March 24, 2014: Recipe Errors & Judgments

March 24, 2014


There is something about a recipe that just begs to be trusted.

I always want to trust to that someone writing a recipe has put in the necessary research, experimentation, and documentation that I myself would do (and have done for recipes featured in the blog.) Sadly, this is sometimes not the case. I now look at recipes as a guide only and tend to trust my experience and judgment to freely  amend any recipe I use.

Veggie Bisque

Veggie Bisque

I first started doing this, years ago, while this making biscotti from a recipe in a pretty good cookbook that I had come to trust and had guided me in making a number of delicious dishes. Looking at the quantity of flour required for the recipe, my first reaction was “Wow. That’s looks pretty skimpy.” Sure enough, the recipe called for roughly 1/3rd the amount of flour that made a good biscotti! I wrote a scolding comment in the margins of the cookbook and have now made it correctly many times since.

Ratatouille Nicoise

Ratatouille Nicoise

So, knowing how wrong recipes can sometimes be, I feel particularly burned when I go against my instincts and completely trust a recipe. I tend to do this only with meat recipes, as being a vegetarian for many years I feel as if I don’t always have the proper experience for meat dishes. Such was the case last week when I was asked to make a French dinner to celebrate my young friend Katie’s 11th birthday party. I pulled out all stops and made a meal which I thought might appeal to the palate of her young guests:

Zucchini Crown2Vegetable Bisque (topped with a dollop of sour cream and chives)
Crepes (with choice of grilled chicken and lemon-bechamel sauce OR Beef Bourguignon)
Ratatouille Nicoise
Minted Green-Pea Timbales
Zucchini Crowns
Salad (of lettuces with Spiced Pecans, Blood Orange, Star Fruit, and Raspberry Coulis)
Homemade Eclairs
Kiwi Slices with White Chocolate and Blackberry

Raspberry Coulis

Raspberry Coulis

The recipe slip-up for this meal was the Beef Bourguignon. It called for 3lbs. of beef to feed six people. As 18-20 people were expected at the party, I felt as if I had no choice but to double the amount, although my instinct told me that was too much. Sure enough, my instinct was correct, and I stuck the hosts with double the amount of the most expensive part of the meal. I could juxtapose this faux-pas with my own recipe for raspberry coulis which then, as ever, was just perfect.

So…I guess the general rule is: if your haven’t actually written the recipe, give it the benefit of doubt, and when in doubt….trust your instincts.

Minted Green Pea Timbales: A fine dish, yet nonetheless hated by my entire family and 11-year-old girls.

Minted Green Pea Timbales: A really fine dish, yet nonetheless hated by my entire family and now….11-year-old girls.

My other error is ever thinking that I could please an eleven-year-old with a meal of this caliber. After a weekend of hard work followed by disappointment, now I know that young American adolescents have a preternatural radar for….and aversion to…anything even remotely healthy. If it had carbs and sugars, they were all over those. The refill batch of eclairs never made it to the table, as they were snatched up on route! The dark and milk chocolate towers of Eiffel, the girls swarmed and devoured in the manner of (as one adult  put it) ” a school of piranha!” All veggies were eschewed (as opposed to chewed.) The main course was mainly eaten by grown-ups or (pathetically) went to leftovers.

So my new chef’s rule: if you aren’t old enough to partake of the wines that go with a fine French meal, it’s boxed mac and cheese all around!

[Much thanks to Teja Arboleda for the snaps taken with his IPhone]

Homemade Eclairs: Nothing but a fancy Boston Cream Donut

Homemade Eclairs: Nothing but a fancy Boston Cream Donut

The two majestic Eiffels. Dark and light chocolate.

The two majestic Eiffels. Dark and light chocolate.


One comment

  1. Hi Steve,

    Your dinner sounded wonderful….just the adults could truly appreciate it. Our Traditional Christmas Day dinner was beef Bourguignonne served with Spaetzle . Christmas Eve, for,many years, was an all white dinner of cream of potato leek soup, fillet of sole, orzo, and vegetables. Then, a certain daughter, whom you know well, started an aquarium in our house. Each fish had a name, naturally.

    End of fish on Christmas Eve.

    Things are different now, and we have a wide variety of dishes served. Makes it ever interesting.

    You should give cooking classes…….it’s the thing , now. Charge enough to cover all the ingredients plus at least $10.00 or more per person.

    You would be terrific as chef /teacher.

    Take care,
    Kathy Avery

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