Cooking by analysis
April 11, 2005 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Cooking for Engineers - "Have an analytical mind? Like to cook? This is the site to read!"
posted by Gyan (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also, read Alton Brown's cookbooks. Plenty of neat scientific background before the actual recipies.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 8:42 AM on April 11, 2005

Man, I love the "temporal" layout of those recipes.
posted by LairBob at 8:58 AM on April 11, 2005

I really like the tone and philosophy of this web site, and will visit again. However, it presents some relatively unambitious cooking. We're talking about basic Cooking for Dummies here.

For seriously scientific cooking, I like to read Cook's Illustrated. Those people have an obsessive devotion to the craft, and what they do is prepare several - maybe dozens - of versions of a single recipe, comparing them to one another to identify the superlative recipe. The published reports read like a scholarly paper. I love when they get to really fine points, like comparing recipes in which 1/8 tsp of cinnamon was used to others which used 1/4. It's a bit ridiculous, but it has resulted in many fine meals from my kitchen.
posted by Miko at 9:13 AM on April 11, 2005

I don't get it at all. I've seen it before, and didn't get it then, either.

A standard recipe contains a parts list and instructions. How does laying out the process in an awkward table improve on that? What problem is this meant to solve?

My sole impression is that the authors found the idea of reading recipes out of a cookbook a bit too girly for their tastes, and decided to invent some sort of entry barrier. I don't think they did a very good job of it, but I can't imagine why else this would feel like an improvement to anyone. This is for engineers, normal recipes are for... what?

(And yes, CrunchyFrog -- Alton Brown gets this right by going one level further into food science. These guys have seriously missed the mark.)
posted by mendel at 9:38 AM on April 11, 2005

Excellent timing. I have to start cooking for myself next week (as I finally move out into my own house). And I am an engineer. Far better (and cheaper) than pizza and take out.
posted by SirOmega at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2005

I tell you... If engineers have trouble following plain regular recipies designed for the rest of us retards, we are obviously doomed. C'mon...
posted by Thoth at 10:07 AM on April 11, 2005

The table would work more for me if every step in a recipe could be worded in just a verb or 2, but that's not the case (as their tables illustrate). But when I copy recipes myself I do take out all the verbosity. You don't need a recipe to be a story, but the table format is a little gratuitous.

Though their articles do their site more justice, I think it's telling that I saw this site awhile ago and never came back, whereas, for example, I return to Alton Brown over and over again (perhaps Miko's comment about the "unambitious cooking" was on the mark).
posted by artifarce at 10:15 AM on April 11, 2005

wow. if all I had to write my recipes on was ticker tape, and I felt like using a t-square in the process, these would rule. if only they were done in flash with a neat "local ingredient meme" magnetization effect when I hovered over "Flour", for instance.. I could create whole new genres of cooking just by clicky-clicky!

I wonder if Visio has a wizard for this yet.
posted by kcm at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2005

This got posted to Slashdot a while ago, and the text of the post there pretty much summed up the weird impression this whole thing gives me:
It's not often I post about a website, but this one is different. It is Cooking For Engineers. No big deal, you'd think - a web site about recipes and cooking. But go look at how he's presented it. Most recipes are designed for women, and their funny way of looking at the world. These are very different and instantly understandable for tech geeks like us.
Tongue-in-cheek, yes (I hope!), but I really can't imagine what else "for engineers" might mean. Then again, with comments like
I can't count the number of times I've gotten lost following a recipe in a real cook book
As am amateur cook and professional engineer I was very impressed with the layout. I can not tell you how many times I have misread a recipe because I skimmed the English looking for the next step. Last week I skipped 3 hours of a second rise on a bread I already spent 18 hours on, if only I had not missed that step!
perhaps "for engineers" is meant to be like "for dummies", offering an alternative to microwave burritos and Mountain Dew.
posted by mendel at 10:34 AM on April 11, 2005

Oy. Check out Creme Brulée -- you can't complete the recipe with the chart alone, you have to follow a wandering, conversational 800-word recipe instead. Even if you knew what tempering and caramelizing were, you'd miss out on there being ramekins involved at all, on the plastic wrap in the chilling phase, on refrigerating them after caramelizing, on how to test doneness, or a dozen other critical details.

Now that I've read through some of the more complex recipes, I think this site would work a lot better as someone's food blog (the text bits remind me of the cooking-at-home parts of the Amateur Gourmet) without bothering with the recipe tables at all.
posted by mendel at 10:43 AM on April 11, 2005

This is an excellent and immense book if you like the how's of cooking:
The New Best Recipe (from Cook's Illustrated)
posted by smackfu at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2005

w/r/t mendel's 'weird impression': one thing that is confusing about those comments is that recipes are kind of already written for engineers.

Until the 19th century, women did not normally write their recipes down because there was simply no need. People learned how to cook by cooking from their very young childhood on.

The written recipe -- with quantities and an ingredient list first, and step-by-step instructions second -- was only developed after industrialization started to remove women from the home to work in manufacturing, often at a distance from their families. They were missing out on the hearthside instructions, and when they set up housekeeping, sometimes had only rudimentary cooking skills. The US was also absorbing enormous waves of immigrants, who were challenged by having to cook with different kitchen equipment and different foods than they knew from their home countries.

So the recipe was already an attempt at 'cooking for dummies', and its presentation was highly influenced by the (primarily male-gendered) scientific tenor of the age, with its taxonomies and emphasis on sequential order and logic. How much more engineery does it need to be?

If you want to see a funny female way of looking at the world, try reading a
posted by Miko at 11:23 AM on April 11, 2005

...historic recipe.
posted by Miko at 11:23 AM on April 11, 2005

The table is useful in seperating what needs to be done with what ingredients, in which order. It's a fine idea.
posted by iamck at 11:47 AM on April 11, 2005

Real engineers should value simplicity and ease of preparation over tabular layout. Try these sites:

6 ingredients or fewer recipes (many for 'name brand' products)

5 ingredients or fewer recipes (warning: site)

46,000 simple recipes here, very easy to sort and use

Not enough? Try the recipe website review page here to find something to suit your tastes.
posted by Jos Bleau at 11:49 AM on April 11, 2005

iamck: It would be, except that it omits things that need to be done!
posted by mendel at 11:57 AM on April 11, 2005

Another lentil recipe. Boil them. When they have foamed, add leeks and green coriander. [Crush] coriander seed, pennyroyal, laser root, mint seed and rue seed. Moisten with vinegar, add honey, garum, vinegar, mix in a little defrutum, add oil and stir. Add extra as required. Bind with amulum, drizzle with green oil and sprinkle with pepper. Serve. (Apicius, 192)

I guess that breathless "female" style of recipe writing means that Apicius and his homies were actually chicks, eh?

But I agree with Miko's main point -- the structured recipe is a relatively recent devlopment. Both matrons and professional cooks wrote or dictated their recipes as stories that required the reader have some some experience and background knowledge.
posted by maudlin at 12:34 PM on April 11, 2005

Interesting way of presenting a recipe. However, as someone with an engineering degree, I personally prefer the not-so-old fashioned recipes, but then I might just be preferring familiarity.
posted by gyc at 2:26 PM on April 11, 2005

gyc - note, having an engineering degree does not make one an engineer - otherwise i might actually be enjoying my job ;)
posted by iamck at 3:47 PM on April 11, 2005

I adore Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Although not a recipe-based cookbook but a superb reference that, if taken to heart, can give a person a grounding to help them feel their way through many cooking situations. Now in it's second edition.
posted by bz at 4:07 PM on April 11, 2005

You're absolutely right iamck, that's why I specifically didn't call myself an engineer. Perhaps a real engineer will like this site better than me.
posted by gyc at 4:14 PM on April 11, 2005

I am an engineer, of sorts, and I find the tables no more intuitive than a list of stuff and an block of text explaining how to combine them.

Computer engineer, tho'.
posted by codger at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2005

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