Our gas cylinder (the source of gas for our stove/oven) was stolen a few nights ago, which means I’m suddenly switching gears from the food post I had planned this week. Add that to an October full of surprises, guests, and big life moments (like possibly getting a new job and/or buying a house), and you get…
Well, I don’t know what you get. Whatever it is, I think it falls under the rhyme my friends use with their kiddos: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
Well, it rhymes in the southern states, at least. Don’t be a hater.
I’m reminding myself not to throw fits about the curve-balls that come my way and just ride it out. Today that means I’m accepting the freedom to share a post I posted a while back on a personal blog. It fits our theme, and relieves me of the pressure of figuring out what to do in the (surprise!) absence of my stove and oven. (It also relieves you of reading something unfortunately crappy.) See? We all win.
You may have guessed by now that I love chasing the home-chef dream. I love to learn the best way to do something and why it’s the best way and when it’s the best way and when it’s not. I love discovering ingredients and learning how to improve something I’ve been doing “wrong” for a long time and enjoy all colors of kitchen geekery. I do like to cook, but it’s more about the aesthetic, the process, and ultimately, putting something really delicious on the table. Which means, ironically, I don’t cook as often as you might think.
As a way to discover food and flavors, I often use recipes as a first foray into uncharted territory. But in the years since I began learning about food, I’ve discovered that not all recipe sources are created equal. There are a few gems out there, but I’ve sworn off far more sources than I’ve returned to.
Several years ago I pinned down what it is I want out of a recipe (and a recipe source). Settling this in my mind has helped me find better recipes in less time. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest collecting your own (limited) set of resources that fits your food personality and personal taste. Today I’m sharing my list with you. I think more than 80% of my recipes come from the following sources. Here are my loves with a short explanation of why they make the Top 5.
Everyday Food is my go-to resource for solid, standard recipes. The vast majority of their recipes use standard ingredients and simple techniques to yield great results. I get lots of simple ideas for, well, everyday food.
I used to primarily use the magazine (may she rest in peace), because the page-flip browsing was great for getting ideas-a-plenty in any season. But now I use the website to search for recipes for particular ingredients; for a not-too-much-fuss tart perhaps, or simple ways to prepare fish.
2) Fine Cooking
As I’ve said, I am wary of recipes. I use them, of course, but I generally don’t trust them. Fine Cooking is an exception to this. Nearly everything I’ve made from them has been tasty by my own estimation (I tend to be my toughest critic) and enjoyed by everyone else. I also learn a lot of techniques from Fine Cooking as they aim to educate as well as provide recipes.
I use the magazine and magazine archive versions of Fine Cooking. I don’t go to their website much as they charge a subscription fee to access a good portion of their site, and I feel like I have what I want from print and digital sources.
When I first published this post, the Cook’s Illustrated homepage read, “You don’t need 100 recipes for Roast Chicken (or anything else), you just need one that works.” This is pretty much Cook’s Illustrated in a nutshell.
I love Cook’s Illustrated because I learn a lot from their descriptions of the trial and error process they went through to get to that “one recipe”. They certainly take the descriptions too far sometimes, but I don’t really mind because by the end of a two-page article I’ve gained a great recipe as well as the understanding of what makes it great. For instance, in the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Phad Thai they describe a no-fail way to prepare rice noodles. (If you’ve worked with rice noodles you know how temperamental they can be.) I have since used this technique on many sorts of rice noodles for a variety of dishes with 100% success. It’s back-pocket tricks like this that earn Cook’s Illustrated it’s spot on the list.
Like Fine Cooking, Cook’s Illustrated charges a subscription fee for accessing most of their online content. Bump that, I’ll take print. I most frequently use The New Best Recipe as a sort of encyclopedia for recipes, but also grab recipes from the magazine on occasion. Though I did just discover they recently released an iPad edition of the magazine, so this may all be changing for me in the near future.
4) Food Network
I go to Food Network for interesting and odd finds, twists on a classic, or creative combinations. I don’t go to Food Network for standard recipes. There are better sources for that. If I’m looking for a sampling of decent recipes for a specific dish, that’s when I use Food Network. Recently I perused them for Pulled Pork recipes and in a very short time I had a handful of promising options.
One reason Food Network is a great option for this sort of thing is because their recipes are comprised from those of individual chefs rather than from recipes conceived in a test kitchen. I feel like each recipe of a certain dish reflects its creator and is distinctive from the other offerings of the same item. With a test kitchen the recipes tend to be more middle-of-the-road and less interesting.
(An additional tip: When FN recipes were first presented on TV, they were often grouped with sides as part of an overall meal. If you follow the link to the original episode, you can get ideas for what else to serve alongside the recipe. Even if you don’t use that exact recipe you can still get good ideas for sides.)
5) TasteSpotting and Foodgawker
I have a hate/love relationship with food blogs. I hate them because the recipes are even less reliable than usual, and because after peaking my interest with a beautiful photo of the finished dish, the recipes never seem to deliver. I’ve had more disappointments with tries from food blogs than from any other source. And I hate, hate, HATE the long string of dish-preparation pictures. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen onions and peppers and garlic mellow in olive oil before. Many times. Please have mercy on my poor scrolling fingers.
What I love about food blogs is the new ideas for food combinations and plating, and how looking at them inspires me to get in the kitchen. It just so happens that Tastespotting and Foodgawker incorporate the best of these two things while bypassing what I dislike. Score.
Here’s how I use them: I’ll go to the site, type something in the search box, and then peruse related titles and photos. Recently I was looking for some ideas for empanada fillings. I typed “empanada” in the search box and soon I was browsing pictures of everything from Guava & Manchego Empanadas to Butternut Squash & Mushroom Empanadas. Yum.
A Notable Absence
You may have noticed that user-submitted recipe sites are absent from the list. This is not because I never use them, but because they require heaps of extra time and effort. I have to sort through a lot of obviously misinformed recipes (like the one for jambalaya that instructed me to let the shrimp cook in there for 25 minutes), and then sort through just as many comments in order to find out how to actually prepare the recipe. I’m just not so in to that.
Of course, my favorite brownie recipe came from Tasty Kitchen, so I don’t always follow my own advice on that one.
…what about you?…
What are your go-to places for recipes (or food ideas) and why?