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the sometimes danger of following a recipe :-)
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madameshawshank



Joined: 30 Sep 2004
Posts: 1654
Location: Penrith (where jacarandas remind me of change), New South Wales, Australia

PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 5:58 am    Post subject: the sometimes danger of following a recipe :-) Reply with quote

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/03/food-magazine-typo-poisons-sweden/

Can you even begin to imagine 20 whole nutmeg (seeds?)...'n they cause serious poisoning..

However, I guess if you've never used nutmeg..and see a recipe...in a magazine...well...off you go...äpple kaka med 20 nutmeg frön

take care, dear bakers..take care!

I've just thought of the time I came across the recipe for chicken with all those cloves of garlic...40...I couldn't believe it..thought it a typo for sure..however..'tis a goer!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 12:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Although this one had graver consequenses than most, recipes with errors are much more common than people imagine.

Look at any of the recipe dump sites on the internet. None of those recipes are kitchen tested (most of those sites don't have kitchens, let alone culinary specialists on staff). And judging from what gets published, nobody proofreads them either.

Virtually every recipe I've ever downloaded from one of those sites either has ingredients missing, has the amounts wrong, has the directions wrong, or a combination of the three.

Now most of the time these are errors easily recognized and corrected by an experienced cook. But the problem is, those sites, by their very nature, appeal to beginners. These are people who, after two generations that confused microwaving with cooking, want to prepare real food. But they lack any gestalt. Net result: When the recipe doesn't come out right they blame themselves. Enough frustrations like that and they leave the kitchen for good.

The problem certainly isn't confined to internet sites. A couple of years ago I finally worked up the energy to go through a 25 year backlog of cooking magazines; clipping what I wanted to keep and discarding the rest. When you view dozens of magazines all at once, like that, you notice things that might otherwise have slipped by. Among them:

1. Tom Leher once noted that if you steal from one person it's plagerism; if you steal from everybody it's research. Well there's a lot of "research" done by cooking magazines, because you see the same recipes, over and over again, with no attribution. While it's true that recipes cannot be copywrited, common courtesy would dictate some credit be given. The irony is that if the original included an eggregious error, it gets picked up and repeated all the way down the line.

2. Despite what they claim, very few magazines kitchen test their recipes. At least not as they appear.

3. I doubt if most recipes are proofread, because they often abound with errors of commission and ommission. The more likely the recipe comes from a celebrity chef, the more likely it is to have not been proofed.

4. Recipes written by noted chefs are not to be trusted. Even when the recipes does not contain errors there are two problems with chef-written recipes. First, most of the time, they are mathamatically reduced from his/her service quantitities, rather than prepared in the home-kitchen quantities of the recipe. This doesn't always work. Second, the recipes are not prepared on home-style ovens. And trust me, "medium" on a commercial cooktop is not anywhere near the same as "medium" on your home stove.

So, if you clip a recipe from a magazine, and it doesn't turn out as expected, don't be quick to blame yourself. Go over the recipe carefully, and see if you can analyze what went wrong, and whether the cause was a mistake in the recipe.

More times than not I think you'll find it is the recipe, and not the cook.
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David



Joined: 30 Sep 2004
Posts: 1855
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 3:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fascinating! I like your writing KY!!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, David.

Writing is what I do for a living. To me it's no big deal.

This subject, however, has been festering for quite some time, and I was just glad of a logical place to get it off my chest.
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 12:02 am    Post subject: Cookbook authors you can trust? Otherwise, develop your own Reply with quote

Do other people have cookbook authors they do trust? Mine is Vegetarian Planet cookbook author Didi Emmons. She must field test her recipes very scrupulously. I would recommend her books for even very beginning cooks. I am able to follow even her weirdest recipes to the letter, and they work! I have never found a problem with one. I have also found (this is not flattery because the blog is linked to Clothilde's website) that most of the recipes in Chocolate and Zucchini are very reliable.

Other cookbooks, and websites can, in my experience, be risky. My own feeling is that we have to develop good cooking skills and use recipes for inspiration, but be willing to make changes if the ingredients or techniques look "off" or, alternately, if they are not to our tastes. I develop most of my own recipes, partly because I don't like following rules, and because I am a very picky eater. I have several shelves of cookbooks including Chothilde's, but use them more as inspiration than to follow to the letter. I grew up in the 60s in the days of TV dinners, Campbell's soup-based recipes and bizarre colored salads made with Jello, cottage cheese and various canned fruits that looked like dead, dismembered limbs when submerged in green or yellow gelatin. My mother had some good cooking skills that she learned from her mother, and taught me, but mostly she was an early feminist who felt cooking was degrading, and disliked it. We ate mostly convenience foods when I was growing up. I learned to cook through trial and error. I destroyed our family microwave (an early model which was not as safe as the current ones) by incinerating a bagel, and made some disastrous recipe combinations like substituting Weight Watchers powdered beef broth powder for stock in Julia Child's onion soup recipe. (It was delicious if you like your soup really salty and with a slight chemical tang.) It was through my mistakes that I learned. I was driven by a desire to eat real as opposed to packaged food, and to provide my family, including parents and siblings with nice tasting, carefully prepared food. I just hope that novice cooks today, starting as I did with the cultural devastation caused by the processed food industry keep going past the mistakes to learn how to make truly good food. My brother who is a vegan (I am not vegetarian but love vegetarian recipes, as I adore vegetables and grains) gave me some vegan cookbooks with recipes developed by punks, and posted on punk websites. I was impressed at how enterprising, and original these people are. I, myself, would not make a Spanish tortilla with tofu (I am too fond of the original will egg and potatoes) but I am impressed at how people with no background in cooking have come up with a whole new cuisine.


Dory
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spellchick



Joined: 24 Dec 2006
Posts: 13

PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dory, I do trust, every time! Now I'll know better.
Also dory, Clotilde (no 'h' in her name!) sounds like an easygoing cook, no worries. Please direct us to a "punk" cook blog-- I've never heard of one!



KENTUCKYH your note says that "Despite what they claim, very few magazines kitchen test their recipes."

"I doubt if most recipes are proofread."

" Recipes written by noted chefs are not to be trusted."

"The more likely the recipe comes from a celebrity chef, the more likely it is to have not been proofed."

"Virtually every recipe I've ever downloaded from one of those sites either has ingredients missing, has the amounts wrong, has the directions wrong, or a combination of the three."

holy lunchtime, bad luck! In your writing, have you Inside knowledge & worked for these magazines? I can't think of any trouble I've ever had, why wouldn't the y protect their reputations carefully?
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vickyc



Joined: 13 Aug 2008
Posts: 19
Location: SF Bay Area

PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dory, regarding cookbook authors you trust: I really like Deborah Madison, of Greens Restaurant fame. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is one of my staples, and I just picked up Vegetarian Suppers, which I also like. I learned to cook from Vegetarian cookbooks (I also was raised on TV dinners and casseroles until my mother married an Italian who took over cooking duties). I am no longer vegetarian, but I refer to my vegetarian cookbooks often as a launching pad and then add meat to complement whatever I'm doing.
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Judy



Joined: 29 Sep 2004
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Location: buried under a pile of books somewhere in Adelaide, South Australia

PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I remember making a delicious-looking slice that was on the cover of an early Delicious magazine. One of Jamie Oliver's recipes, I think. It was a total flop.

By coincidence the same week I was at a lunch hosted by Delicious magazine and I mentioned the failure to a friend who is a chef, and he had had exactly the same problem. I don't remember if we worked out what was wrong 'cos we were onto our 3rd or 4th Frangelico with lime & crushed ice by then!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 12:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

>have you Inside knowledge & <

No, Spellchick, no inside information as such. Closest would be my position as Reviews Editor for Cheftalk.com. I get to see a lot of cookbooks. And have all the opportunity I need to actually interview the authors.

My conclusions come from a lifetime of cooking from those publications, culminating, as I said, with going through a 25-year collection all at once. When you do that, things that may lie just under the surface become very apparent.

Notice that almost all the points I raised are interconnected. And perhaps people would be more comfortable if, instead of "not to be trusted" I had said "should be met with suspicion."

For instance, the reason many recipes written by celebrity chefs don't work are threefold:

First, they are likely to have been mathamatically derived, rather than prepared in the amounts given. Sometimes this works. But often it doesn't.

Second: Professional stoves operate at much higher Btu outputs than do home stoves. So, when you have a skillet sitting on a 10-inch eye, over "medium" heat, you are working at higher temperatures, and more even heating, then when doing the same thing on a 5-inch eye and the "medium" heat of a home stove.

Third: Chefs are concerned with cooking, not writing. Once they've sent their recipes in to the publisher they are very unlikely to read them again. And it's a long road, filled with rocks and shoals, between the chef's submission and what actually appears in print. Typos and errors can creep in at any step of the way.

The long and the short of it is you can dine at that chef's restaurant and really enjoy a particular dish. Then, when you try making it at home, from his/her own recipe, it doesn't come out anything like the one you ate.

My concern is not with experienced cooks. Most of the time you can tell, just reading the recipe, that something isn't quite right; and make adjustments. My concern is for people who grow up like Dory, and are just coming back to real cooking.

When, time after time, things don't work out, they blame themselves. "Cooking ain't my thing," they conclude, and go back to the world of fast food, and frozen entrees, and nutritionally blank convenience products.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just one more comment on this, Spellchick, cuz I know you think I'm being overly harsh.

Let's look at the article that started this thread. Remember we're talking about a printed recipe that specified 20 whole nutmegs---a ridiculous quantity on the face of it---unless you are new to cooking, and don't know any better.

Do you think the recipe originator intended it to say 20 nuts?
Do you think a test kitchen prepared the recipe using 20 nuts?
Do you think a trained culinarian proofread the recipe, and let 20 nuts stand?
Do you think the chef who provided the recipe would have reread it on galley and allowed it to appear that way?

Obviously, none of those things---which are supposed to happen did. At several steps along the way, if people were doing their jobs, the error would have been caught. But the fact is, people in the culinary arts publishing world are not doing their jobs.
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Comet



Joined: 12 Aug 2008
Posts: 76
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As I've said I AM new to cooking! I would have gone with what it said...probably, I hope not. A little scary.
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 1:41 am    Post subject: nutmeg Reply with quote

That is what is worrysome! However, whole nutmegs are quite large and very hard. People usually just grate a little bit off. I cannot imagine anyone grating 20 nutmegs unless they have a really industrial strength spice grinder! Even then, 20 nutmegs would make an enormous pile of powder! There is no way you could sprinkle that much on a cake. YOu would have to mix it in with the flour, I imagine. That would change the texture of the dough, and, to my taste, would make the cake inedible. Nutmeg is a fairly assertive spice, and any cake that was 1/2 nutmeg powder would be nasty! I think it would be hard to poison one's self that way.


Dory
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 10:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Let's look at the last two posts.

Dory, an experienced cook, would, for several reasons, immediately recognize the error.

Comet, new to cooking, would not have.

The defense rests!

Dory: What if the printed recipe had said 2 teaspoons, when only 2 pinches were meant. Would you have so easily recognized it? And do you think any inexperienced cook would have?

Comet: Keep this discussion in mind the next time a recipe doesn't work out. Very likely it won't be your fault, but an error in the recipe instead.
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Griffin



Joined: 09 Jun 2006
Posts: 932
Location: England

PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 1:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That Clotilde Dusoulier is a cook you can trust tho'. I've made her recipes and they all work... just as she said they would. And she has this fab website too! Wink

I usually follow a recipe as written unless my common sense tells me something isn't right or 'logical'. Then I discard the recipe and look for something else.

From what KYH says, it seems to me a lot of celebrity chefs (other than Clotilde) tend to assume that everyone cooks the way they do. Possibly they should try their own recipes in an amateur's kitchen and see if their recipes still work. I love recipes by telly cooks who cook in their own kitchens so you can see that they aren't using industrial strength ovens etc.

Other than having a fair idea that the recipe will work, it gives me more confidence in the recipe too.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 3:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

>tend to assume that everyone cooks the way they do.<

I don't know if they actually assume anything, as that connots too much action. I believe they just don't think about it, one way or another.

One of the reasons I like cookbooks written by cooks for other cooks is that I know the shape of the playing field.

>I love recipes by telly cooks who cook in their own kitchens ....<

That doesn't always work, either. Do you really think that, say, Tyler Florance's home kitchen is anything like yours? Or even Paula Dean's?

But even when their at-home kitchen is applicable, something seems to happen between what they do on TV and what get's written down.

Take Michael Chiarello, for instance. I love watching his shows, and what and how he cooks. If I pay attention, and make notes, I can replicate his stuff pretty well. But I've also made several things from his books, and not one of them came out properly. And they are much more of a pain in the butt to make then you'd think from the simple, easy-does-it approach he takes on the television.

Here's another example. One that illustrates some of the points we've been discussing, and could have as bad consequences as the too much nutmeg problem.

Recently I was doing some research on Thousand Island Dressing. Despite the inroads made by Ranch and several others, it remains the number one dressing used in America.

When it was first developed it was, essentially, a variation of a Russian dressing that used mayo instead of sour cream.

As part of my research I came across Alton Brown's recipe which, lo and behold, uses sour cream instead of mayo. A giant step backwards, in other words.

While discussing this with some folks on another list (culinarians@yahoogroups.com) it was pointed out that on his show Alton called in "Million Island Dressing."

I never saw the show. But we somehow went from a Food Network show, in which the host called something X to the Food Network site, where they said he called it Y.

If you followed the published recipe, cuz you wanted to serve Thousand Island to your guests, and somebody got into trouble because they were lactose intolerant, who would you blame?
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