On quantities and recipes…

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were famously captured during the French revolution and subsequently guillotined, because, when asked how many eggs he wanted in his omelette, he allegedly said 13.  Or 16, depending on which version you read.  Either way, not a quantity you would sensibly select. Which brings me to the fact that I have had complaints about lack of specific information in my recipes on quantities.

My mate Roy is a typical example: when he says he can’t cook, that means any recipe he follows has to be specific down the last tiny detail. He detests phrases like “season to taste” on the grounds that he has no idea what the dish should taste like, nor what his taste is.  Another friend, Elaine, complains in similar fashion about my mushroom risotto, since she would not know how much rice or how many mushrooms she should use unless it is measured specifically.

I take a much more relaxed view on these things.  Let’s say there common sense should apply, to the extent that it will be obvious if you have four people and eight big pork chops, you will probably be cooking more than your guests wish to eat.  How much would you want on your plate?  Of course, you may deliberately cook too much, to freeze some for another time for example, but never go short.  If in doubt, add a bit more!

Second factor to take into account is experience.  If you are a new cook, chances are you will make some mistakes along the way, but the more experience you build up the more you will know next time.  For cooking as with life, rather than expecting to be told, it’s far better to try things out, get a few things wrong, and learn lessons as you do.

Thirdly, remember this golden rule:  recipes are only a general guide!!  How many follow them to the letter?  You may not have ingredient A so you might choose to add ingredient B instead, finishing up with a dish that is equally delicious but a variant on the recipe as printed in your book.  So, if you particularly like mushrooms, you may choose to add more than the risotto recipe suggests, within the limits of reasonable tolerance.  You may have high blood pressure and therefore choose to reduce the salt level.

Granted it’s probably a good idea to keep the relative proportions of basic ingredients if you’re baking a cake, for example, but the only way recipes evolve is by people doing things differently.  Who knows, you may end up with a superior version!

Also, don’t assume that just because a recipe is in a  published book, it has necessarily been pre-tested a dozen times.  Nor should you believe the photographs, since the dreaded food stylists will have got their grubby mitts into the process – just don’t ask what they have done!

Fact is that you can never reproduce a recipe exactly.  For one thing, conditions are never going to be the same.  You won’t have exactly the same equipment, pots and pans, whatever.  Your oven will not be the same temperature, you won’t cook it exactly the same length of time…. Whatever it is, the dish will be yours, loosely based on the one in the book.  In the final analysis trust your own judgement, not the cook who created the recipe!!

However, one suggestion: learning the correct techniques is ALWAYS time well spent. If you can’t chop properly, practice until you can!!  Happy cooking 😉

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