Monday, June 9, 2008

Recipe Deal Breakers: A Mom's List

If you read about food, then you probably read last week's NY Times article, Recipe Deal Breakers by Kim Serverson. Kim is a witty, smart writer and really pokes fun at how idiosyncratic cooks can be. I thought it was hilarious and one of those "I wish I thought of that" kinds of pieces.

That said, Miss Kim really kicked up a dust storm among foodies by showing how some home cooks won't cook certain recipes because they have "deal breakers", like I won't do any recipe where I have to truss a chicken or whisk eggs or make a recipe inside a recipe. That kind of thing.

The foodies went freakin' beserk. Like cats in the deep end of a pool. Amazingly, there was a contingent of foodies who believed that people who had deal breakers were just home cooks who were uninspired, lazy and lacked adventure. They thought these folks just weren't trying hard enough.

And to this I say, "Oh right, you don't have small kids."

And then, I nod my head knowingly but in a really patronizing way and stick my nipple in the baby's mouth and wipe the Coq au Vin stains off my dress with back of my hand.

Here's an excerpt of my response to this discussion on Ruhlman:

...I have some deal breakers. Sue me. If I didn't we (my husband and 2 kids, ages 3 and 1) would never eat. Here's one - If I can't breastfeed while doing it, and I can breastfeed and do almost anything, I don't do it.

Seriously, sometimes my kitchen is so crazy that getting a fantastic-tasting dinner out and getting the kids and their friends seated around the table at the same time without someone needing to go to the bathroom or someone else falling off the bench and hurting themselves or pulling pans off the fire to negotiate a sharing issue, that making it happen sometimes comes down to whether I slice the garlic into slivers by hand or whether I throw my hands in the air and reach for the jar of pre-cut garlic.

I sense the foodies are shaking their heads in sorrow now.

Still, I'm there at the farmers markets picking out the best organic vegetables and fruits and in the kitchen, cooking three meals a day from scratch, including a hot breakfast every morning and some pretty imaginative snacks for the kids twice a day. I try new techniques, dishes and flavors often. I read about food everyday. And at least 3 times a week we host dinner parties or pot lucks with different friends and neighbors, usually with a bunch more kids. Maybe all this wouldn't happen if I didn't have a few built in deal breakers to help me along.

The way I see it, I'm living the cooking life.

So, to the question: "What the fuck is wrong with people?" I say: "Not a thing." We are having fun and not worrying about the parsley. We are making the kitchen fit our lives.

That’s really not such an outrageous thing, is it?

To be clear, some people's deal breakers on the NY Times site were like really stupid, like "I don't like fish". But who am I to judge, I got my own deal breakers. Here they are:

This is me. And my kids. And some other people's kids. Seriously. It is.

The Yummy Mummy's List of Recipe Deal Breakers

1. It Must Have One-Handedness Capabilities

If I can't cook one handed, I don't do it. Unless I know David will be home to supervise the kids. Too often I find myself holding Edie in one hand with my nipple in her mouth and wielding a cleaver with the other. Especially week nights. I am talented at this and can do quite a few techniques one handed, but things like boiling oil conjure up gruesome images of us in the burn ward and makes me physically ill when I think of what could happen. That's topic.

2. It Must Not Include Boiling Things To Death

I won't boil a lobster alive. Although I'm fine if someone else does the dirty work and drops him in the pot and covers the lid quickly so I don't have to witness the carnage and all that fussing and trying to crawl out of the pot and I can cover my eyes and pretend it isn't happening, then I'm completely fine. Hypocritical, yes, but the lobster boil must get done somehow. I do slice the little guys down the middle with a cleaver and feel a little less existential pain doing it this way, but there's no indication the lobster likes that it any better or appreciates my existential battles.

3. It Must Be Kind of Indestructable

If the recipe is too fussy, it won't hold up. If it can't be pulled off the fire so I can negotiate a hair-pulling fight over a princess doll and still have the meal come out, it won't work for us.

4. It Musn't Have Too many Dishes, Pots and Pans

I'm convinced some recipes are written by lonely people who have lots of time for clean up. I look at any recipe and immediately reduce the number of pans in my head before I start or wash them out as I'm going so I only have one or two or three, not ten, to clean at the end of the meal. If I don't feel the recipe writer has a sense of what will work for me in the kitchen, I have little hope the dish will work for me either. No matter what's in it.

5. I Don't Eat or Cook Insects

I know this is the latest trend in some parts of the world. I saw Bourdain eating his bug on a stick from some street vendor in Okinawa or some place. Okay for him. He is a manly, lust-worthy God of Food. But I refuse to eat or cook locusts as part of a meal no matter how cool I may seem.

6. Everyone Must Be Able to Eat It

As part of my "I Only Cook One Meal" philosophy, I make sure whatever I cook is within the realm of whatever everyone in the family can/will eat, while still trying to stretch them and introduce new flavors. This means nothing too outrageously spicy for the kids (although a little heat is okay), so I don't cook Kung Pao chicken, for example, because David and I like it, but the kids won't eat it. Scratch that dish off the list. And nothing too carb-heavy for David's new diet and exercise regime, which by the way, is totally annoying but really working. I caught a glimpse of him in the shower this morning and his body is absolutely gorgeous. And lust-worthy. Sorry, no pics. But his diet thing is still an annoying pain in the ass.

7. No Offal. Ever

Tried it. Like dryer lint in your mouth. Wrote
a post about it. Never again.

There you have it. Deal breakers. Got any?

xxoo YM



Anonymous said...

I won't do anything with brains, they taste like liver. That said, I like liver, a lot.

Sea urchin sushi is out, tried it didn't like it.

Anything to do with Americn 'cheese'.

However I have gone out and bought a smoker because I want to smoke things, now both a hot and cold smoker.

However, I don't have small children at home. He is grown up now and lives someplace else. There are recipes I won't consider for a weeknight (my wife does most of the week day cooking), but for a while I was doing a Chinese stir fry on Friday after I got home from work, from scratch.

I didn't like the way the author went at Thomas Keller. I dont' have FRench Laundry at home, but do have his bistro book. The onion soup is great, but it uses onions from one recipe, beef stock from a second, the the onion soup is a third. But I don't consider that a recipe within a recipe within a recipe. It is onion soup made with bread, cheese, beef stock and sweated onions, that is four components, two of which and assembly instructions are in the book.

Anonymous said...


Severson wrote in her article, "The chef Thomas Keller is the modern king of the fussy recipes. His books are stacked with one deal breaker after another."

In all fairness, she really didn't have "a go" at him. She said he was "fussy" for heaven's sake. That's hardly "a go". Even the guy's mother wouldn't be offended by that.

I love Keller, too and I understand why he is probably the best chef in the country/world, but I beg you to look in The French Laundry Cookbook and find a recipe I can successfully do and get on the table with one kid holding on to my leg crying and the other using a stalk of celery as a weapon.

That said, if you can suggest a recipe or two from your Keller bistro cookbook that meets my list of deal breakers...I'll take your bet, you're gonna regret 'cause I'm the best that's ever been...Okay, that last part was lyrics from "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".

Sorry. Got carried away.

Love hearing your opinion on this.


SaintTigerlily said...

Living in East Harlem, my deal breaker is very often ingredient focused. Though sometimes I am super motivated and get down to 14th street after work, or even up to Gourmet Garage or the Vinegar Factory to pick up whatever odd cheese or herb or veggie I might need, I still consider a recipe I can make using only ingredients from my local market a gem of a find.

Though limited in selection, my little Fine Fair on 120th street has some of the nicest and cheapest short-ribs, pork chops and stewing meat I've ever seen. Anything that requires slow braising is in massive supply - which is awesome in the winter.

And broccoli rabe is STILL cheaper in my market than anywhere in the city. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Mel said...

I am such a hack in the kitchen I dont even HAVE deal breakers. I am still tryna figure out ml from grams.

I have a crazy-ass friend that refuses to cook anything with more than 3 ingredients! My sympathies to her family....

m allison r said...

I agree!
1. Anything that requires so much work I can't enjoy it, or sip wine while doing it, or impulsively dance around the kitchen with my husband is not worth the effort.
2. Anything that makes me fight with my precious, hotlikefire husband while we are cooking together is not worth it. Who wants to eat when you are mad? Unless you have the make up sex before dinner, in which case the food would have to be able to wait :)
3. All that boils down to high maintenance recipes with a loooooooooonnnnnnnnngggggg list of ingredients I don't already have, and/or complicated instructions that the one half of us whose native language is not English can't decipher are Ixnayed.

Anonymous said...

Well try the French Onion soup, assuming your kids are up for hot soup.

It is beef stock, which you can freeze after you make it. All you need to do with this is simmer.

Sweated onions, which you can freeze after you make them. All you need to do is stir them every 20 minutes or so.

Then unfreeze the right amounts (it is 1.5 cups of onions and I think 6 cups of stock), heat the stock add the onions, turn a baguette into croutons, put the stock and onions into tureens, put the croutons on, lay some good swiss on top of, and shove in oven.

His roast chicken is quite good as well. Those are the only two things I've tried from it.

I won't try French Laundry at Home, my skill set isn't there yet. Someday it may be, I will try Julia Child. My wife and I both like to try our hand at complex food from time to time. I've done beef-wellington, her coq au vin is very good (better than mine).

I didn't like some of Pardus's comments either. I think I'm a pretty good home cook, but I would make no claim to be able to cook on a line. I might have the skills, I don't have the speed or stamina. But i am a cook.

In anycase I'll haul the onion soup recipe(s) out for you, but it will be a couple of days.

In my profession, engineering, I'm fussy, very fussy.

ib said...

If a recipe calls for me to use a rolling pin it is immediatley trashed. This is coming from the kid who can make creme brulee without curdling the eggs. I would rather seperate a bizzilion eggs than roll out sugar cookie dough.

krysta said...

Ack... my kid gets here before me...

You know this is why I love you... I can totally understand where you are coming from. I think, like anything, your deal breakers change according to circumstance. When all my sous chefs were small, yeah... it couldn't be too complicated or too spicy but now I can cook something spicy and with lots of pans because there is someone else to clean up. (bwahahahahaha) I'm not sure if I have a dealbreaker except if a recipe is two pages long, I , in all likelyhood, will not do it.

Shannon said...

Deal breakers for me are expense of certain ingredients, although I'll substitute a cheaper cut of meat for what they call for. So, technically that isn't a deal breaker. Hmmmm..

I guess when there is a high maintenance recipe like one that requires constant supervision and multiple steps that take all day to accomplish.

Christine said...

HA, I second IB. I don't even have a rolling pin. I contemplated buying it for a pie. Made crumble instead.

Otherwise, probably not. No offal. Although when I roast a chicken I'll boil the liver for the cat. I tried roasting along side the bird in the last minutes of cooking as suggested by some, but then the drippings had a liver taste. The liver itself was okay...but I prefer my drippings with less liver flavor. Maybe you could ease into offal with chicken livers? They are edible. I don't think my boyfriend would touch them with a ten foot pole, but maybe yours would give it a shot?

Anonymous said...

Some of my deal breakers are repeats from here:

No Insects

No Brains (I don't have any of my own and I'm not eating anything elses.)

No Balls (ditto)

No Durian (Nasty, icky, tricksy and false- I hates it. It smells like bloated road kill crossed with rotten eggs and has the texture of an overripe banana.)

Not so much on the innards. (Although once a year I do like a good haggis. I just won't make it myself.)

No Goulash. (I don't have a good reason for this. I've just never, ever liked it.)

...And the biggest one is that if it isn't family friendly it isn't happening. I have five sons aged 10 and under. I can't be a short order cook. I can't afford it and I'm not sure it'd be an especially good lesson for the kids even if I could!

I worked on a line at a couple different stations in a couple different restaurants. I think people make the mistake of thinking that in order for food to be good it has to be complex.

Home cooking and restaurant cooking are completely different beasties. If you have a meal you'd like to replicate from your favorite restaurant, it will probably be fussier than what you'd usually make. I don't think that makes it better or worse, just different.

People can get snobby. I settle for eating well, feeding my loved ones well, and leaving anyone who doesn't care alone.

Izzy's Mama said...

No offal? How awful! I do love me some crispy sweetbreads I would try cooking them but I haven't ever run across them..must be a special order thing.

What about liver? You don't eat that? I make a mean chopped liver!

Tripe on the other hand, too much preparation.

As for my deal breakers, that is a tough one. I don't know that I have any hard and fast rules.

Time is definitely an issue but depending on the recipe I might just go for it anyway.

Too many egg yolks. I don't want the immediate responsibility of coming up with a use for the whites (stupid, I know).

Must keep pondering...

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted about this; I've been ruminating on it ever since I read the Times piece.

Since G and I don't have kids, I always have tremendous admiration for you and all the cooking Moms and Dads out there -- even without kids I still have plenty of "deal breakers". For example, I don't really cook anything that looks like an insane project unless I feel really, really motivated and excited about it. I won't do it just to do it, or to prove anything to myself or anyone else.

I'm just not that interested in boning a whole chicken to make a ballotine. I'd rather have Thomas Keller's roast chicken any day (yes, one of his only truly easy recipes), or any of the other soups, stews, braises and pastas that are part of our general meal rotations.

That being said, I found organic raspberries on sale and bought five pounds of them and made jam yesterday on one of the most swelteringly intolerable days of the year -- and no, we don't have a/c in our kitchen. And my husband wasn't home, so I was by myself cooking jam, sterilizing jars and tops, dropping things and re-sterilizing them, taking the temperature of the jam, throwing more things into it to adjust the flavor, straining some of it for my elderly dad who doesn't like seeds...

And although I can't even express how thrilled I am to have twelve glistening, jewel-like jars of organic raspberry jam, all I can say is, try not to do any canning when you're by yourself. And no, a baby hanging off your boob doesn't count as not being "by yourself."

Meg said...

I'm a no-innards girl, too. Also, although I will slice things paper-thin, I won't use a mandoline. I had WAAAY too close a look at the mangled fingertip (the part that was still attached) of a friend who accidentally used hers as a fingertip guillotine.

My deal breakers vary hugely. Sometimes a recipe will make me impatient with its fussiness; other days, with a little more time and patience on hand, the same recipe sounds worth a go. I tend to prefer things that are fairly forgiving, but... meh. Sometimes I pick things that require more careful timing (and often botch it, since usually at a critical juncture, one of the kids requires attention).

I loved the NY Times article. It made me think about how other people's idiosyncracies seem strange and unreasonable, but our own are (of course!) just fine.

Anonymous said...

Anything that says, "Place ingredients into a food processor" because, sadly, my food processor and stand mixer are sitting in storage in California. Since I don't have those appliances in France, I have to read those recipes a little closer to see if they really mean it or not.

And for some reason, I hate anything that says I have to peel tomatoes. I think because it's a whole other step that I usually forget about until I go to add them to what I'm cooking.

Anonymous said...

-Offal (there is a reason it's named 'awful')
-nnatural food colors
-A recipe that claims it's 'from scratch' but then uses a cake mix, or packaged anything
-Rachel Ray
-Paula Deen
-'Simmer for 8 hours'
-'Soak overnight'
-'make a pan gravy'

Those last three are instructions that make me cringe. Definitely deal breakers.