What is a “good” recipe?
What do you consider to be a “good” recipe? What criteria do you use to say that a recipe worked and the end result was a success?
Is it about the complexity of flavors? The smoothness of the final soup or the light and airy texture of a homemade bread? Did the soufflé rise properly or is the skin perfectly crisp on the fried chicken? Was the dish well seasoned or did it need some tweaking?
When do you put the asterisk by the recipe, pinch the page or bookmark it on the computer to make it again? Just how many of the recipes you make will you ever make again? If you were to look at the photograph above, you might want to make that recipe. Think again. It lacked flavor and the directions did not work at all.
Today I was going to write a recipe post complete with lovely colorful photographs. A pasta dish. Beautifully plated and seasonally perfect. Delicate egg pasta with a luscious sauce and summer’s freshest vegetables. Just a bit of lightly sautéed prosciutto added at the end to enhance the flavors and give contrast to the dish. Finished with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A delightful dish to serve to guests on a warm summer evening with a crisp dry white wine and a loaf of warm and crusty French bread.
Would you like to join us for dinner? Doesn’t this meal and pasta dish sound incredible? I thought so, too. Hours of standing on my sore ankle in a hot kitchen and piles of dirty pots, pans and kitchen gadgets later, I had very different thoughts. The recipe didn’t work. At all. So, we drank the wine.
I realize cooking is not a science. Baking yes, but cooking no. Recipes are generally an outline. You need to taste and improvise to suite your own preferences. However, when I come across a recipe that appeals to me in a reputable food magazine, especially when it was created by a well-known chef, I expect it to work and have at least some flavor.
I purchase and use high quality ingredients when I cook and bake and I spend countless hours trying out what I would expect to be “good” recipes. I can usually tell by looking at the list of ingredients and the techniques for combing these ingredients what will work and what won’t. However, I cannot tell you how many times we have been completely disappointed by the final dish. The recipes that make it to Bunkycooks are one in three or maybe even one in four that I have tried. Most fail to impress and it is difficult to find one that I can recommend preparing at home.
One kitchen nightmare story that I have shared several times with friends is from a baking recipe two years ago at Christmas. I just had ankle surgery and was restless from lying around and decided to bake this gorgeous cake from one of the food magazines I had been perusing while recovering. Mr. B took me to the grocery store and I spent almost $50.00 purchasing fine white chocolate, hazelnuts, organic heavy cream, espresso powder and other ingredients for this cake.
I hobbled around the kitchen while my foot and ankle swelled in the boot, but I was determined to make this cake. The cake didn’t rise and I assumed I had made a mistake so, I made the cake again. It turned out the same way both times. While I knew there was no leavening agent in the cake recipe, I assumed the recipe was correct. Obviously it was not. It was hard as a rock and not at all like cake. It could have been used as a discus in the upcoming Olympics.
The white chocolate mousse curdled. The hazelnut brittle seized up and would not cook properly. I was frustrated, angry and sore. I went online to see if there were any comments about the recipe. Yes. Several. The exact same things had happened to other people attempting to make this recipe at home. I left my comments and sent a message to the editor of this well-established magazine. I never heard a word from them.
The white chocolate curls and hazelnuts for finishing the cake sit in my basement refrigerator to this day. I never needed them since the cake never was completed. I still get angry thinking about the waste. Who tested that recipe? Anyone? Can you imagine the number of people that spent the same amount of money on ingredients and took precious time making the components of that cake to end up with no dessert for guests at a holiday gathering?