July 15, 2007

The Idiot's Cookbook

My mother-in-law made us a cookbook as a wedding present. It would do nothing but gather deep, deep dust except that when she visits she asks to see it, and then pores over her own recipes talking about how great they are and how much Paul loves them. Reminder: they are not; he does not.

This morning Paul wanted to make cinnamon rolls, and he knew there was a recipe in that book, so he got it out. He got the dough made (the recipe just said "dough" so he made a usual bread machine batch), and then got to the part where you make the topping--which is made in the bottom of the pan, since you flip the rolls out upside-down when they're done. The recipe says to "put in butter and brown sugar." No quantities. Then there is a sentence about how she's sorry but she just does this by eye. Well, how about a goddamn estimate, then? Is it a teaspoon of butter or is it two sticks? Is it a tablespoon of brown sugar or is it the whole pound-size box?

It is not a surprise to me that we would discover this problem in her recipes. My mother-in-law scoffs at people who MEASURE things, and has great admiration for anyone who can put food together creatively--such as herself. I admire people who can cook without recipes, too, but I also admire people who cook WITH them, especially when they get good results, and when they can pass those good results on to other cooks. My own personal top rating goes to people who start with recipes in order to learn, and then go branching off from there--and who DON'T SCOFF.

Here is what I think: you either respect recipes or you don't, and you can't play it both ways. If you like to think of yourself as the "I just cook from my heart and it always turns out PERRRRRFECT, I just don't UNDERSTAND people who have to use RECIPES, isn't it GLORIOUS when you finally become a good enough cook that you don't NEED them" type, like my mother-in-law, that's fine--but then you don't get to pass your recipes down to the next generation as if a recipe is NOW suddenly a deeply important thing. "Cinnamon Rolls: YOU know! Butter! Sugar! Dough! Jesus, figure it out!" "Meatloaf: Well...you MAKE A MEAT LOAF! Duh!" "Chicken Soup: Chicken! Soup! Put 'em together, moron!" Great cookbook, there, Mother-In-Law. You should shop that to publishers. You can call it Any Idiot Can Use A Recipe. Except Me.

26 comments:

desperate housewife said...

I always get annoyed when people give you recipe cards and give no estimation of how long a dish will take to cook thoroughly. It's just bake in a three seventy five degree oven until "done." Thanks.

Christine said...

I am one of those people who will use a recipe as a base and then go off changing things all over the place. But I promise that when I share, I totally estimate the amounts I've used, because otherwise? Useless.

Omaha Mama said...

That makes me laugh. Put in some brown suger and butter...that is a recipe she felt the need to pass on? She could have just purchased you the Betty Crocker cookbook - it would have been a lot more helpful.

I like recipes. I usual stray from the original a little if I take things out (because I don't have them or someone in my family wouldn't like them) or add things to it. But having a recipe makes it a whole lot better. I am a cookbook (and cooking magazine) junkie and enjoy recipes immensely.

Black Sheeped said...

My right brain comes out big time when it comes to recipes and cooking. I don't mind recipes that are incredibly vague, and tend to find recipes that sound good to me but go ahead and change them the first time to whatever I want. I am not brave enough to do this with baking, normally (except cookies, and my "improvements" have had mixed results)but everything else I add to or take away from or substitute or eyeball it. I'm also guilty of not really paying much attention to instructions on boxes/frozen items, and have paid the price for that a few times. Generally, however, veering and fudging have worked out well, and I don't worry too much if a recipe I've doctored isn't great the first time because I figure there's always next time. In the case of cinnamon rolls, I would have been all, "Hmm, this is vague. But who doesn't like a lot of butter? And sugar? I'm just going to put TONS IN of BOTH!"

The only time I pay really close attention to recipes is to find out specific things I don't know about--for instance, the first time I made a turkey I read about fifty million websites about turkey temperatures and basting. (And then, obviously, threw out everything but the safe germ killing temperature information I wanted and made up my own stuffing/buttering plan. You know. I eyeballed it and did what felt right.)

This was a novel! A lot of words to say, hi! I do that.

But! I respect recipe followers. They probably do not have as many cooking "adventures" as me. And that is, most likely, very good for the people eating the cooking.

That being said, I'm wanting a really good recipe for enchiladas. Something that is close to what you'd eat at a restaurant, because I'm craving them and the Mexican place here has food poisoning issues. On this I don't want to eyeball it too much, because I want something very specifically enchilada-y. Anyone have tips?

Erin said...

I am so guilty of this (the not following a recipe part, not the passing along a cryptic recipe part). It's funny because it's a point of conflict between me & my husband who Follows! Directions! Always!

Mainly, my inability to follow a recipe is due to my never seeming to have the correct ingredients. I plan, I write down the items on the grocery list, I cross them off as I shop, and yet I never fail to forget something. It's baffling, really.

Penny said...

Awesome. How about an instruction book like that for other things: "Handy Man's Repair Book" - Toilet repair: get replacement toilet parts, install them! Duh! Sink repair: get under the sink, fix it!

Or, "practicing law, a how-to": 1. get in front of judge. 2. argue your case. 3. hopefully, win. 4. bill client lots of money.

Oh, the possibilities!

Mimi said...

Oh lord, Swistle. You are hilarious! I love crazy mother-in-law stories.

Marie Green said...

I am totally cracking up!

I am both a recipe follower and fudger. I tend to add garlic to everything (except baking), yet like to follow recipies fairly closely, at least the first time. I am not an excellent cook by any means, and my husband and I eat very differently (Him: meat and more meat; Me: guac? garlic? com'on, something green?).

I have to agree, snooty cooks are the worst, especially when they suck. And especially when they don't know they suck and they don't know their own son doesn't like their cooking.

Think of how insecure she must be. What a miserable existance. (This line of thinking usually helps me when I'm feeling overly annoyed with someone. Self rightousness works every time!)

Erica said...

She would drive me to drink, Swistle. Or to beat her in the head with a mixing bowl. Or probably both.

Did the cinnamon rolls turn out all right? It'd be cry'n shame if Paul had to brave that "recipe" and didn't even end up with half-way decent cinnamon rolls.

nanann said...

mmmm, cinnamon rolls....

My mom has given us all recipe books, and in general they are very good. (I Love her cooking). BUT, when I call her to discuss why mine didn't come out just like hers, and ask about a certain ingredient or 2, she says things like "OH, that's just the recipe -- I don't know how much _____ I really add in -- just until it looks/tastes right. Did you try dipping your finger in and tasting to check it before you cooked it?"

very tough on my Must Follow Recipe Exactly way

Shannon said...

I love recipes. However, I am incapable of following them exactly (unless baking). I have a love of tinkering plus I have an incredibly picky husband.

How did your rolls turn out?

witchy_puppy said...

At least you can make others laugh with the horrors of the mother-in-law! Good luck to you on that unannounced visit!

Swistle said...

The rolls turned out...okay. They were a little tough, and there wasn't nearly enough butter and brown sugar (I'm like Black Sheep: if I had to estimate things like butter and brown sugar, I'd use a HEAVY HAND). But they weren't failures, and that's good enough for a first try! Paul was kicking himself later, though, when I made Ranger Cookies and noticed a recipe for cinnamon rolls ON THE BOX OF BROWN SUGAR.

Penny: I love your ideas for a whole series!

Marie Green: I love your way of thinking of difficult people! I'm going to try it.

Devan said...

oh my goodness I love that. NO estimate at all? HOW is that helpful?
I usually change the recipes I use or make stuff up, but then I write down how much I changed it to if it happens to turn out well. lol

caley said...

I LOVE your mother-in-law stories! Every time I read your blog, I get so mad at myself for NOT keeping my true blog identity a secret, as you have so wisely done. Unfortunately for me, I cannot freely share stories like those related to my mother-in-law, for example, with the world.

I was going to say, I don't know how you deal with a woman like that! But obviously, you do so by amusing us all with her craziness.

And now I must go find some cinnamon rolls...

Laura (coffee stained) said...

OMG Swistle! That is so freaking funny... Husband is so so so the same way as your MIL. He went to culinary school and actually scoffs at the idea of measuring and cookbooks b/c they are "beneath him".

The sad thing is that b/c he no longer works in a kitchen and he has been out of school for almost 10 years, he's totally lost his mojo and can't put random stuff together for sh*t. It kills him that I can actually cook better than him now, but the truth is that the reason I can is b/c I can follow a damn recipe, and have no pride preventing me from doing so!

Although... if I were following your MIL's "recipes" I dunno... I might fail miserably.

I hope all the kiddos are doing well. I've been MIA for a while and hope to catch up with all your updates :-)

MrsGrumpy said...

I should have read your post before I started making dinner last night... And that's all I'm going to say about that. My grandma has an awesome, easy recipe for cinnamon rolls (with measurements!) that you make from a roll of Pillsbury bread dough.

el-e-e said...

So it's not so much a COOK book as an EGO book that she gave you. Very thoughtful. :)

susan said...

Hahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaa! That is a truly hilarious post!

-susan, Aus.

Tessie said...

I ask you, what is the goddamn point in gracing you with a "recipe" that includes no actual helpful instructions?

I'm with el-e-e, sounds like she just wanted to remind you of those DE-licious cinnamon rolls she makes.

Misty said...

*Ahem*

*Blush*

Hello? My name is Misty. And I think I might be a scoffer.

I am forever feeling superior to my husband because he feels the need to read the directions on the back of the box and follow them far too closely. "That is not how you COOK," I scoff at him. I feel a bit sheepish. I will do better. Promise.

LoriD said...

My mom told me that "baking is science, cooking is art". Your MIL is a real piece of work, and she's no scientist, I'll tell you that!

Jennifer aka Binky Bitch said...

I am a terrible baker 'cause I can't/don't like to follow recipes. But I promise, if I were to ever send you a recipe, I'd be very specific :)!

CAQuincy said...

I find that I follow recipes to a T--unless they are the family recipes that I've done and seen my mother/grandmother cook so many times, I can just eyeball it (I once impressed a friend by how I can measure 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon salt by the palm of my hand). When I try new stuff, I'm too scared to meddle at first.

And cripes! Seriously! We all know your MIL needs help, but it just amazes me the LEVELS of help you keep peeling here again and again!

laughing mommy said...

I used to think I could cook without measuring ingredients or using recipes.

Then I tried measuring and using recipes. And YUM!

I know someone (a family member, bu that is all I can say about that) who never cooks the same thing the same way twice. If she cooks something and it was so good and you loved it, you'd better eat up because next time it will be very different, even if you ask her to make it the same.

jen said...

I agree that cooking is art and baking is science. I'm afraid to mess with baking recipes though I'll sub the same amts of stuff or add double the amt of chocolate chips or something.

my mother is the best at this. "how much X do you use when making Y?" "oh, just a little" "how much is a little? half a cup? a teaspoon?" "I don't know, just pour it in. You'll know."

When someone asks how I made something I usually point to the allrecipes.com recipe and then tell them what I did differently. Most of my recipes are based on stuff I've seen there. The stuff I've made from watching my mother is harder to explain. But then again i don't really make elaborate dishes here...