Friday, February 19, 2010
Or maybe the title should be:
Why Your Food Won't Taste Like Mine, Even If You Follow My Recipe Exactly
I just finished up the last recipe for the maple syrup contest I've been toying with. Deadline is today, and finalists will be notified next week, so keep your fingers crossed for me.
While working on contest recipes, I learned a lot about my cooking. What seems so natural to me in the kitchen doesn't translate really well to the written word.
Most of my cooking is done with a bit of this, a handful of that, and a little taste here and there to adjust things. Even my bread creationss are made by look and feel more than by weights and measures. Most days, I start with yeast and liquid and add the various dry ingredients until it looks the way I want it to.
Part of my goal in blogging about my cooking is to force myself to measure things as I throw them into the bowl or pot. If I want to pass along my recipes, I need to quantify better than by the handful or by the drizzle.
So that part's easy enough. I can pour into my hand, then scoop that into a measuring spoon, and I can write down the amounts. And I can set a timer or watch the clock so I know how long it really takes to knead the bread or brown the meat, or whatever it is I'm doing.
And I can take photos of what I mean when I say the yeast should be bubbly or the dough should be stretchy. In the photo here, we've got some bread dough that's beginning to get stretchy, but it's still tearing. It hasn't reached the smoothy, shiny, super-stretchy phase yet. While the photo tells part of the story, it doesn't capture the dough hook in motion, or the flow of the dough as I lift the hook. It's probably good enough, though, for someone to get the idea of what I mean.
What I can't do when passing along a recipe is to expect that anyone else is going to have the mad array of homemade products that I use. For example, most of my everyday breads use whey instead of water. The whey is left over from when I've made yogurt. No way do I expect anyone to make yogurt just so they have leftover whey to put into bread. The recipe will work as well with water, but it won't taste exactly the same.
I suppose it's good to tell yogurt-making people that whey is a good option for a particular recipe, but no matter what, leftover whey is not a consistent product. There will be more or less yogurt mixed in the whey depending on how it was drained, and the flavor will be different depending on how tart the yogurt was. So even if someone's got leftover whey, it's not exactly like the whey I had on a particular day. But then again, I guess it's no worse than the differences between brands of canned tomatoes or varieties of hot sauces.
So meanwhile, I do my best. The turkey meatballs were tasty, I wrote down amounts and instructions, and I sent it off to the contest. We'll just have to wait to see how it fares. At the worst, I'll have a bunch of recipes to share after the week is up. At best, I'll have a little extra cash to spend. Probably at the grocery store.