What does a week’s worth of groceries look like? It depends on where you live.
Category Archives: In the Kitchen
The internet is a big place. Trying to explore the whole thing every time you want a recipe is just overwhelming. I hope the first posts about how to spot a good recipe help you learn from my mistakes and weed out the more disappointing recipes. I hope the last few posts about spotting good sources steer you away from sites that could only let you down. But the best strategy I have is to find a few trusted sites and start any recipe search there. Sites like allrecipes.com or even Tasty Kitchen aren’t my style because they have so many contributors. In general, a site from one cook is helpful, because you learn that person’s style and learn to trust (or fear) his or her taste. A few of my favorites:
(None of those people have the slightest idea who I am. But they do generally know about each other. You’ll notice they borrow inspiration from each other a lot. Even in the great big food blogosphere, it’s a small world, after all.)
I’ve cooked some lame recipes from beautiful, beautiful pictures. (And I’ve cooked some good ones, too.) It’s not an indicator either way. Just don’t be lured by great lighting and pretty backdrops. Don’t be like me.
I’m not talking about romantic love here; this is food love, which can be almost as disorienting. Here are a few cases of food love that confuse people’s abilities to discern good recipes:
- I’m in love with cooking! The classic example is college girls who just figured out that they could cook real food and not eat easy mac. They’re pretty easy to spot, mostly because the exclamation points to capital letters ratio on their sites is really high. I’m glad these young women are learning to cook after a childhood of prepared foods. But someday they’re going to look back at their own gushing over pretty bad recipes and be nostalgic and unimpressed.
- I’m in love with my slow-cooker! This is the closest one to flat-out romantic love. Having someone have a warm meal ready for you when you come home- who doesn’t swoon a little bit? (Even if the someone in question is a ceramic crock.) Who can blame us for lowering our standards a bit? Even stringy, bland food smells good when you open the door, and it’s definitely better than fast-food.
- I’m in love with my new __________ (crazy expensive blender/juicer/mandoline/grill etc.)! Gadget love is a powerful thing. Only after it’s died down can we see what was really meaningful and what was just fluff. In the meantime, cook carefully, folks.
I’m always trying to find a good-enough pencil sharpener- one that creates a not-lopsided tip, doesn’t break leads, and doesn’t rip up my hands. As someone who sharpens a few dozen pencils a day, this is my quest. But it makes me think: remember when we talked about finding online recipes? That was fun. Want to talk about how to find a good site for recipes? Ok. The next few posts are about things I’ve noticed- just my observations.
Any home cook who publishes a new recipe five days a week is giving you the meh with good . A site with lower volume gives the home cook chances to try multiple versions of a recipe and give you the best iteration. That’s one of the things I appreciate about Annie’s Eats. She’ll even talk about the challenges of finding a recipe that was good enough to share.
There are lots of delicious dairy-free foods in the world, lots of yummy low-fat, or gluten-free, or paleo-friendly (or whatever) foods. In general, recipes that fit dietary restrictions and taste good started life as just great recipes that happened to be gluten-free, or low-fat, or paleo-friendly, or dairy-free. A recipe that had to be adapted to meet some dietary need rarely makes it through the translation with its soul intact. (Take it from someone who made the world’s worst vegan frosting.) If you want to feed people gluten-free food, there are whole cultures whose recipes revolve around rice. I’d start there. I’d bet my microplane that your vegetarian friends do not want to eat tofurky, but they’d love a main dish that just happened to be meatless.
A special caveat about recipes that come from people who’ve been on a particular diet for a long time: they forget what their missing foods taste like. So be wary of doughnuts that claim to “taste just like fried” or muffins that “you won’t even know are gluten-free!”
This might be surprising, but I’ve found that the best recipes for me as a home cook are from home cooks. Chefs have access to tools, ingredients, and time that most of us don’t have. I remember reading a recipe in (I think) Cook’s Illustrated that mentioned a chef who made a delicious beef stew. It was a multi-day, dozens-of-ingredients process. That’s cool if you can do it, but most of us can’t. (Also, some chefs who publish their recipes are publishing dumbed-down versions.)
Chefs also tend to get acclaim by being edgy, or by having interesting venues. Your family doesn’t need edgy- they need nourishing, and your venue is your house. The most reliable recipes I find are from average folks in average kitchens. That doesn’t mean they don’t require some precision or skill, but they won’t flop if I breathe wrong, and they aren’t relying on a trendy ingredient or beautiful presentation for “wow” factor. They just taste good.
(One exception to my “home cook” experience is professional cookbook writers. Dorie Greenspan, for instance, is more famous as a cookbook writer than a restaurant chef [although she has a sweet place in NY!], and I’ve had great results with her stuff.)
Just joining us now? To save you having to click “previous entry” too many times, you can read the intro here, take a little detour into realistic expectations, and read episodes one, two, three, four, and five.