Lisa Abraham, Akron Beacon Journal food writer, wrote a recent article on sharing recipes. In it, she says that her job is getting people to share their recipes with her. But she also has a couple of family recipes that she won't share.*
*Her mother gave them to her, with threat of excommunication from the family if she ever gave them away.
I enjoyed the article, but I realized that there is no recipe that I won't share. I'm a recipe oversharer. If you show a hint of interest my cooking, I won't let you escape until I've explained how to make it. In excruciating detail.
That's why I started this blog - I enjoy explaining how to do things, and I love cooking. I'll admit, we don't have any secret family recipes to keep, but if we did, I'd be sharing them anyhow.*
*The closest we have is my Mom's hollandaise sauce. She makes eggs benedict every Easter, and I just love her sauce. She hasn't told me the recipe, but I don't think there really is a recipe. She just says "show up early next year and watch me make it."
I have three reasons for being a recipe over-sharer. The first, as I said in my rant about "The death of home cooking", is that I'm trying to get people to cook at home. If it might get you to cook it at home, I'll gladly tell you the recipe. To paraphrase Michael Ruhlman, I'm part of a growing group of bloggers who have learned how to cook, and we are forming our own community on the web to promote home cooking. I'm writing this, not because I want you to think I'm a good cook, but because I want you to enjoy what I've learned, and try it yourself.*
*When I was in the Steak Cook-Off at the Taste of Akron, I was passing out copies of my recipe to everyone who walked by, including all my competitors. When I went in front of the judges, I explained it to the point that one of them said "Wow - I think I can do that at home myself!" That was exactly what I was looking for...
The second reason is: I don't believe in recipes. I believe in basic techniques, ratios, and flavor profiles. Those are the base of cooking, not some secret ingredient. Sure, I might not be able to duplicate your potato salad (to pick on Lisa), but I can get 98% of the way there with what I already know. One of the things I love about cooking is that Close Enough is Good Enough. You'll often see me attribute a recipe that I put on this blog as "Adapted from..." a source. What that usually means is I used their recipe for most of the basic technique and ratios, then started winging it once I got to the ingredients. Even when I'm making one of my OWN recipes, it's never exactly the same as last time.
*Again, when I was in the Steak Cook-Off, this almost got me in trouble. Tom Lorditch, executive chef of West Point Market, said that they would be checking to make sure that we actually cooked the recipe the way we submitted it for the contest. I asked: "But what if you never make a recipe the same way twice?" He didn't look amused, and said: "My chefs always make my recipes the way I want them to." Yet another reason I'm a home cook, and not a chef.
The third reason is a take off of the second: I believe that recipes get in the way of cooking. I'm a firm believer in The Art of Simple Cooking, as preached by the San Francisco school of American Cooking.*
*Alice Waters, Judy Rodgers, and all the other west coast "get good, local ingredients and don't screw them up" proponents. Of course, that's easier to do in California than it is in Northeastern Ohio in the middle of the winter, but that's a story for another day.
If you really are a Dad who Cooks Dinner, and its Thursday night, you've had a long day at work, the kids are picking at each other again, and your wife is busy studying for her Physics test*, and you just aren't feeling it...you can't spend your time reading a recipe. You need to have the basic techniques and ratios down, so you can just look at what's in the fridge and start cooking. Leftover chicken, onions, peppers, and some canned beans? Chili powder and garlic in the pantry? We're having Chili tonight! The beauty of simple cooking is its adaptability. Once you get used to the basics, you can vary things based on a different flavor signature. See the above list of ingredients? It's also Italian Bean Soup if you use some rosemary and thyme instead of chili powder, and have some chicken stock in the freezer. Or, Stir Fry - make a pot of rice and stir fry everything else with some soy and hoisin sauce.
*Not that that happened to me today...
**And I know this is more Bittman than Waters at this point. If you're really going to cook at home all the time, instead of eating out when you're tired, then being able to Get It Done trumps everything else.
And, OK, the final reason is that I have a strong streak of "Know-it-all" in my personality, and I love telling people how things work. You couldn't tell from reading this blog?
What do you think? Questions? Comments? Better ideas? Leave them in the comments, below.
Lisa Abraham: Don't take secret recipe to the grave [ohio.com]
Alice Waters: The Art of Simple Food
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