Category Archives: food

On recipes


After the controversy regarding Alison Roman written about here and elsewhere, I started thinking about recipes, where they come from, how I use them, and how I think about them.

A recipe is usually instructions for how to do something. Typically we associated it with food preparation. Recipes list ingredients and steps to prepare the ingredients. They tell you how many people the recipe typically feeds. Sometimes they tell you other things, like nutritional information.

Some recipes are like open source software. You can take a recipe and modify it to make it your own, just like open source software. Other recipes are not open and kept secret, like the formula for certain soft drinks, or the recipe for a certain fried chicken. Some are even patentable (although good luck with that).

Some recipes are associated with regions or cultures. If you think of bouillabaisse,  you think of France. Risotto: Italy. Sushi: Japan. Some recipes and dishes transcend regions and become universal. Dumplings are like that. Noodles too. The same goes for ingredients: you can find basil and oregano in many recipes all over the world, and garlic is about as universal ingredient as any.

Some are associated with certain people, such as Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce. You can claim making tomato sauce with butter and onion and tomatoes is a recipe of yours, but by now it is associated with Marcella Hazan. Likewise with Martha Stewart’s One-Pot Pasta. It’s not like no one has ever made such a dish before, but now we associate them with one particular person.

Alison Roman is a person who has had success with  recipes that became associated with her, namely her chocolate chunk shortbread cookies (” the cookies”) and her chickpea stew (“the Stew”). The Stew in particular got me thinking about recipes and ingredients and how people go about making recipes. For example, if a recipe is based on another recipe, should the author mention that? It likely depends on the publication and other factors. For example, with someone like Deb Perleman, you get a lot of detail about the recipe before she goes into it. Or with Hugh Acheson where he talks about the origin of his catfish stew recipe before proceeding to list the steps and ingredients.

Some people (like me)  prefer recipes with those details; other people just want the recipe. Anyone creating and publishing recipes needs to decide how much detail to include, depending on their audience. In publications like Bon Appetit, there is often space allocated only for the recipe itself. I don’t know what the text was wrapped around this recipe for a  Zingy Red Sauce when it was published, but I assuming it matched the minimum detail found on the web site. Now is this recipe a derivation of a Romesco Sauce (also in Bon Appetit)? Possibly. Likewise this Seafood Stew for Two Recipe  in Bon Appetit.  This stew shares a lot of ingredients with this classic Cioppino Recipe also in  Bon Appetit, but it is also varied enough to consider it to be it’s own recipe.

I think Roman does variations of recipes not infrequently, which aligns with her belief that she won’t ask you to do any more than you have to, while still making it a good dish. So this recipe for Summer Greens with Mustardy Potatoes and Six-Minute Egg Recipe in Bon Appetit is not unlike a stripped down Nicoise salad, but it is not a Nicoise salad despite some commonality. That I think explains the success of her recipes: she takes ingredients and recipes and strips them down somewhat while still making them look good, taste good, and accessible for home cooks to make.

She has not been called out for making recipes with strong European origins. But where she ran into trouble with The Stew is that she seemed to take some ingredients that resembled a curry and had it identified with her. If The Stew associated with her was the seafood stew above or this Fish Stew with Fennel and Baby Potatoes, then she still would have had a problem for the insulting things she said, but it is less likely she would have been criticized with terms like “Columbus Cuisine” and accused of ripping off other cultures and enriching herself at their expense. I don’t believe she does that, but that has been a lively topic of debate with smarter food writers than me.

I don’t think her approach to writing recipes is wrong. I can’t say that recipes  going viral is bad. What I will say is ultimately  it is better if we read from  a diverse range of food writers who can bring not just interesting recipes to publication, but the interesting stories that go with them. I also think it is good when people from different backgrounds can explore the recipes and ingredients of other cultures and make something new with them while acknowledging what the inspiration is. This is much better than remixing an older recipe without attribution. I’d add that acknowledging the origins of an ingredient can’t hurt either. After awhile some of those ingredients may seem universal. Perhaps kimchi will become as common as dill pickles in North American kitchens, and turmeric becomes as frequently used as cumin.

I think publications can do a better job of not just publishing recipes but educating their readers. Likewise, I think sharing, innovating and educating others on food is a great thing, and I hope recipe writers from all background can borrow and improvise and create new dishes. They won’t be quite as eclectic as these recipes that resulted from a collaboration with IBM’s Watson computer and Bon Appetit, but they will inspire us and help us prepare better meals and make our lives better.

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On David McMillan’s Love Letter to Toronto

David McMillan, who is responsible for some of the great restaurants in Montreal, wrote this love letter to Toronto and it’s restaurants a few years ago. It’s wonderful. Reading it over again, it has a bittersweetness as I read the names of some of the wonderful Toronto food establishments he mentions. I wonder if many of them will still exist after this pandemic. I want to hope that most will and I want to hope that the Toronto food scene will still be great. Just like I want the Montreal food scene to recover and thrive. I will say a prayer that both those things come true.

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On the Silver Palate Cookbook

I started thinking about the Silver Palate cookbook again after reading this piece in Bon Appetit:How the Silver Palate Cookbook Changed Our Cooking

It’s funny to read the staff of Bon Appetit talk about this as their parent’s cookbook. To me the tone is nostalgic. Perhaps they believe it is dated. Like any decades old cookbook, it is dated in a way. There’s lots of things in there that was novel and daring at the time but now are passe, and ingredients which are now commonplace were once hard to find.

But there is much about the book that is still great. The layout and design, for one thing. And some recipes stand the test of time and became classics. It’s so much more than a collection of recipes.

In some ways, publications like Bon Appetit are the same. Many of the things I’ve said about that cookbook will apply to Bon Appetit over time.  And like the Silver Palate cookbook, I believe people will look back on Bon Appetit in this era the way the folks at BA look back at this kitchen classic.

If you haven’t read the Silver Palate cookbook in some time (or ever), you can read (at least some of) it online.

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Friday night cocktails: the Bronx

What is a Bronx cocktail? David Lebovitz explains:

Not as famous as its “other borough” cousin, the Manhattan, the Bronx is a fruitier, lighter alternative to the rough-and-tumbler whiskey-based cocktail. However one sip and you may find yourself visiting the Bronx a little more often!

I’ve had one recently and it’s delicious. Get your ingredient list, here: Bronx Cocktail – David Lebovitz Bronx Cocktail recipe.

 

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Darebee has great meal plans too (if you feel the need to get off the all you can eat pandemic merry go round)

 

The pandemic working from home has been hard, and for some of us, eating has been a source of joy. However, I am feeling the need to eat better and maybe even shed a few pounds. For help, I am turning to one of my favorite sites for this: Darebee.

I love DareBee.com for it’s fitness routines and the great posters they provide.  They have made getting in some exercise a breeze. But they have other things to help you get fit and live better too. One section of the site is dedicated to Meal Planning. You can find lots of great items there, including ones to help you transition to a vegetarian meal routine

If you feel like eating better, consider checking this out.

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Friday Night Cocktails: the French Manhattan


David Lebowitz has a new book out now called “Drinking French”, and it possible that we need it more than ever. Here’s a recipe from it, a nice spin on the classic Manhattan. Enjoy: French Manhattan recipe

You can buy it everywhere, including here.

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The limits of wine bars in North America cities as compared to Paris and why this is interesting


We have tons of upscale coffee shops, and wine is more popular than ever in North America, so Eater asks what seems to be a simple question: Natural Wine Is Everywhere in America. Where Are the Wine Bars?

I say “seems” because the answer is long and fascinating for a number of reasons: economic, cultural, and gastronomical. It’s a smart piece. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a snippet of what I mean:

It’s sad to see something so ostensibly simple become another exclusive pleasure, so I keep looking for the neighborhood wine bar of my dreams — which is honestly just a cramped room with bottles of interesting, affordable wine on the wall and, like, a cheese plate? Yet this seemingly simple thing is stupidly hard to find. It’d be sort of funny that cosseted American wine bars struggle to attain the loose charm of Paris, given that France is stereotyped as the place that’s snooty, rules-bound, and tradition-obsessed, if the result wasn’t such a bummer. While yes, there are a lot of rules, France also has a more open culture of public life; you don’t need to make plans to go out to drink wine. And though wine signifies many things in French culture, an air of sophistication because you drink it is not one of them. The appeal of enjoying wine in France, at least as the kind of person who’s moved by wine but still needs bolds on the list, is that French wine culture feels so much less precious than in America.