Changing The Way We Write Recipes

Should we change the way food writers set up recipes? 

Dianne Jacob, one of my food writing heroes, yesterdat pointed readers of her blog to a story about how Mark Bittman has changed the way he writes recipes, at least for his latest cookbook, "How To Cook Everything Fast." 

For too long, cookbooks have been geared for chefs and written as one would write recipes for a professional kitchen with pars and prep cooks and helpers, Bittman argues. It seems the point is that home cooks have no use for mis en place. I might contend that it's useful sometimes, especially for scattered cooks (like myself). But he's right, nowadays we have to prep and cook quickly, perform multiple tasks at the same time just to get a warm meal on the table for our families. Open mail. Boil water. Start laundry. Chop onions. We settle down to sup for a moment, a very brief one, then life speeds right back up again. 

"...this all meant that Bittman and his team would have to closely examine what he calls the 'codification' of kitchen techniques, breaking down the steps in a recipe that seasoned home cooks may chalk up to intuition — when to start boiling a pot of water, for instance, or what to do with kitchen scraps as you create them. 'A beginner does not know how to do that,' Bittman says. 'A beginner thinks, oh, I have to have this chopped, I have to have this measured out, and by the time they start cooking, 20 minutes have passed, and it’s only a 20 minute recipe.'"

So we need to change the way we write recipes. If people like Hugh Acheson are correct, and as a nation we've forgotten how to cook, we need a coach. A cookbook should help. Here's how one in the new style, for a butternut squash soup, looks under the new style (get the full recipe here):

1. Put a large pot over medium heat.
Chop 8 slices bacon into 1-inch pieces.
2. Add the bacon to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5 to 10 minutes.
Line a plate with paper towels.
Cut the squash in half crosswise; peel and trim it, and scoop out the seeds. Cut it into chunks that will fit through the feed tube of a food processor.
Peel, quarter, and core the apples.
Trim, peel, and quarter the onion.
3. When the bacon is crisp, transfer it to the paper towels with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat to low.
Shred the vegetables and fruit in a food processor with a grating disk; empty the work bowl into the pot as it fills.
4. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, about a minute.
5. Add 5 cups stock or water and 1 cup cream. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that it bubbles gently but steadily, and cook until the squash is fully tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat under the soup and run an immersion blender through the pot or, working in batches, transfer it to an upright blender and carefully purée.
7. Reheat the soup for 1 or 2 minutes if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide the soup among 4 bowls, garnish with the bacon, and serve. Makes 4 servings.

For those of you who aren't seeing it, it's the italics that's new. It's all in the name of helping people cook more, cook better, and in the word of Dan Paschman, cook more better. He's essentially giving us a plan of attack. Instead of "One onion, chopped," it's written as just an onion. He tells you how to slice it in the instructions, and exactly when to do it. Hopefully, I guess, you the cook will be dissuaded from wasting time prepping before turning on the burners. 

What do you think, will it work? When I cook for my family, I usually wing it with no recipe. There's really no time. This could help me slow down and still get dinner on the table on time.

But when I do have the time to follow a recipe, like on a Sunday, I enjoy finishing all the prep before setting into the actual cooking. 

Heading into the next issue of Crop Stories, which is already over halfway through recipe production, I think it's too late to incorporate Bittman's seemingly helpful rules into our style. With that said, I should post a recipe for a Quick Cincinnati Radish Kimchee before the weekend that will eventually be printed in the next issue, and I'll try and write it Bittman style. 

Side note: all the seed catalogs say Cincinnati Radishes are rare. Then how the fuck were they the only radish on offer at Kroger?