Now, I love reading recipes. I collect recipes. I have two entire three ring binders of recipes in document protectors. Someday I will get around to organizing the things in a meaningful way but I am not retired yet. That said, as Anthony Bourdain said, “Recipes lie.” They lie in many ways.
First, is the number of servings you get out of the recipe. If you are serving children then maybe you can feed eight with a chicken, but more like four to be safe and even that may not be OK if one of those persons is me. I love chicken, especially a brined, well baked whole chicken.
Second, you cannot “caramelize onions” in under 45 minutes, and I like an hour. OK? So forget about that right now. You can get them a softened up and limp in about 10-15 minutes, but they will be pale and lack the flavor of truly caramelized onions until they are mahogany in color and have no crunch left. Got that? This is an article about the various levels of caramelization.
Not only do they lie about how long it takes to do many things, they may use ingredients like “Reduced sodium chicken stock” and (horrors) low fat butter substitutes. Just ignore that. Use unsalted butter, full fat chicken stock and full fat milk and cream (half and half works well for this as well). These have more flavor and are more healthy for you.
Everything in moderation. We all love sweets and many people love alcohol. You can’t eat sweets or drink if you are healthy, right? Wrong. A piece of pie or other dessert when you are out for your birthday or anniversary are fine. A large bowl of ice cream every night is not. Yes, that is a sacrifice, but there you have it. Enough of this preaching.
Do I follow recipes? Yes, no and maybe. If I am baking, then I follow the recipe to the ounce, gram or teaspoon. Baking is that way for me. If I am cooking most recipes are inspiration for me, not the gospel. A great example is the Pizza Sauce you will find in this book. Wine and red pepper flakes were not in the recipe. It used only chicken stock for deglazing the pan. Italian type food without some wine in the red sauce is just wrong as well as the pepper flakes. I did not think twice about using them, but in moderation. The sauce is awesome. It probably would have been fine without my additions, but I know it was better with them, and yours will be too.
There are some authors who simply really write good recipes. Bobby Flay, Ree Drummond and Jamie Oliver are some. Fuchsia Dunlop for Chinese food. There are others, many, but there are also a lot of hacks. Anyone can write a recipe, but it takes practice, testing and tasting to make really good, replicable recipes. The first web site I ever used for food was allrecipes.com. Chef John (not sure of his full name) is a great guy for home cooking recipes. Nothing I have made from his recipes has failed to impress me. The chili in this book is a riff on his Spicy Turkey Chili, but with beef and other stuff, but I learned to mix chili powder and other spices from this recipe, as well as they way to put the chili together in a way that tastes great.
You probably have recipes, cookbooks or memories from grandparents, parents or friends that are your favorites (as you see in this book) and that is great and I encourage it. These all invoke memories and connect us to our heritage. Keep them and used them, making them your own by making small changes or simply mastering them completely. It is really fun.