Recipe

This is a dish my mother made fairly often. I’ve been listening to Lynn Rossetto Kapser’s The Splendid Table lately and I find her advice to be pretty sound and her conversations with guests are always interesting. She has some advice on her website regarding “How to Spot a Good Recipe”

One bright red flag is the extremely short recipe. It looks so easy and it can betray you in a nanosecond. That brevity often comes from cutting out the specific information you need to know to end up with something worth eating.

Here’s the rest of the list:

  •    Does the recipe tell you what you can prepare ahead?
  •    Does it tell you how to store the food and for how long?
  •    Are the ingredients specific — not “1 pound beef,” but “1 pound well-marbled beef chuck”?
  •    Do the instructions tell you …

·What kind of pot and utensils to use?
·The level of heat and/or the timing needed for each step?
·What the food should look like, sound like, and/or smell like?
·How to know if it’s done?
·How to serve?

 

Turns out, most of the family recipes I have don’t meet these criteria, but I suppose this is the beauty of foodways as they’re passed down in families. So much gets lost in translation once we try to fit a recipe onto a 3×5 card. I rarely write into a recipe that I sautee most of my vegetables in a cast iron skillet on glass top stove in coconut oil, but I have no doubt these things shape the quality of the food that comes from my kitchen. My failure to make the Danish Grandmother’s poppy seed cake serves as a good example of the inadequacy of brief recipes without the subtle details that might allow us to genuinely recreate a family dish.

I had an argument with a friend a while back about whether one needs a detailed recipe to make bread. This friend insisted that I needed to get a scale and use one of Julia Childs’ complicated bread recipes in order to do it right. I took that as a challenge to learn to bake bread without all the scales or recipes or even measuring cups. At this point, I can actually make a damn good loaf of sourdough without any of those things. However, I discovered that trying to share my methods with someone else poses a problem. In order to allow someone to recreate my bread, I’d have to provide the same complicated level of detail in a recipe that I have such a revulsion for.

I prefer mixing and shaping ingredients in the same way that I mix and shape paint: intuitively, spontaneously, without too much regard for tradition, and a preference for novel results. The recipe for this grits casserole is pretty spare. So here is my attempt at recreating this recipe and you should

 

 

4 thoughts on “Recipe

  1. Chris Lott says:

    I can make a decent loaf of bread without much measurement, but if there’s no good reason not to I vastly prefer weighing flour. I never thought much of it—in fact I was outright dismissive—until I tried it. It pretty much changed my bread-baking life. It turned out the bread I thought was good wasn’t nearly as good as I discovered it could be. I’m just not as good at guesstimating as I thought. In the end I don’t have a philosophical objection to precise measurements where they matter nor does doing so feel like it lessens the creativity for me. There are plenty of other variables for me to play with…

  2. Madara says:

    Lol. I’m glad you commented on this one since I had no idea that I published it. This is a very serious DRAFT. Did you notice that it starts in media res and finishes half way through a sentence?
    As for the bread, I’ll probably start measuring at some point, but for now I’m trying to get to know the dough without the intermediary of the scale or the cup. I’m paying a lot of attention to the texture and smell and hoping that if I make enough loaves, my hands will know something that measurements can’t tell me. I’m not rabidly opposed, I just like not playing by the rules sometimes.

    • Chris Lott says:

      I noticed. I assumed it was an arty move.

      Maybe measuring can tell you something your hands can’t know. Baking just isn’t that mystical experience for me, I guess. For me, the smell, texture and physicality come in the kneading and shaping. Measuring doesn’t get in my way one bit.

      But you don’t ever like playing by the rules. It’s only a problem when the rules are good ones.

  3. Chris Lott says:

    Also: I hope more people will listen to Splendid Table now that it’s on the radio here.

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