There was an interesting article in the NY Times about recipe “deal breakers” that got the Accidental Locavore thinking. What are the deal breakers, or stallers, when it comes to recipes? Here are a few that popped into my head:
- Substitution: This is probably the biggest reason a recipe would be a deal breaker for me. If I can’t figure out a work-around for an ingredient, piece of equipment or cooking technique, I’ll never cook it, so there’s no reason to save the recipe.
- Location: The Hudson Valley is a pretty good place to find all but the most obscure (i.e. foreign) ingredients. Amazon is a decent source for almost anything else, but it does take the fun of instant-gratification cooking out of the picture, at least for a day or two. If you’re like my friend Ivan, fresh shellfish is hard to come by, so he just reads and drools.
- Season: While this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, it’s definitely a deal postponer (just pray you remember months later). For example, looking through Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, there were some fabulous looking recipes using tomatoes. If you, like me, are in the middle of the-freeze-that-won’t-stop, you know it will be many months before anything resembling a ripe tomato will be on our doorsteps, therefore all tomato-based recipes get put aside with a big, sad sigh.
- Equipment: To quote Thoreau, “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes….” The same goes for cooking gear. Among others, that eliminates almost every recipe requiring deep fat frying. I say almost, because occasionally something looks so good that (once every five years) I will pull out a pot and fry. When I used to live in a city apartment, anything using a grill or a smoker was skipped over (meaning most food magazines from June through September). Luckily that’s no longer the case.
- Intimidation: Big or small, crazy or sane, there’s something in everyone’s kitchen that intimidates them. It may be something as simple as parchment paper or something more potentially life-threatening, like canning.
- Ingredients: You might think that’s a no-brainer, however, think about it more in terms of what the ingredients are and whether they can easily be left out or successfully substituted. For example, if I see raisins in something they can usually be forgotten. But if a recipe calls for raisins and something else sweet in a savory dish, I’ll usually skip it. Same with nuts. Since I’ve had severe allergies to nuts, if pine nuts can be substituted or the nuts don’t play an integral part, great! Otherwise, next…
- Obscure spices and/or condiments: While you could argue that this falls into the ingredients category, it’s more a case of having to source, say, 3 black cardamom pods. Like mustard seeds (which come in brown, black and yellow), I don’t know enough about cardamom pods to understand the essential differences between green and black ones. And is it enough to send me searching for those 3 elusive black pods? At one point, I had a rather complete Excel spread sheet listing all my herbs and spices because I was so tired of buying spices only to find them hidden in the back of the cupboard. A year ago, when we moved, I found 57 bottles of hot sauce, so adding more just to enhance a recipe would also put it on the deal-breaker list.
- Time: Unless something takes all day and that time is spent constantly cooking, time isn’t much of a deal breaker. Lots of great food takes time — to marinate, brine, braise, what-ever — but it’s unattended time and just requires some pre-planning. Even the all-day prep recipes occasionally have their time and place, but it’s often more of a fantasy than a reality.
There are so many good and interesting recipes out there that one needs to have a compelling reason (hunger?) to collect them, and then the time and ingredients to take them on a test drive. I’ve outlined a few of my deal breakers, what are some of yours?