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Recipe Dealbreakers


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I tend to be pretty improvisational with my cooking and I use recipes as inspiration rather than direction. That being said, I will discount a recipe if it involves the following:

  • demi-glaces or reduced stocks
  • lard or shortening (where butter can't be subbed)
  • more than 2 or 3 pots and pans
  • instant mixes and "cream-of" soups
  • insanely expensive ingredients
  • deep-frying

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Anything with the words "just before". I can't take the caramel off the heat just before it burns, or heat the eggs until just before they curdle. Because I won't know it's about to happen until it already has.

I know what they mean, but I need the positive instruction (temperature, color, something) and not the negative one. It's like "turn right where the McDonald's used to be."

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I know what they mean, but I need the positive instruction (temperature, color, something) and not the negative one. It's like "turn right where the McDonald's used to be."
Or more commonly, take the exit just before Father Hurley Boulevard, for example. Remove from the heat just before it starts to smoke. Very helpful.
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Michael Ruhlman posted a rather snobbish response to the article in his blog:

http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/2008/06...e-dealbrea.html

And this is what annoys me most about chef cookbooks—or perhaps the publishers of chef cookbooks. They all want to simplify great technique so that the chef's work is accessible to the home cook, which hurts both the chef and the home cook.
Say WHAT? What kind of elitist statement is that?

The French Laundry Cookbook is an absolutely fascinating insight into professional recipes (unless you're Carol and crazy), but it's not a "cookbook" suitable for most home cooks. Happy in the Kitchen is a brilliantly useful book that makes the recipes accessible (I believe Chef Richard actually made all the dishes in a home kitchen while putting the book together). To say that chef cookbooks should not be made accessible to the home cook is to say that we should all just hire professionals for everything or don't bother, or that if we can't manage to bring ourselves up to their level we're somehow not worthy of attention.

Of course, since Mr. Ruhlman strongly disagrees with me, it's likely there will be others here who do so as well, so I'm almost not sure if I should post this. Because of my well-known fondness for Rachael Ray (arguably one of the most accessible and least "cheffy" cookbook authors), I think my views here are no surprise. I'm just tired of "not professional" being synonymous with "not quality." As I'm fond of saying, a swift look at the Shopping and Cooking thread reveals that that is simply not the case.

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The French Laundry Cookbook is an absolutely fascinating insight into professional recipes (unless you're Carol and crazy), but it's not a "cookbook" suitable for most home cooks.

Of course, since Mr. Ruhlman strongly disagrees with me, it's likely there will be others here who do so as well, so I'm almost not sure if I should post this.

You are right, I do disagree with you. Waitman and I are most assuredly home cooks and a common phrase in our house is "What would Thomas do?" We follow recipes to the letter 1st time around, learn awesome new techniques that we fold into our repertoire and then next time around on the recipe we can riff. TK's books are incredible learning tools.

But you shouldn't worry about posting. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, even if it is misguided :lol: .

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You are right, I do disagree with you. Busboy and I are most assuredly home cooks and a common phrase in our house is "What would Thomas do?" We follow recipes to the letter 1st time around, learn awesome new techniques that we fold into our repertoire and then next time around on the recipe we can riff. TK's books are incredible learning tools.

But you shouldn't worry about posting. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, even if it is misguided :lol: .

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to go on record saying that Keller is a genius and there's a lot to be learned from him (his Simple Roast Chicken is probably one of the most regular staples of my weekday kitchen and nearly every dish I've been fed by one of his protegees has been mindblowing). I just mean to say that his style of cookbook should not be the only "acceptable" one for polite society. :lol:
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Michael Ruhlman posted a rather snobbish response to the article in his blog:

http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/2008/06...e-dealbrea.html

Say WHAT? What kind of elitist statement is that?

The French Laundry Cookbook is an absolutely fascinating insight into professional recipes (unless you're Carol and crazy), but it's not a "cookbook" suitable for most home cooks. Happy in the Kitchen is a brilliantly useful book that makes the recipes accessible (I believe Chef Richard actually made all the dishes in a home kitchen while putting the book together). To say that chef cookbooks should not be made accessible to the home cook is to say that we should all just hire professionals for everything or don't bother, or that if we can't manage to bring ourselves up to their level we're somehow not worthy of attention.

Of course, since Mr. Ruhlman strongly disagrees with me, it's likely there will be others here who do so as well, so I'm almost not sure if I should post this. Because of my well-known fondness for Rachael Ray (arguably one of the most accessible and least "cheffy" cookbook authors), I think my views here are no surprise. I'm just tired of "not professional" being synonymous with "not quality." As I'm fond of saying, a swift look at the Shopping and Cooking thread reveals that that is simply not the case.

I disagree too. I think what he is saying is that by using the simplified techniques and expecting the same results is a disservice to the chef and home cook. Are you really going to get the same sauce using canned beef broth versus long simmered veal stock? I don't think so. That is not to say that the results will not be good, just not the same as if you followed the "more complicated" technique. Happy in the Kitchen is an exception and was made to use techniques that are accessible by the home cook. And having used the book several time, accessible is used loosely.

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I disagree too. I think what he is saying is that by using the simplified techniques and expecting the same results is a disservice to the chef and home cook. Are you really going to get the same sauce using canned beef broth versus long simmered veal stock? I don't think so. That is not to say that the results will not be good, just not the same as if you followed the "more complicated" technique. Happy in the Kitchen is an exception and was made to use techniques that are accessible by the home cook. And having used the book several time, accessible is used loosely.
Where does he say "expecting the same results"? I don't think anyone of moderate intelligence who dumbs something down (recipe or otherwise) expects that they'll get results of the same quality. The whole point of the article is that there's a point of ass-busting that just isn't worth it for some people, and that's a choice most people make knowing full well that they're trading time and/or money for quality, and they're okay with that. I just don't think they should be vilified for it. I for one am a big fan of spending a lot of time working on my food, but it's not for everyone, and if there's an easier way to get the same results, I'll take it. Like Scrooge McDuck says: work smarter, not harder!

I'd also like to say that, if I possessed the sort of brilliance that Thomas Keller does, that I would LOVE to be described as an "anal retentive crackpot." All the best geniuses are :lol:

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I disagree too. I think what he is saying is that by using the simplified techniques and expecting the same results is a disservice to the chef and home cook.
I think I prefer that chef/restaurant cookbooks be written in a way that I will learn the proper way to make the restaurant dishes, even if I only make one component of a dish because I can't commit myself to the whole thing. I find it far more frustrating to get a restaurant cookbook and have it dumbed down. For Valentine's Day, I made recipes from both the Fonda San Miguel Cookbook (which had been dumbed down for the home cook) and The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook (which hadn't). An awful lot more time, sweat, and tears went into making the Mansion recipes, but they came out well, and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I liked the meal I had at Fonda San Miguel, but their cookbook is exasperating. It's too simplified. I don't need their cookbook to make these things. Whatever might be unique and special is gone. On top of that, some of the time/temperatures are even wrong. The artwork in the book is beautiful, though.
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I somewhat agreee with Dan. I think the Ruhlman article misses the point by forcing the same inspirations on all chefs and chef cookbooks. Cookbooks are written for different audiences and purposes I think. I don't see why a great chef couldn't write a French Laundry type cookbook as a very-technical and exact guide for extremely serious home cooks or young wannabe chefs who want to learn and practice advanced techniques on advanced and hard to find ingredients and turn around the next year and write an "easy family meal" style cookbook that shows non-cooking busy parents how to up their game just a little bit with limited time/budget/availability/skills or just break out of a 5 day rotation of the same meals over and over. I fail to see how this is a disservice to anyone.

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Quick question that just came to mind, does the same go for other instructional books? Would you want a precalculus textbook written by a college kid who took precalc last semester and currently has a C+ average in Calc I? Or would you prefer a precalc book written by a PhD in math who is probably publishing papers on subelliptic partial differential equations or something? And is it a disservice to anyone (including himself) for him to write it?

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Quick question that just came to mind, does the same go for other instructional books? Would you want a precalculus textbook written by a college kid who took precalc last semester and currently has a C+ average in Calc I? Or would you prefer a precalc book written by a PhD in math who is probably publishing papers on subelliptic partial differential equations or something? And is it a disservice to anyone (including himself) for him to write it?
Good analogy... but not quite there. We're talking more about content rather than authorship. Ruhlman seems to be saying that we should only be publishing papers on subelliptic partial differential equations, and if it's too hard for a fourth grader who's learning fractions, well then, too bad. He's not one of the elite and should be discouraged from mathematics: to hell with making it accessible.
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When I was in eighth grade, my lit teacher taught us Romeo and Juliet. We read it out loud in class in its original language, from books that had "translated" the text on the facing page so that we with our still-soft skulls could refer over whenever we got confused by the phrasing.

Personally, I'd love to have a Keller/Trotter/Richard cookbook that had the complex restaurant preparation on one side and the streamlined "home" preparation on the other. Obviously the quality of the two would differ greatly, but there are times I'm in the mood to commit considerable time and money to dishes, and times I'd appreciate a faster prep without sacrificing the insight of one of these amazing chefs. Room for both, I say.

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Good analogy... but not quite there. We're talking more about content rather than authorship. Ruhlman seems to be saying that we should only be publishing papers on subelliptic partial differential equations, and if it's too hard for a fourth grader who's learning fractions, well then, too bad. He's not one of the elite and should be discouraged from mathematics: to hell with making it accessible.
Ruhlman's talking about chef cookbooks. I don't really expect Thomas Keller to write a 5 ingredients in 40 minutes or less cookbook.
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I disagree. There shouldn't be any "dealbreakers." I have two kids, so I understand situation recipe ethics quite well. But, but, if you want superior results, it takes time and effort, and making some "quick n'easy" version will never be as good as the real deal.
Not tiresome. That was a great discussion!

I never said the quick and easy would be as good as the real deal (and neither does Rachael Ray, unless she's selling something). I think we can all agree that there IS a place for both "situation recipes" (love the term!) and for "real deal" recipes.

I love "real" chef cookbooks, as I've said.

I love quick and dirty cookbooks, as my profile picture suggests.

I just don't see how a chef choosing to publish a more accessible tome is a disservice to anyone. Why can't there be a place for both?

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Just my 2 cents here: every chef/restaurant cookbook is going to be not necessarily "dumbed down" but changed and adapted to a greater or lesser extent for the home cook, unless it is a manual for restaurant chefs. In some cases, ingredients and hardware that are commonly available in professional kitchens are unavailable to home cooks. As are hands to help. Those things will necessarily result in a different final product.

Example #1: manufacturing cream. Much higher in butterfat content than the heavy cream that you and I can buy, even from a local farmer. It makes sauces, cream soups, desserts and ice creams much richer and yummier. Other ingredients and elements are often left out, which are presumed to be unavailable to home cooks.

Example #2: equipment. Restaurant stoves cook at higher temperatures on rangetops and in ovens--searing, pan-frying and roasting are very different processes. More powerful mixers, blenders, and mechanized slicers often result in a very different product than the low power units most home cooks own.

Example #3: many hands make light work. Recipes and processes have to be changed so that one person can manage them. In a restaurant kitchen, many people can be involved in the construction of a dish. And the cleanup afterward.

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Example #3: many hands make light work. Recipes and processes have to be changed so that one person can manage them. In a restaurant kitchen, many people can be involved in the construction of a dish. And the cleanup afterward.

HELL yes. I can't count the number of times I had to stop mid recipe and clean up some stuff because I needed more space or a certain utensil had already been used for something that shouldn't be mixed in. Oh how I would love to have that big metal bin which sits next to the hotline and makes dirty items disappear along with a constantly replenished stack of clean stuff right next to me.

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Quick question that just came to mind, does the same go for other instructional books? Would you want a precalculus textbook written by a college kid who took precalc last semester and currently has a C+ average in Calc I? Or would you prefer a precalc book written by a PhD in math who is probably publishing papers on subelliptic partial differential equations or something? And is it a disservice to anyone (including himself) for him to write it?

Actually, I'd take the one written by the college kid, and since I'm stuck waiting out a rainstorm, I'm going to explain why. [warning: tangent/rant ahead]

An organization called Gordon Training International came up with a learning model called "conscious competence". The phraeseology being awkward, a colleague of mine came up with some simpler terms, which I'll use here. Basically, for learning any new skill, there are four levels:

unaware-unskilled: the student doesn't know what he doesn't know - is unaware that there is a skill to be learned.

aware-unskilled: now he knows that he's lacking a skill and is working at acquiring it.

aware-skilled: now he can perform the skill, but only while thinking about it.

unaware-skilled: he can perform the skill instinctively, without thought.

This fascinates me because while I was developing an instructor training program for a motorsports group, I realized that most car clubs take their best drivers and say "I dub thee instructor" and set them loose to teach novices how to drive. The problem is that although the best drivers are at the unaware-skilled stage as drivers, they are at the unaware-unskilled stage as instructors. They simply don't know how to teach, and teaching is a skill set of its own. (This would be the PhD in your example.) Furthermore, if you're going to grab a driver and turn him into an instructor without any training, the best one to choose is someone at the aware-skilled stage of driving; he may not be a skilled instructor, but since he's still giving active thought to what he's doing, he has a better chance of explaining it to a novice. (This would be the student in your example.)

So, bringing this back on topic, I'll posit that the best cookbooks are written by those who have skills as writers and/or instructors, and level of kitchen proficiency has little to do with it. Being able to explain something in such a way as to get another person to perform is peripheral to the task itself, whether it's calculus, motorsport driving, or baking a cake.

And hey, the storm is over. Now I shall go check out that brewpub before dinner...

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Actually, I'd take the one written by the college kid, and since I'm stuck waiting out a rainstorm, I'm going to explain why. [warning: tangent/rant ahead]
Interesting point and I do definitely agree. That analogy did have some holes in it. In all honesty I learned more from most of my math TA's than I did the professors. But for the record I still think a chef should be able to write any kind of cookbook he wants without it being such a personal offense to the the foodie elite.
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I'll posit that the best cookbooks are written by those who have skills as writers and/or instructors, and level of kitchen proficiency has little to do with it. Being able to explain something in such a way as to get another person to perform is peripheral to the task itself, whether it's calculus, motorsport driving, or baking a cake.

Just about every celebrity chef/restaurant cookbook is written by the celebrity chef WITH OR AND someone else. That someone is a skilled food writer who also has some expertise at cooking, who can help the chef to articulate their method and to structure the recipe and instructions, and all of the other text, too, so that it is coherent and accessible to the person reading and using the book to cook from. eg. Michael Ruhlman, who was a journalist first and then went to the CIA to learn how to cook and how chefs think, and has co-authored both of Thomas Keller's cookbooks, among other books.

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