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May 28, 2012 3:48 AM   Subscribe

Pip McCormack, the food editor of Sunday Times Style, gets sent more cookbooks than he knows what to do with. So why not see if they live up to the promising pictures and glamorous tablespreads? He aims to cook a meal from each book, comparing and contrasting the work of celebrities-turned-cooks, jailbirds and, in one caustic instance, TV shows which meld food and lifestyle.
posted by mippy (42 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't help but thinking this reads like someone who doesn't quite know how to cook, rather than making shoddy recipes.
posted by CharlesV42 at 4:20 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Modern cook books are pretty shit. Thankfully I have a 25 year old Delia and a reasonable internet connection.

Google is pretty much the best cookbook the world has ever seen.
posted by zoo at 4:21 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure if really believe this person's judgements. I think it's a really great concept, it's hard to find a well-written cookbook.

But I'm looking at their failed Gok's prawn balls and yes they are an epic fail. But by their own admission the recipe said finely chop the prawns and water chestnuts. What they did is nowhere near finely chopped. I mean you clearly see hunks of prawn and chestnuts in there. They complain that the balls fell appart because the recipe has no binding agent, but I would venture that if the chestnuts were finely chopped, they would have released starches to help bind.

But I don't know, maybe the prawn balls recipe does suck. But I can't take this person's word for it.
posted by like_neon at 4:35 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with not knowing how to cook - isn't that for whom most of these books are intended?

I haven't seen the Rachel Khoo show, but it's been slated in the press here for being all winsome and twee and more about the lifestyle than the cooking. If this is the case, I imagine her book is being bought by folk who wish they could move to Paris and buy baguettes from the boulangerie rather than people who want to perfect a particular dish.

Jamie Oliver kind of kicked this off over here - instead of a Delia type telling you how to do somethign step by step, there was now this guy who put in rough measurements in between drumming or riding on his scooter. The food culture in the UK has changed a lot over the past 20 years or so, and with it the scheduling - now all cookery shows seem to be about showing a particular lifestyle as much as the food. Non-foodies tune in and think about how cool making enchiladas or macarons look, and one would expect the books to be aimed at non-experts in the same way.
posted by mippy at 4:36 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


What they did is nowhere near finely chopped.

That is understatement, to say the least. To call that finely chopped is like calling calling Mitt Romney middle class.
posted by smoke at 4:47 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


jailbirds

There aren't enough cookbooks written by jailbirds. I've been collecting recipes based on the last meals requested by death row inmates, and I hope to publish them as a cookbook sometime soon. I've tried to keep most the recipes faithful to the particular last request, but occasionally I've eliminated some fat or salt or sugar, to make a healthier meal.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:53 AM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I own a lot of cookbooks, but, ironically, the only ones that I ever cook anything from are the huge behemoths, the canonical cookbooks: The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything, with an occasional recipe from an online subscription to Cook's Illustrated. (Plus a few from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I don't actually own it yet.) These sources clearly have the production of food as their primary end.

What I have found is that other books seem to fall into lifestyle pieces—they're there for the pictures, not for the food—or they exist as a way of saying: look, I'm a chef. You should come to my restaurant, but don't bother cooking this at home. In both cases, if you fight your way through the recipe, you'll end up with something that's likely not very good. Sometimes, it seems as if the recipe was never tested; other times, the blend of flavors is just bad.

I'm usually okay at spotting this kind of thing, but I bought The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper on a whim one day, and it's a perfect example. Too many pictures, not enough recipes; and the recipes it has are mostly ungodly ("Hoisin China Noodles with Four Flavors") or too much work for what they are, with too many ingredients (a common cookbook failure).

Still, I recommend getting the canonical books over trying to cook from Google, as zoo said earlier. The web is so hit or miss; you can end up with a great recipe, or you can try to bake a cake and end up with mousse. I've found it nearly useless for cooking meals because total failure of a meal is not something that I want to put up with. Mrs. Machine uses online recipes for baked items because they tend to attract more comments if they fail, and an inedible batch of muffins isn't quite so bad as an inedible entrée.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:22 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the story with deathrow inmates was that they had to have food that was procurable within a certain distance radius which often left mainly fast food options? Or things that could be made in the cafeteria I guess.

Also. This is why I only make things from Fine Cooking magazine and never deviate from the recipes. I may seem joyless and uninspired but things work out!!

Also, yeah, too much 'lifestyle' and 'personality' for sure in modern cookbooks. I remember Jamie Oliver's first show and him on a vespa and digging around in a store fridge- maybe I'm just jealous.

And how can a food editor not be aware of 'finely chopped'!?

Random thought venting now over.
posted by bquarters at 5:25 AM on May 28, 2012


I thought the story with deathrow inmates was that they had to have food that was procurable within a certain distance radius which often left mainly fast food options? Or things that could be made in the cafeteria I guess.

I was assuming twoleeftfeet's comment about a death row cookbook included a recipe for hamburger, bquarters:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:34 AM on May 28, 2012


You know if you are looking for a cookbook where the recipes actually work Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion is great. It's organised by ingredient and it's never failed me yet, mainly because you can see how to cook the ingredient and that gives you the confidence to just do something that isn't a recipe, but you know will work.
posted by awfurby at 5:54 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree that How To Cook Everything lives up to the title. Part of why it is so great is that it provides both variations for the basic recipes as well as practical information about "the basics of flour" that will let you make informed decisions while cooking.

The problem with the website above is that the author doesn't really give us enough information to trust his critiques. His food looks bad, yes, but whose fault is that? We don't know, because he offers no substantive critique about why the recipes didn't work. Also, in that asparagus tart in the Martha Stewart he used what looks like brie instead of what looks like goat cheese. That's uh, not really a fair comparison then, is it? Of course it will taste bland...I've actually cooked that recipe from the American version of her cookbook. It's easy and delicious every time. And I'm really not a very conscientious cook.

I find it weird that this guy is a food editor. This blog doesn't paint his qualifications in good light. Maybe he just needs an internet space to let go of all his snark? Sometimes I wonder if the era of the private journal shouldn't come back.
posted by newg at 5:56 AM on May 28, 2012


I own a lot of cookbooks, but, ironically, the only ones that I ever cook anything from are the huge behemoths, the canonical cookbooks: The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything,

Huh, that's kinda interesting. I have almost exactly the opposite approach to cookbooks: I find myself cooking from the big general ones only very rarely, but frequently turning to interesting recipes from some of the more boutique-y specialised books (many of which are associated with particular chefs or restaurants or whatever). For everyday stuff I mostly just make stuff up (or do basics that don't require a book), so I mostly use the books as a resource for when I want to try something special or new.

I get what you're saying, though -- it's true that some of the worst cookbooks I've ever used are restaurant/celebrity ones. But man, when a restaurant you love has a cookbook that is actually *good*, the results can be fantastic. E.g., I have probably cooked most of the recipes in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen dozens of times, and been disappointed only a vanishingly small fraction of the time. (My one complaint about this one is that everything takes a little longer than I would estimate from reading the recipes; it's worth it, though.) (By contrast, I wasn't a huge fan of his "Mexican Everyday" book; some of the recipes just aren't that special, though to be fair they are also much, much quicker to make.)

fwiw, in the same spirit I also really like Chez Panisse desserts (their pasta book is good, too). And way back when, the Trellis cookbook was the first "fancy" cookbook I ever really enjoyed using (though it is pretty dated now).

Perhaps not coincidentally, none of these have a lot of glossy pictures -- in fact I think the Bayless one is the only one with any photos at all.

Anyway, back on topic: for the record I thought the reviews here were pretty hilarious and tongue-in-cheek. I mean, they're a) making only one meal from each book, b) are by their own account usually pretty wasted while cooking/eating that meal, and c) also seem slightly inept at cooking, so if you're looking for especially nuanced and sophisticated critiques you're probably in the wrong place. But whatever, I thought it was funny.
posted by chalkbored at 5:58 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen the Rachel Khoo show, but it's been slated in the press here for being all winsome and twee and more about the lifestyle than the cooking.

I turned off the telly when she made a worse job of chopping an onion than my five-year-old cousin does. She's basically completely inept at everything other than pastry (which is what she trained in).

Gok Wan's show on the other hand is surprisingly good. There's a wee bit of lifestyle wiffle in there, but Wan's incredibly grumpy, impatient old Dad (the real star of the show) tempers that side of things. More importantly, I've made two recipes from the first programme by noting down the ingredients and cooking from memory, and they turned out lovely.
posted by jack_mo at 6:05 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


A primary rule of hosting is never serve anything you've not made before. It's clear that McCormack doesn't have much experience in the kitchen. He is disingenuously looking for a blog post rather than a good cookbook.
posted by about_time at 6:05 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I turned off the telly when she made a worse job of chopping an onion than my five-year-old cousin does.

Maybe you'd enjoy Paul McCartney showing us his special onion cutting trick.

Did I see that vid via metafilter? I thought I did, but my searching turned up nothing.
posted by smcameron at 6:14 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


...or he wants to have a go at cooking a meal that is far, far too much for him and his boyfriend. I like baking, but it's only worthwhile for me if I'm taking them to someone's house, because otherwise I'd have to eat a lot of cake before it goes off. Most recipies serve four - I normally cook for one or two (even if the 'two' is the next evening's tea).
posted by mippy at 6:17 AM on May 28, 2012


Having said that, I can't chop vegetables without injuring myself. I wasn't allowed to use the oven when I was home alone in my teens, so I ate a lot of microwave food - there's still a small scar between my left finger and thumb where I cut open some microwave spag bol with a knife and went right through the 'web' between them.

I once even managed to cut my finger on a bagel.
posted by mippy at 6:19 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have almost exactly the opposite approach to cookbooks: I find myself cooking from the big general ones only very rarely, but frequently turning to interesting recipes from some of the more boutique-y specialised books...

The recipes that I use in the big books aren't usually "finished" on their own; I think Bittman's, in particular, are aimed at providing you with a base for variation, and that's how I treat them. You're right, in that the "boutique-y" books often offer a more finished dish, but it comes at a price of (unnecessary?) complexity.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:20 AM on May 28, 2012


I like the idea of this blog because many's a time a reasonably good home cook has failed at the altar of what a recipe is supposed to look/taste like. But ye gods, the writing is so-so, the camera work is no better what I would expect from a Yelper drunk on snark and passionfruit cosmos during a Friday dinner party. I would so love to read a blog like this if it weren't so....I dunno, smug? "Lookit I get free swag from publishing companies but I am going to poo all over that gravy train?"

YMMV, I guess.

Being a cookbook junkie myself, I have FINALLY sanely decided to buy only ones that I would actually cook from and not eat a mustard sandwich at three in the afternoon, looking at pictures. It does mean some of the really neat ones I want (Heston Blumenthal, Rene Redzepi) cannot enter in my kitchen.
posted by Kitteh at 6:28 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've seen the much-mocked Paula Deen and Rachael Ray recipes online - are their shows particularly lifestyle-y? I don't think we get those here (though all I've really watched on UKFood are Ace of Cakes and Man vs Food).
posted by mippy at 6:30 AM on May 28, 2012


I get what you're saying, though -- it's true that some of the worst cookbooks I've ever used are restaurant/celebrity ones.

Oh, THIS. So much this.

One more tangent and I will actually go back to trying to get shit done, the only "celebrity cookbooks" I do own are all the Nigella ones (because I have a huge ladycrush on her and also, they tend not to be too fiddly so therefore do-able) and Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, which is complete lifestyle porn, only with more words and a few pictures.
posted by Kitteh at 6:42 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The recipes that I use in the big books aren't usually "finished" on their own; I think Bittman's, in particular, are aimed at providing you with a base for variation, and that's how I treat them.

Totally. This is a really important distinction, that you have to carry with you when you read his book. If you cook at home a lot, and have a decent pantry built, Bittman's book is a good reference book. What my wife and I typically do is look at 3-4 recipes for the same dish, and then sort of mash them together, with heavy underpinnings from How to Cook Everything and Cooks Illustrated.

Having a framework like this, and experimenting with flavors within those architectures makes for some really fun home cooking, but you have to work at it. We play really fast and loose with flavors, but not the framework of what we're doing. We use the cooks illustrated recipe for Fried chicken to the letter, except we replace all of the seasoning with Garam Masala...which makes for some really incredible flavored fried chicken (the idea came from a really long and convoluted train of thought when we started cooking real Indian food at home). We've never run across this flavoring before, but we decided to run with it. Just last night we made Po' Boys with fried chicken breast in them, flavored heavily with Garam Masala; and it was fantastic. Not authentic in the least, but we both kind of freaked out at how tasty it was.

But that said, we have a couple high-quality, well-known specialty cookbooks, from *ahem* celebrity cooks. like Charcuterie and Momofuku.

There's a ton of shitty cookbooks out there, but there's also a ton of really good ones, that are incredibly useful.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:49 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]



There's a TV show, Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag that does this. I watch it every time I catch it. I'm more interested in the frustrations and results of following the recipes than I am in the buy/pass part, and could do without the product reviews. I'm reluctant to try new cookbooks, because there aren't many that I cook more than a few recipes from anyway. I'm more often tempted by magazines or blog posts because of the comments and asides. Which brings me to...

I recently did some freelance work for a magazine that was relaunching its website. My job was to source stock images for about 2600 recipes in the archives. I was surprised that this was how they did things, but apparently, it's not unusual. I worked really hard to read the recipes and make sure that the images I chose were either truly representative of the recipe and instructions; or if nothing existed that worked for the completed recipe, showed an element of it (like a bunch of carrots, or the spices).

At one point, I started Googling the recipes to see if there were any previously existing images, because since some of the recipes had other sources attributed, or were just so weird that I couldn't believe professionals would have made them. Curiously, the site for another magazine under the same publisher's umbrella had the same recipes, and had re-launched two years previously -- someone had done this work before me! So when I had to find an image for something like "tabbouleh roll-ups", I'd check their site, only to find that the other person had used images of things that looked like bean burritos. Sometimes there were really bad choices. Admittedly some images were hard to find, and it meant going to a few other stock image services or budgeting credits differently. So then it became a competition in my mind, me against this other person, to see if I could find the more appropriate image - though eventually it became a whole other job for someone else to compare recipes and images between the sites to share when appropriate or improve where necessary.

At the end of it all, I realized that I like to read recipes more than I like to look at food porn, and a well-written recipe helps me visualize what it should look like. Maybe it's better to not be seduced by something a food stylist has been all over.

All this is to say that now I am never surprised when I follow a recipe as best I can and it doesn't look like the picture in the end. Especially not after Oniongate.
posted by peagood at 7:09 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The recipes that I use in the big books aren't usually "finished" on their own; I think Bittman's, in particular, are aimed at providing you with a base for variation, and that's how I treat them.

Ah -- I don't own Bittman's book, and had assumed it was more of a "finished product" kind of thing. Totally get what you mean about using a recipe as a base/inspiration for something of your own.

In fact, the more I think about it, I guess it's true that even among the more specialised cookbooks, most of the ones I love best (like the Bayless book I mentioned above, and to some extent the Chez Panisse dessert/pasta ones) are combinations of finished dishes and "mother sauce"-like recipes. E.g., one section of the Bayless book is on "essentials" -- recipes that form the base for most of the stuff that comes later -- and he doles out a bunch of suggestions for other ways you might use those sauces or techniques or whatever. Most of the finished dishes also have a blurb at the end on ways you could alter the recipe, though for some (like a particularly intricate mole) this is mostly of the "try lamb instead of beef" variety. That's probably the sort of thing that makes me keep using that book -- that most of the recipes are versatile and interesting enough to use as the foundation for something else.

Err, after talking this much about a cookbook I feel like I should clarify that I am not Rick Bayless, or anyone associated with his cookbook/restaurant empire.
posted by chalkbored at 7:35 AM on May 28, 2012


Anecdotal: My wife and I have had good results from the Nigella Lawson cookbooks.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:44 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Guardian: some cookery authors feel that recipes are regrettable elements of food writing
posted by dowcrag at 8:22 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that he doesn't seem to be much of a cook, but dear lord that description of an awkward upper middle class UK meet the parents dinner was dead on perfect. Yes, you can effectively stun gun Brits over a certain age by moving the topic to gardening.
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I want to try making scotch eggs, eat tomato-coconut soup, and read GOOP!

My favorite cookbooks are the Sunset Magazine Annuals. They're arranged by month so I can either look up an ingredient in the index (I've got chicken or grapes or green onions) or I can browse the month I'm in the get seasonally appropriate recipes (give or take a month.)
posted by vespabelle at 9:47 AM on May 28, 2012


I have a confession to make.

So this apartment, the one I'm sitting in, well it used to be owned by a opera singer of a certain age and ladies of certain ages and taste naturally subscribed to various magazines and sometimes magazines subscriptions don't follow you to your retirement villa in California so they keep showing up at your old apartment and confuse the two men who are living there now. "Why are we getting Martha Stewart Living?" they will ask, and laugh about how absurd it would be for them to get Martha Stewart Living but their natural laziness will overpower this so they don't actually throw them out so one day one member of the doubt will leaf through it, looking for something to make fun of, and end up on the recipe page and notice Hey These Are Actually Really Good. Like Really Good: seasonal, simple, pretty healthy, different.....and then this person will start to cook these recipes and get a big reaction in doing so which leads to one member of the duo intercepting the magazine for the other can get it and throw it out and removing the recipe cards and hiding them in a secret box in the kitchen so the other never suspects this sudden uptick in culinary variety and skill is due entirely to unintended issues of Martha Stewart Living.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on May 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Whelk: I agree that he doesn't seem to be much of a cook, but dear lord that description of an awkward upper middle class UK meet the parents dinner was dead on perfect.

Yeah, I pretty much lost it when I read this:

Parents have an endless capacity to talk about gardening, and what plays they’ve seen lately, and when they’re planning to retire. There are so  many pleasantries to exchange that there need never be a quiet moment with parents around – they’ll talk about anything so long as to avoid the blatant fact that the their respective sons get naked with each other.

So true.
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:29 AM on May 28, 2012


Anyone interested in a less snarky, more practical, vegan version of this idea? I give you Cooking the Vegan Books. She also sometimes reviews products, particularly vegan ingredients. I love this blog, particularly the index down the side of the different cookbooks.

This blog totally sold me on Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Teri Romero, whose cookbooks are absolutely excellent, and really work. I've literally never had a recipe fail from either author. The one time I thought something had gone south (the dough was really watery) I literally found a note in the recipe saying "the dough will be kind of watery" or something to that effect.
posted by Wylla at 11:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wylla,

Aside from the lentil soup in Appetite for Reduction and the lemony cookies in VwaV, I too have never had a problem with Isa or Terry's delicious recipes. If that's your bag, I can tell you pretty much any recipe in Vegan Diner by Julie Hassan is kickass as well.
posted by Kitteh at 11:28 AM on May 28, 2012


The vegan goddess pantheon is incomplete without Bryanna Clark Grogan, the only one whose recipes I will make for a party without testing beforehand.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:11 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Ad vs. Reality comparisons of fast food always cracked me up (the Taco Bell Nachos Bell Grande and the Arby's Beef 'n Cheddar just kill me everytime), but in those, it's hard to miss the incongruity. In Pip's pic comparisons, though, I'd put a little more stock in it if he's just make even a little bit of effort to get some good light on his dish and then run a little color correction. Just try to make the pics look a little bit professional-ish (at least some post-production), and the reality might match a book's pics. Otherwise it just sounds like my mom bitching about the fog rolling in.
posted by Lukenlogs at 12:17 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this is a riot. I love the dishy, bitchy tone, and I especially like that he's not faffing about trying to get a beautiful photo. He's cooking just as a rather average home cook would, and taking an average picture, rather than spending ages keeping his guests waiting on styling and lighting. I'm actually sick to death of samey over-styled food blog shots. I'd so much rather read a good cook and interesting writer's food blog than a great styler and shooter's food blog, but the latter seem to be the ones who get the attention.

As far as the purpose of the blog, it doesn't bother me that he's not trying to be more rigorous. I don't see that as the point of this. He's having a bit of fun with these books as fodder. Cooking three recipes from a book isn't enough to truly find all its strengths and weaknesses anyway. I have a couple hundred cookbooks myself, and some of them I've never cooked a thing out of, so I cheer him going ahead and taking a stab at a book at a time, even in a limited way.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:44 PM on May 28, 2012


I was willing to be on board until I saw that he used black-olives-from-a-can on Martha Stewert's leek tart instead of kalamata olives, which appear to be the sort used in the cook book's picture. I feel like that would make a reeeally big difference in flavor. Because kalamata olives are delish, and black-olives-from-a-can are only good if you eat them off your fingers one by one.

It's also amazing how crap food looks when the photo is crap. Still relatively entertaining though.
posted by Grandysaur at 1:21 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if his oven temperature is off or he is setting it too low? it seems like a lot of the total disasters are due to undercooking (beef Wellington, the soupy rhubarb queen tart, the pear and cheese gallette, etc).

Also, I know he's just joking around and I don't mean to be completely humorless but it made me uncomfortable to read about him yelling at his boyfriend so much. We wouldn't laugh if it was a woman yelling crabbilynat her boyfriend, or a guy yelling at his girlfriend, so this felt awkward, too. If he is really yelling at his boyfriend so much to offset the stress of maintaining his joke cooking blog that his boyfriend has noticed a pattern and recognizes that the food comes five minutes after the yelling starts, maybe it is time to stop cooking for a while.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:17 PM on May 28, 2012


I kind of love how inept he seems, and I really love how bad the photos are. They look like the photos I take for my blog/showing off, with shopping bags on the floor just visible on the edge of the shot and piles of onion skins behind everything.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:38 PM on May 28, 2012


"Why are we getting Martha Stewart Living?" they will ask, and laugh about how absurd it would be for them to get Martha Stewart Living but their natural laziness will overpower this so they don't actually throw them out so one day one member of the doubt will leaf through it, looking for something to make fun of, and end up on the recipe page and notice Hey These Are Actually Really Good. Like Really Good: seasonal, simple, pretty healthy, different...

I'm not a fan of anything Martha Stewart, except for Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine. It is pretty consistently good, or at least was a couple years ago when I subscribed.
posted by BrashTech at 3:44 PM on May 28, 2012


The best restaurant cookbook that I have used where everything actually tastes like what it is supposed to from the restaurant is Tom Douglas' _Seattle Kitchen_. I cooked everything except the kasu fish (unable to get sake lees in the upper midwest). I went out of my way on a trip to Seattle to order dishes from that book to compare my dish to his; spot on and reliable.

When I get a cookbook it is always a crapshoot on what comes out well, but that is what is fun though throwing out inedible material is not.
posted by jadepearl at 4:00 PM on May 28, 2012


On his review of Martha Stewart's Tarts and Pies, he says:

Starting at 2pm I thought I’d be finished by 4...

And I laugh and laugh and laugh. Finishing a single tart in two hours? That's pretty dang high hopes, even if you've made that recipe before. I'm not seeing if he thought this because of some time estimation in the recipe... If so, that's a fault of the book's. If not, however, it seems like a poor criticism of a book of tart and pie recipes, that they're finicky and time-consuming.

A while ago, there was a thread about Alton Brown, and some Mefites were complaining that he makes cooking seem more exact than it is. Brown provides recipes like chemistry experiments: this exact quantity, at this exact temperature, etc. I don't think this is a problem (I see his show as intended for those new to cooking and thus need some hard and fast guidelines to get them in the swing of things). Others, however, thought it gave the wrong impression about how cooking operates: the exact amount of time a tart should cook, for instance, depends on particulars of the ingredients you're using; how much vanilla depends on how potent the vanilla is. In general, cooking takes judgment, and the criticism was Alton Brown didn't emphasize that judgment enough.

I see this blog as falling into that trap even moreso than you can claim Alton Brown does. The blogger seems to be downright refusing to use judgment rather than the exact instructions of the recipe. I doubt that's fair to the recipe book. I doubt the books' authors expect you to totally give up your own capacity to judge how long an item needs to cook, for instance, and blindly just follow the exact words on the page. If you don't know that cooking involves judgment--and if you don't have the ability to tell what sorts of issues require judgment rather than blind following--then you probably should be looking at beginner's guides. (Like, say, good ol' Alton Brown.)

So, in short, while I'm enjoying reading this blog, I'm worried it offers unfair and inappropriate critiques of the books.
posted by meese at 6:06 PM on May 28, 2012


After having read all of the posts (review: hi-larious), I think anyone who is taking this as a serious critique of the books in question is probably missing the point. The "I don't actually know what I'm doing, and usually I'm cooking with a hangover" theme is quite prominent.
posted by Kimberly at 6:36 AM on May 29, 2012


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