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My View: Hard-earned lessons in recipe wrangling

By Larry Scott

“I would like a week where I did not have to make dinner,” was my wife’s reply when I asked her what she wanted for her birthday.

In retrospect, I believe she meant she wanted to go out to eat for seven nights. However, given my inborn ability to miss the subtext in just about anything she says, I assumed that she was asking me to take charge of the kitchen for a week.

My mother was a great cook. The leftovers I took to work the next day were the envy of the lunch room, but I never learned much from her beyond how to clean my plate.

Eventually I learned how to make a passable omelet, and mastered a couple of foolproof barbecue recipes. But my wife’s birthday is in winter, too cold to barbecue, and seven nights of omelets wouldn’t cut the mustard.

Still, my wife has dozens of cookbooks and a large file of recipes saved from magazines. I figured I’d be able to find recipes simple enough for me to attempt without endangering our health. However, recipes in books and magazines seem to be written like telegrams, in as few words as possible. Further, they are not written for beginners. Crucial details are omitted because, as my wife would say “oh, everybody knows you should remove the cover to simmer.”

No, everybody doesn’t.

Larry Scott.

A career in computers taught me that you should not assume the user knows anything, and like the computer, I seem predisposed to misinterpret instructions that are the least bit ambiguous.

A recipe whose step one, in its entirety, is “Make a béchamel sauce,” was clearly out of my league. Many magazine recipes called for ingredients that may be common in the souks of Marrakech, but are unheard of in Western New York. I also rejected those with instructions like “cook until done,” and “season to taste.” I had better luck on the internet, where there are millions of recipes with pictures at each step and detailed instructions.

Unfortunately, even these were not foolproof. A skillet dish of pork chops and sautéed vegetables came out way too salty. I protested that I was “just following the recipe.” After a quick scan of what I had downloaded my wife said I should have halved the salt and doubled the chili. Where does this prescience come from, is it some kind of ESP?

But we survived. Several of the meals were served in series rather than in parallel owing to my inability to have everything done at the same time, but a couple were judged worthy of entry into the recipe files.

I now am responsible for one meal a week, and have discovered that if you use a slow cooker, everything automatically is done at the same time.

However, I am still a raw rookie. I frequently bring home the wrong ingredient, or plan a meal with components that do not go well together. It takes me several hours to prepare a meal that my wife could knock out in 45 minutes.

But I know I am improving because the bar is being raised. Several of my “go to” recipes that were once deemed worthy of repetition have now fallen out of favor, replaced by ones with a higher degree of difficulty.

And when I ask how she can read between the lines of a recipe, she says “from experience,” in a tone whose subtext I am afraid I understand perfectly.

Larry Scott, of South Wales, believes in the power of the slow cooker.

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