Friday, April 11, 2014

My recipe confession

I can't follow a recipe.

Really.  I sort of believe that I can  follow a recipe, but I have probably never made something according to a recipe without making at least three changes.

Sometimes I post something on the blog that looks like a recipe, but it's not.  It's an attempt to record what I happened to do in the kitchen on one particular day.

There are days when I envy people who can follow recipes.  They can flip through a cookbook, pick something out, buy the ingredients, and make it!  Crazy.  They don't say, well, my husband won't eat those three ingredients, and I don't feel like searching the store for the other one, and no, I don't have a food processor and I can't find my blender, and it's just weird to put cashews in that, and seriously that's like four steps too many, and... forget it.  I read 30 recipes, try to extract the relevant features, then just do something different anyway.

I don't know why I can't follow a recipe.  I'm a reasonably intelligent person, I can follow directions in other contexts, and I appreciate expertise - I know that most people who write cookbooks know more than I do.  I've even thought a few times about writing a cookbook - after all, I do make up most of my own food - but I'm 90 percent sure no one would find it useful.

I think I have two major impediments to following recipes.  First, the way I think about cooking is very intuitive.  I don't think, I want to make this dish, so I'll see what ingredients I have to buy and what I have to do to them to make it.  I think, maybe I'll make chicken today.  What else do I have?  Onions?  What kind of fat should I use?  Do I want to do it in the oven or on the stove top?   How about that weird spice blend I bought on impulse?  This way of thinking about food does not mesh at all with following recipes.

Second, I like my food simple.  I love to eat other people's elaborate food, I love going out to restaurants and trying new things.  But at home, when I look at a recipe, my first step is to start subtracting ingredients and steps.  I love a whole chicken basted with bacon fat and sprinkled with salt, slow-roasted in the oven.  No garlic, no spices, no lemon.  No braising, no marinating, no sauce or complicated side dish.  One of my go-to meal is hamburgers cooked on the stove top.  Throw some sliced avocado or tomatoes on them, done.  My ingredients often don't get past the ingredient stage.  I bought some nice olives?  They don't make it in the meal because I ate them out of the package.  Why would I put nuts in a curry when I could just eat them?

I never measure.  I rarely plan.  Maybe I'm boring.  I didn't spend a lot of time after I went paleo trying to recreate old favorites.  I just ate meat and vegetables and didn't worry about it.  I did experiment a little at the beginning with muffins (actually my most popular post ever on this blog!), but now I just have one go-to muffin/cookie recipe that I make very infrequently because it's so damn addictive that I just want to eat the whole pan.  Alek never gets "paleo treats".  It's mostly because I'm so lazy I don't bother to make them, but it's also because they are hyper-palatable and one bite turns him into a crazy person.  The grain-free banana cake I made him for his second birthday?  He asked for Special Treat Birthday Cake every day for the next three months (to no avail).  I sort of feel like that justifies my lazy approach to food.  If I make elaborate, delicious food that I know will turn out amazing because it's tested and published in recipes, I'll go crazy and eat way too much and screw up my appetite signals.  I guess I'd rather make simple, easy-to-cook, easy-to-eat comfort food at home and save the fancy stuff for the rare night out at a restaurant.

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