How (not) to read a recipe

The Fearless Cook’s kitchen is getting a facelift. Where once was a doorway is now going to be a wall to add more kitchen space. So in the spirit of preserving my sanity I will write about the act of reading recipes, according to me.  

the kitchen doorway to become a wall

I’ll be the first to admit that I think I have adult attention deficit disorder. It has taken most of my life to figure out how I figure things out. To learn something new takes every bit of patience and focus I have to “get it.” For me, practice and practice and practice, does make perfect. Once I have mastered a task, I find shortcuts to get to the end product quickly.

For the average cook, the basics of cooking start with reading a recipe.  True chefs or chemists understand how ingredients and flavors coalesce. They can taste their way through cooking.

The first recipe I ever followed was Snickerdoodles. It is basically a soft sugar cookie that uses cream of tartar instead of baking soda and is rolled in cinnamon-sugar instead of granulated sugar.  I mastered the recipe mostly through observation. I saw all the ingredients going in, how to roll the dough into balls, pop then into the cinnamon-sugar blend, drop the dough onto the cookie sheet and into the oven. Easy, right?

I made a lot of cookies because it was so easy.  But I couldn’t eat cookies for the rest of my life, I had to cook something else, like dinner? I then discovered soups and chili. Another easy cooking format. Throw all the ingredients into a crock pot and turn it on for 8 hours and voila! dinner for eight.

Reading a recipe is like reading a short story. A writer gets better at her craft by reading, so, a cook should better her skills by reading a recipe, right? When I read one recipe at a time I get a glimpse at a culture and the melding of the ingredients like characters in a story. And just like when I read, if I don’t understand a part in the story, I read it over and over again. I’ve found that I  “get it” when I put my reading of the recipe into the actual act of cooking. Hands on and making mistakes as I go along.

A difficult recipe usually has many ingredients and steps to complete to get to the finished product. This takes a lot of focus on my part. I try to read the recipe from beginning to end. Even though I think I have a good idea of how to make it, I end up going back and forth from the cookbook to the stove, from the cookbook to the chopping board and so on. There isn’t much finesse and flow in my approach. Last year I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It took an entire day for me to make the recipe the way Julia advised to make it. I patted dry each piece of beef before I braised it and I didn’t crowd the mushrooms!

One friend told me that she and her husband would read recipes to each other and discuss them. So, last week on Valentine’s Day, I had my husband read the recipe aloud to me. It actually was more fun to cook that way and we shared in the preparation. It was true team work and saved a lot of time.

I read a lot of recipes. I am drawn to them whether they appear in magazines, TV, newspapers, websites, or cookbooks. I scan the title, the picture, the ingredients, and preparation. If the ingredients are readily available in my kitchen, the flavors are appetizing, and the cooking methods are familiar to me, I will most likely make the dish. I have a short attention span. If I want to cook something for a everyday meal, I want it to be easy to follow and take less than an hour.

But, I am The Fearless Cook, so I will continue to read recipes and investigate different ingredients, one at a time, in the never-ending quest to be an accomplished cook. Even if it takes a lifetime.

Look at all the cookbooks I need to read!