Saturday, 29 October 2011

Recipes - How To, and How Not To

Today the man and I were wandering in Waitrose looking for lunch ingredients, when we spotted a pork loin.  'What are you supposed to do with that?' asked boy, to which I replied 'This' and held up the accompanying cunning marketing strategy, i.e. a recipe from Delia Smith on smooth stiff leafletty paper.

Having got most of the ingredients home, we discovered that we didn't as we had thought have any creme fraiche, were going to need a pastry brush, and that the apple we had got was quite deliberately the wrong sort.    We also decided not to add the demerara sugar to the caramelised apples, for healthy purposes.

My point being - most recipes are just for inspiration.  Waitrose uses them to inspire you to buy creme fraiche as well as meats.  I use them to find out (for example) what other people think goes with salmon so that I can impress people with tasty combinations.  When it's your recipe, you don't even need any instructions - just quantities, like in the picture above.  But there are proper ways of doing it, laid down since the beginning of Cookery Time by folks like Mrs Beeton, and Delia is not good at it.

When making a recipe for someone, I feel that you should:

1) Mention any unusual equipment at the beginning.  Make it clear if for example, very small jelly moulds are required, or if you can just use ramekins; if a large or mini version can be made.
2) Order the ingredients in the order in which they will be used, in groups as they will be mixed.
3) Explain what weird ingredients are, where you can find them, and what a good substitute would be, at the top of the page.  Ideally, only use one weird ingredient as a feature.
4) Don't just put 'carrots - chopped' in Ingredients; put 'chop the carrots' or 'prepare the vegetables' or something in the instructions at the appropriate point, so that people remember it needs doing.
5) Sprinkle the instructions liberally with 'meanwhiles'.  Most cookery is a 3 or 4 -stage deal, with different tasks overlapping - make the icing while the cake cools, make the gravy while the meat rests, saute the onions while someone makes you a G&T ;P.  Worst offender for this sort of thing is putting 'Preheat the oven' at the END of the recipe.  I have seen this.  It should be a capital crime.

Delia reckoned that her roast pork took 40 mins to make, from start to finish.  Where she puts the start line to end up with a figure like this is a mystery to us, because it sure as hell didn't take ten minutes to prepare with two of us doing it.  But maybe too many cooks spoiled the broth on that one.

A friend of mine stayed at my granny's house once, and granny served her blueberry pie.  When he asked for the recipe, she sent him an absolutely exhaustive recipe for how to make the perfect pastry from scratch and so on.  Slightly daunted, he has still never actually made the pie, but is confident of his ability to do so.

This blog was started with the idea - the overarching idea - that if I can rustle something wacky yet impressive up on a whim having read BBC Food and watched a couple of YouTube videos, you can too - given comprehensive-enough instructions.  I hope I have succeeded.  If not? Moan at me in the comments :)

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