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Recipe Usage


weinoo
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So I have this habit - whenever I'm cooking/baking something that I feel I need a recipe for, I will sometimes looks at 3, 4, 5 or even 6 recipes. Especially if it's something I might be trying to make for the first time.

For instance, I'm making sourdough bread - it's bread baking season here in NY - once the temp. drops below 60-ish, I can fire up the oven again. Anyway, not my first sourdough experience, but I still have out 2 Peter Reinhart books, the King Arthur book, a Cook's Illustrated article, jackal's great tutorial here, and so on.

And of course, my first two breads of the season sucked anyway. But it is a process.

So, many times I will try to join the recipes in some way - not as easy as it sounds with sourdough making, as everyone has a different technique, starter, etc. But for some recipes it works well - take a pinch of this from one recipe, a dash of that from another, and you get the picture. Julia says do it this way, Jacques says do it that way. Marcella likes butter in a certain dish, Bugialli doesn't...

Anyone else have this crazy habit?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Oh, absolutely I do... Especially when I'm trying to make something I've only seen a picture of or that I've eaten in a restaurant and I don't have the recipe for. I'll Google an ingredient or a recipe name (Oysters Rockefeller is a recent example, the "greed" dish for my seven deadly sins tasting menu), as well as pull out cookbooks and old magazine clippings, read through them all, and (hopefully) come up with an amalgamation that a) approximates what I saw or tasted and b) has my own personal stamp and c) tastes good. :biggrin:

In the process of my kitchen renovation, I had to sort through and reorganize all my recipe clippings and I found that there was a definite theme running through them (years of accumulation that I hadn't looked at for a while led to many, many duplicates) which is consistent with my cooking style... Every so often I get a wild hair that I'm going to get even more organized and index all of the clippings so I can pull out all of the "pumpkin cheesecake" (another timely example) recipes and compare them, but really, it's all I can do to get all of the cheesecake recipes into a single file folder--I'm never going to be able to subcategorize by ingredient or type.

The great thing about eGullet is that you're never alone!

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I absolutely do. I go on binges. Particularly when I come back from vacation. I recently went to Savannah, GA and in the following week went on a Southern cooking binge. I bought two cook books while I was there and had several more already. I borrowed more from my sister. Then I hit the internet for recipes to see if I was missing anything. I turned all my friends and loved ones on to She Crab Soup.

Don't even ask about my trip to Mexico for the first time. My family was begging for mercy. Enough salsa already!

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I do exactly the same thing: pull every cookbook off the shelf with that recipe, compare notes, shuffle, collate, and go from there.

You got it - even when making a cocktail, there might be 100 ways to do it.

Funny story - a friend came over for the first time and saw all my cookbooks - then asked me why I needed them all? As I rolled my eyes, he pulled out Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and said, "if you have this, why do you need all the others?" Got a good laugh.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Just curious, why does the temp have to drop below 60 to bake bread? :huh:

Only because our apartment has air conditioning in the bedroom and living/dining room. I really try to avoid turning on the oven in the hotter summer months.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I don't usually bake, as I hate to follow a recipe exactly. But, I always do exactly what you are talking about. I find every recipe I have for a certain dish and decide what parts I want to keep and which I want to leave out.

Or, if I have an ingredient on hand, I will find 20 similar recipes that call for it and combine parts of several to develop my own "original" recipe. I prefer to never use just one source for anything, whether it is research or recipes.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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Just curious, why does the temp have to drop below 60 to bake bread? :huh:

Only because our apartment has air conditioning in the bedroom and living/dining room. I really try to avoid turning on the oven in the hotter summer months.

I'll bet. They ignored the most critical room. Since we run AC 9 months I just can't relate.

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If it's something fairly straightforward (most recently, crepes) I first check here, for wisdom concerning my dish, then I consult my Big Three cookbooks, the voluminous go-to-it-for-everything books, Cooks Illustrated, Joy, and the Gourmet cookbook, to compare and contrast. That usually does it for basics. If I still don't "get" it, I hit Harold Mcgee and Cookwise.

If it's a more complex dish, or one open to a lot of interpretation, or I feel like I still haven't learned enough, I hit the lower shelves. There's where I find more regional approaches, older, newer, more specialized. I always use more than one recipe, but depending on what I make, it could be from 3 to seemingly 300.

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Seems as if I'm a bit of an exception to the usual views here. I tend to think that the first time I cook something new I should stick to one recipe. Mixing a bit of this one and a bit of that one is fine once you know what you are aiming for, but I think the first attempt at something new is best done using one person's cut on the thing.

Now I will look at recipes in a number of different books and choose the one I like best. But first time out I will probably stick quite close to the recipe I finally go with. Once I see how one recipe comes out, I feel better able to make alterations or (in extreme cases) dump it and find another one altogether.

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When it comes to baking ... that's black magik. You follow the incantations and do it EXACTLY as you're told or turn into a newt. For everything else... it's a lot like sex. There is no right way. You want to understand the theory, the don'ts and the taboos. After that--- it is all what makes YOU happy. And when you're in unexplored territory... then you get the thrill of being your own Magellan and get to bury the mistakes... deep in the trash ... of the medical building down the street... with biohazard stickers all over the trashbag. (And you don't tell anybody-- ever.) Dozens and dozens of cookbooks, google searches and other tools for learning theory. If you still don't feel right-- Ouija Julia Child or kidnap Alton Brown. But that's my thing.

hvr :biggrin:

"Cogito Ergo Dim Sum; Therefore I think these are Pork Buns"

hvrobinson@sbcglobal.net

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Pretty much the same here...I check a few online recipes and pick the one that I have the most ingrediants for. Except last week when I had to have Alton Browns Lava muffins...I substituted some white chocolate and cocoa for the dark chocolate....it worked

T

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

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How many recipes do I use? Billions and billions ...

Why? Because it's fun. I'm a secure enough cook that I can look at the ingredients in my fridge and think: "OK: Pork, fennel, apples, a can of beer" and make dinner. "Damn, where are those five new potatoes?" That's my standard MO, baking always excepted.

I read many cookbooks, and read them carefully. When an interesting recipe gives me a slow, seductive wink from the page -- a better idea, an interesting method, a new way to squander half a pound of butter -- I'm a thrilled as a schoolgirl with her first tube of Tangee.

I follow the recipe closely. If it were something I know I could improve on I wouldn't be using it in the first place. Was it Brillat-Savarin who said that the discovery of a new dish is like the discovery of a new star? I feel that way about a new recipe. I seek them out and I use them. It's how I grow as a cook.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

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I read many cookbooks, and read them carefully. When an interesting recipe gives me a slow, seductive wink from the page -- a better idea, an interesting method, a new way to squander half a pound of butter -- I'm a thrilled as a schoolgirl with her first tube of Tangee.

I follow the recipe closely. If it were something I know I could improve on I wouldn't be using it in the first place. Was it Brillat-Savarin who said that the discovery of a new dish is like the discovery of a new star? I feel that way about a new recipe. I seek them out and I use them. It's how I grow as a cook.

Exactly (except for the part about the lipstick).

When exploring a new cuisine or cookbook, I usually follow a single recipe pretty closely. The goal is twofold: 1) make edible food, and 2) learn about the cuisine, the author, the dish, the techniques, key seasoning combinations, etc. When it comes to food (and, um, pretty much everything else), I realize that my ignorance vastly exceeds my knowledge. As the dude said, recognition of ignorance is the first step to wisdom (or something like that).

When cooking a familiar style of food, I am much more likely to mix and match several recipes, or just wing it (but your question wasn't about winging it).

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How many recipes do I use? Billions and billions ...

Why? Because it's fun. I'm a secure enough cook that I can look at the ingredients in my fridge and think: "OK: Pork, fennel, apples, a can of beer" and make dinner. "Damn, where are those five new potatoes?" That's my standard MO, baking always excepted.

I read many cookbooks, and read them carefully. When an interesting recipe gives me a slow, seductive wink from the page -- a better idea, an interesting method, a new way to squander half a pound of butter -- I'm a thrilled as a schoolgirl with her first tube of Tangee.

I follow the recipe closely. If it were something I know I could improve on I wouldn't be using it in the first place. Was it Brillat-Savarin who said that the discovery of a new dish is like the discovery of a new star? I feel that way about a new recipe. I seek them out and I use them. It's how I grow as a cook.

"The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star." (My emphasis) Brillat-Savarin

I'm curious...I was thinking how this this topic ties into 'how many cookbooks one owns', another great topic, but one which got me thinking...how many recipes does anyone actually follow from your average cookbook? For example, Bittman's. How many dishes have you actually made from that book? I have tons of cookbooks, but only a few that have given me more than a handful of recipes, and just one or two, like Jose Andres's, which have lots of great recipes that I actually cook repeatedly. And some, like Diana Kennedy's first book, that read well whether you're preparing the recipes or not. So my question is, how many recipes from cookbooks you've bought are 'keepers'?

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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Especially now with the wonders of the Internet, I'll often Google a bunch of different recipes to research all the various ways one can do a dish. (Sometimes this strategy is thwarted when I discover several of the recipes I've Googled are identical, obviously all copied from one source). I'll also check at least a couple different "dead tree" cookbooks (i.e. ones printed on paper). Most times I'll merge ingredients and procedures from several recipes; occasionally I'll decide to go with one particular version as written, for any of a variety of reasons (I like the assortment of seasonings, or actually have all of them in the house, or ... just because).

There are very few recipes that I do exactly as written, down to the last detail--mainly baked goods, because, as has been pointed out, these foods are much more dependent on precision in ingredients and method to get their chemistry to perform correctly. However, as I become more and more experienced with cooking techniques in general, I'm becoming more and more aware that there are certain other dishes that also benefit from a more precise approach (one example off the top of my head: a recent topic on getting the skin on pork belly to really crisp up properly). But then I still wind up looking at a bunch of different recipes--and often as not, find several that contradict each other. :wacko: So then I'm back to the "pick one or merge several" routine--and taking notes on what worked and what didn't for the next attempt.

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Especially now with the wonders of the Internet, I'll often Google a bunch of different recipes to research all the various ways one can do a dish. (Sometimes this strategy is thwarted when I discover several of the recipes I've Googled are identical, obviously all copied from one source). I'll also check at least a couple different "dead tree" cookbooks (i.e. ones printed on paper). Most times I'll merge ingredients and procedures from several recipes; occasionally I'll decide to go with one particular version as written, for any of a variety of reasons (I like the assortment of seasonings, or actually have all of them in the house, or ... just because).

There are very few recipes that I do exactly as written, down to the last detail--mainly baked goods, because, as has been pointed out, these foods are much more dependent on precision in ingredients and method to get their chemistry to perform correctly. However, as I become more and more experienced with cooking techniques in general, I'm becoming more and more aware that there are certain other dishes that also benefit from a more precise approach (one example off the top of my head: a recent topic on getting the skin on pork belly to really crisp up properly). But then I still wind up looking at a bunch of different recipes--and often as not, find several that contradict each other. :wacko:  So then I'm back to the "pick one or merge several" routine--and taking notes on what worked and what didn't for the next attempt.

This is pretty much exactly what I do, except I'm more likely to deviate a bit from things even in baking recipes. But then I'm not super picky when it comes to (say) my muffins, and I rarely have a recipe completely and utterly fail. :raz:

Kate

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At home: I'm very much a 'read a bunch of recipes, pull the good bits from each and come up with my own' sort of person. If it's something I've never made before, that's what I'll do every time. (If it's something I have made before, I usually won't look at a recipe.) Check my cookbooks, do a search, but ultimately, I rarely follow an exact recipe. Like eskay, I even fool around with baking recipes. It's fun to experiment!

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Just in the past few days, I've participated in both extremes.

Corn bread: we used the recipe from CIA Pro Chef (the same recipe makes corn muffins or corn bread, depending on what you bake it in), divided in half. I've found that when Pro Chef has a recipe, it usually produces excellent results. The dry ingredients are given by weight, and I have a lot of confidence in the testing procedures. Most of the recipes are about twice as big as you'd want to make at home, but they're easily halved on the fly.

Banana bread: I could tell that the banana nut bread recipe in Pro Chef was too fussy and professional for us (cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer, etc.). I'm sure it would have been delicious, but we wanted a more rustic recipe that used vegetable oil for a super-moist bread like mom used to make, and that didn't require using the KitchenAid mixer. So we pulled maybe ten books off the shelf in order to arrive at a consensus set of ratios for the dry and liquid ingredients, as well as consensus baking times and temperatures, and then we improvised. A little dangerous, but in this case it worked out really well.

Most of the time, when we use recipes at all on our house, it's for baked goods. Sometimes specific sauces and other items that need exact measurement. Otherwise, cookbooks are mostly for general ideas.

(Note: Pro Chef = "The Professional Chef," from the Culinary Institute of America. I've mostly been using the sixth edition, or "Pro Chef 6." I also have the seventh and eighth editions, but Pro Chef 6 has several favorites marked off and I haven't migrated yet.)

Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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