Monday, September 7, 2009

Not As the Author Intended

I would like to get something kind of uncomfortable off of my chest: I don't follow recipes well. The problem is not that I have trouble achieving what the author intended (when I stick to the directions), and it is not a reading comprehension issue. The problem is that I often do not follow recipes on purpose.

This is surprising in light of my dogged adherence to instructions of other kinds. I'm the type who is reassured by a clear set of directives. Deep down, I like to be told what to do (in a technical sense). I have never installed new software or assembled a bookcase without reading the directions once through, then following each step to the letter. I know that there is an unknown technical directions writer out there who labored over how to guide me through steps 1 through 5, and my job is to meets that person's efforts in a cooperative and productive manner. No flash of creativity will ever take me off course when I'm trying to figure out how to insert widget A into slot B.

When it comes to recipes, you'd think my behavior would be similar. Especially when you consider some of the total failures that recipe-deviation has caused me.

Witness: flat-as-a-pancake Cowboy Cookies. When I was about 11 years old, I learned that baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable.

Witness: curdled chicken pot pie filling. Last month, I learned that lemon juice is not an acceptable substitute for white wine when you're dealing with cream sauces, forcing me to start over.

And for Pete's sake, please witness: countless bland dishes. I am still learning, on a regular basis, that you cannot always cut out all of the salt from a recipe, no matter good your intentions.

In spite of all of this, I still kind of prefer to just wing it when I'm cooking. And that's wrong in some ways. We should honor the creator's original intent, right? It seems like the respectful thing to do. Someone went out of his or her way to create a unique dish, so it seems proper for us to give it a try in its proper form before making changes.

This seems especially important for food bloggers. Each of us takes a recipe that someone else created and publishes it. Without a doubt, credit should always be given where credit is due (which is why I always link to my "inspiration recipe" and try to identify my changes). But is it right to attribute inspiration to the source, then adapt as I go along?

I dunno.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Often, I adapt recipes because I can't find dinosaur kale, or whole coriander seeds, or, in the case of this week's recipe, sugar pumpkins. So I adapt. Sometimes, as with this particular recipe, the changes are great and may even enhance the original recipe (in my humble opinion).

Sometimes, my changes are not so great. That's the interesting thing about cooking, though: you keep learning.

Acorn Squash, Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad
Adapted from this recipe at

I reduced the portion size of this recipe from 8 to 2, and substituted acorn squash for the titular sugar pumpkin in the original recipe. I also used Cypress Grove Purple Haze goat cheese, which has a floral touch of lavender in it, and I substituted fig-infused balsamic vinegar for the original red wine vinegar, all with delicious results.

cup French green lentils
1 1/2
cups 1-inch pieces peeled seeded acorn squash (from about half of a medium-sized acorn squash)
tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
/4 teaspoon ground cumin
/8 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
teaspoon sea salt
cups baby arugula
/4 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
3 large
thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
teaspoon red wine vinegar or fig-infused white balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the acorn squash cubes in a large bowl, then toss with 1 tablespoons oil, the cumin, the paprika, and the sea salt. Arrange the cubes in single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, until the edges of the cubes are golden and the squash is tender. Cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, as the squash is roasting, prepare the lentils. Place the lentils in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Soak for 10 minutes, then drain. Bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil and add the lentils, cooking until tender but firm (about 30 minutes). Drain the lentils, then give them a quick rinse with cold water, draining them again. Set aside to cool to room temperature (5 minutes).

Combine the lentils and squash with the arugula, half of the goat cheese, mint, vinegar, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among plates; sprinkle remaining goat cheese over.

Serves: 2 entree portions

1 comment:

Alicia Foodycat said...

Hmmm - that sounds familiar! My problem is that I don't follow recipes and then complain when they don't work. Which is hardly their fault!

I've got an acorn squash in my veg box this week...