Recipes are Roadmapsmichael williams
It’s hard to miss this – but the secrets of How to Prepare Food has been written down for more than 3,500 years. After evolving from hunter-gatherers into the earliest agrarians, builders, and traders – civilizations considered the importance of preparing foods. Such instructions of the early cuisines (Babylon, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and possibly the Indus Valley) were the very beginnings… written on tablets! Today I am writing this blog on a Tablet, substituting wet clay and reeds for plastics, metals, and my two fingers – hunting and pecking away! The shared purpose of food’s importance still remains. You could say the recipe has been time tested.
During my time in culinary school, I learned that Chef Escoffier’s recipes are the standard for how classically named dishes must be prepared. From the Ancient Greeks and Romans to the Persian Princes and old English Kings, following the necessity of exactitude was a promise of kitchen success.
Family heirlooms from generational kitchens to museum collections of culinary history, it’s the recipes which connect our palates to our memories. Equipment and tools change like a child’s palate. Techniques and tips have become more straightforward and scientific. Ingredients have become more accessible (first with trade then by leisure travel) and with better shelf-life. The concept of writing it all down to follow has never been more obtainable.
The printing press quickly brought household cooking to a new level. Such knowledge and talent ushered in the early versions of the modern chef. Food Writers, either as critics or as chefs, authored treatise and recipe books, offered instructions and corrections. Eventually the domestic cook had collections of recipes containing ingredient listings with weights and measures, step by step methods, and preparation tips providing reliable results. New flavors were introduced, acquired, and replicated. Discovering and cataloguing both ingredients and techniques were page turning reads.
Entrepreneurial chefs created restaurants where anyone could dine. These were initially as menus of simple specific foods, such as a soup or the one choice main dish. Those hot kitchens supplied what were most desired. Eventually these eating places were run by guilds.
Chinese kitchens used what they cooked with for eating as well – chopsticks. Very useful. Tip: if you want to become proficient using chopsticks, practice taking pieces of ice from a glass of water. After the knife (cutting, scrapping, and stabbing the food), the spoon (likely a seashell) was needed to consume hot liquids. Which begs the question: “which came first, the spoon or the bowl”?
The early version of a plate came centuries before the fork. Forks were not very popular at first since eating with a fork isn’t better than using fingers. However, a fork does prevent staining the skin when eating certain foods. The first non-natural (not being plant matter) plates – not bowls – were actually settings of dense “bread” whereby the food (think roasted meats) rested upon it and also absorbed the fat drippings. Of course the nobility, after dinner, tossed the plate out the window… which was eagerly consumed by the hungry peasants.
Soon menu horizons expanded, and foods were cooked by non-affiliated chefs, eating places included lodging options, and kitchens began a revolution in organization. Then in a faraway dining room, at a table, a long, long time ago… someone declared “I can cook that”! And such was the beginning to avoid the dark side of the pantry and come towards the light of the range – showing the need for more recipes, kitchen demonstrations, food shows, food clubs, and food networks or it happened something like that.
Books on Cooking are among the most popular of non-fiction publications. I suppose non-fiction is up to interpretation because I have definitely experienced seemingly out-of-this-world foods in my life and some foods that should be launched into orbit. Nonetheless, people love to cook and frequently rely upon on a zealot’s following of recipes for success. Why so serious?
Relax and look at what the recipe is truly telling you. Unless you are cooking a named classical dish, recipes are truly just a roadmap to get food from the kitchen to the plate. Substituting and adjusting are enjoyable – advancing your culinary abilities as your appetite and palate become increasingly adventurous.
Too often specialized cookbooks treat recipes as an echo chamber for dieting fads. Remember the word “diet” simply means “the foods you are currently eating”. Meaning you are already on a diet and have always been so. We’ve been told there exist a magical health potion called “dieting”. Generally, it is someone just changing what they usually eat. Nothing overly profound, but I do recommend reading a basic nutrition book and to the extent you can, visit the grocery to look and learn – explore each aisle and shelf, talk to the butcher and the baker and the produce attendant. Groceries and Markets are generally comfortable places to do that. Take notes and go home and write down a new recipe. Unless a physician is prescribing a medically beneficial need to alter something about your physiology, why not just change how you make the food – by changing the recipe? Make your own roadmap!
A typical Recipe will have the following components.
The NAME – less is more here, avoid superlatives, they will be proven wrong. The YIELD – easily divisible by 2 for useful servings. If an oven will be used it’s nice to identify that before the ingredients list: “pre-heat oven to xxx°F”.
The next section is the INGREDIENTS with their Weight or Measure – if there is specificity to a particular ingredient, either source or style, list that. If you are using just a single egg then its amount is “1 each”. If an ingredient is used twice in the method, meaning a portion of the ingredient is used in one step then the remaining portion in another step, you can list the ingredient one time by indicating that. Here’s an example of how to indicate this: “butter 12 ounces, divided”. This means, 8 ounces will be called for in one method step, then in a later step, the remaining 4 ounces will be needed. Use these universal descriptors: gal; qt; pint; C; T; t; Pinch (measurable equaling an eighth of a teaspoon); and Smidgen (measurable equaling a sixteenth of a teaspoon). For little amounts of a pourable ingredient (e.g., hot sauce) provide the number of drops.
Professional pastry chefs and bakers don’t use recipes (not precise enough), they use “formulas” which are more accurate. Such professionals “scale” all their ingredients. Meaning the ingredients are weighed. Pounds (#) and Ounces. Of course, you will run into metric weights or measures or avoirdupois (pounds and ounces), luckily the internet has plenty of charts to help with the needed conversions. Also, when you list the Ingredients consider when (Method step) it will be used.
A few words on Butter. It is sold in pounds and that is how commercial kitchens purchase butter, 36 pounds at a time (one case). Even clarified butter is sold by weight, in 5-pound containers (30 pounds in a case). Chefs don’t often use “sticks” of butter, we weigh it instead of relying upon the manufacture’s label. Then if needed, we mathematically convert to Cups (an old kitchen saying: “a pint a pound, the world around”). That’s way better than the old “add a walnut of butter” measurement from a few centuries ago.
The next section of a written Recipe is called METHOD. It’s where you numerically list each step by step. Think of each significant task performed. If something is to be prepped, such as being diced for a later addition to the dish, list the task then “, reserve”. For example: “Peel and small dice the parsnip, reserve”. Which means dice it now and put it somewhere because you’ll need it later and don’t want to then dice it while the pan scorches the food. Additionally, I like to give a little space between the numbered steps for the cook to write notes.
Useful phrases in a Method step include: “In a ‘sized’ bowl,”; “Over low heat,”; “Using your hand/fork/wooden spoon,”; or “Carefully grasp using a folded dry towel,”. Consider what act is being done and what is the needed affect. “Stir to combine”; “Fold in by thirds”; “Gently toss”; “Whisk vigorously”; and “Stir continuously/occasionally”. For example: “In a medium skillet over high heat, add oil then lay the filet by placing it down moving away from you” or “Using a wooden spoon, gently stir, while scraping down the sides”.
At the end of the recipe it’s nice if you provide an OPTION to consider, so write those out separately below the Recipe Method. Same goes for helpful TIPS. One last consideration is to visualize the dish being made – be succinct and practical in your steps, and as my old friend liked to say, “be true to the cuisine”. Meaning avoid the fad of fusion confusion.
Recipes are a written plan with a defined goal – they may include descriptions of techniques or tips about what to look for or how to avoid trouble and recipes provide the necessary steps needed for the ingredients and how to finish. Doesn’t that sound like a roadmap? Hey, there’s more than one way to get to Flavor-Ville.
Here are some easy bits to get you thinking outside the salt box.
Using The Kitchen Flavors Products with On-the-Spot Recipe Ideas and Quick Applications
The ubiquitous Fry Sauce. It’s not just for fried potatoes anymore. Great as a quick dip/sauce for other fried foods, kid’s taco dressing, or a sandwich spread. FRY SAUCE RECIPE: In a bowl, whisk ½ C of mayonnaise with ¼ C ketchup and 1-2 t “mood seasoning” (Papas Shake or Tex-Mex Smoky or Southwest Sunset). You might add a dribble of sweet pickle juice or a splash of mustard too.
Make your shell egg investment count. Garnish your fried eggs with Backyard Grill or Tex-Mex Smoky or Southwest Sunset.
Whisk in some Wedge Wow in your Cream of Anything soup. Try 1 T into a quart of soup. (Chicken Sanity for your… soulful soup)
Southwest Sunset loves marrying vegetables with butter or olive oil.
Mix in ½ t Chicken Sanity to 1 T softened cream cheese to create a spread for a chicken patty sandwich.
Backyard Grill on your fast-food burger – unwrap, de-bun, and shake on the flavor.
Add some Vampire Proof to your pasta dish or on a chicken breast before cooking.
I will post another blog soon with longer recipes using our Products.
Be happy, write some recipes, and cook them for someone.