pastas or whatever but the time is not taken to really scrutinize the recipes. You never know when you pick up a cookbook if the recipes will really be good or not until you get it home and start making them.

These days I look through cookbooks to get good ideas. I'm getting better at looking at a recipe and imagining the taste somewhat accurately. I then take out parts that I don't like and add in things that I think will work better. Then I try the recipe and evaluate what works and what doesn't. Then I modify it again if necessary and rank it on a scale; fair, good or great. If it just doesn't work at all it gets a bad rating and is thrown away.

Once I get enough of them in my recipe box I'm thinking about putting together a small binder with pictures and all of the recipes that are good with detailed instructions. Might be a fun project down the road.


  1. My favorite cookbook is the old version of Betty Crocker. I have never had a recipe fail from that book. I don't use it much anymore, but it is a really good cookbook, and I know they test their recipes. I've been winging it, and making up my own recipes for so long, I only drag Betty into the kitchen for baking.

    I have made some of my best foods by modifying recipes! Have fun creating your own!

  2. We had a Better Home and Garden cookbook that my mother got in 1950 when she got married. Finally bit the dust and the new ones are just not the same. :(

    My grandmothers recipes had stuff like "put enough salt in the water so you can float a raw egg" not exactly exact you know!!

  3. My cookbook is a Better Homes and Garden one too! Unfortunately I never use it! How do you all get up the energy to cook?!?

  4. Della and Winny - it is easy to believe that things were done better in years past. Next time I'm in Manassas I'm going to the used book store to see if I can find an old version Betty Crocker and Better Home and Garden.

    Jessica, I think I have the energy to cook for a few reasons. First, I don't have kids and I think that probably has the biggest impact. Second, since my appetite has come back I'm enjoying food for the first time in about 5 years. So now I'm enjoying preparing it. Third, I've had to replace time spent doing other things with cooking. Same amount of energy being used for something else. The best thing about cooking big meals is that we can spend the next day or two eating the leftovers giving me the chance to rest up for the next cooking adventure.