5 Jun 2016

On tweaking

No recipes this week; how could I when everything I make lately seems to depart, by accident or design, from the original printed word?

I am, as mum herself has said, my mother’s daughter — I’ve inherited the ability to look at a recipe and assess if something doesn’t quite read right, or could do with a little improvement, before I’ve even picked up a knife or turned on the oven. Or — as I’m sure most of us do — juggle and wiggle with quantities or ingredients or cooking times as we go along, to suit what we have on hand or what we’d like to taste or what just feels right.

So I told you last time that I added extra veg to Annabel’s lentilaise; and did some quick thinking during the cooking to get the texture just right. I enjoyed the final tasty dish so much I’ll make it again this winter, probably with further refinements and additions each time.

Above is a tuna pasta bake that, while tasty and filling, was utterly ordinary and not really worth repeating or indeed mentioning here, except for the fact that I used the recipe merely as a very rough guide for flavours and process — but abandoned the quantities entirely. Otherwise I would have been knee-deep in tuna pasta, for weeks to come; the volumes seemed so generous, so vast — for only four servings! (Who are these people with monstrous appetites?). Strangely though, I needed to ramp up the chilli and lemon zest, even in my much reduced pot.

Finally, the mother of all recent tweaks, this oaty cakey thing that was so loosely adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe that even she would not recognise it.

Mum and I agree that Martha recipes are never straightforward. We’ve both made her recipes essentially unaltered, and instead of the 72 biscuits Martha predicts, we end up with … 12. Or the cake is supposed to fill a large tray, yet in our kitchens, barely stretches to a modest slice tin.

But mostly with Martha recipes, it’s the sweetness. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and tend to under-measure sugar in most of my recipes, but I would defy even the most ardent sugar-sweetie lover to put 2 ½ teaspoons of vanilla into a normal-sized cake. Yes — 2 ½! Are your teeth on edge just thinking about that? That’s on top of the 2 cups of brown sugar! Naturally, I downsized this to the more standard 1 teaspoon.

Maybe even Martha had second thoughts, because the recipe then called for 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. What?! Does that not fizz your brain too? And I wonder (as I do every time, just before I vow never to make another Martha recipe): are these Martha-isms? Does she like extreme flavours? Or is it a cultural thing (I tend to find American recipes on the sweet side)? Or is a me thing?

After these and other adjustments, the resulting cake was surprisingly good (I was prepared for a dud on my hands, despite my confidence in my juggling skills). I was most surprised when my work colleagues whom I fed this too raved about it — one even said it was better than the nutella cake!

But all this tweaking on my feet has left me exhausted. I’m yearning for a cake I don’t have to second guess, a casserole I don’t have to rescue, biscuits that will work. So I’ve returned to some winter faves: my orange ricotta cupcakes, and soon, my syrupy orange upside cake.

Happy tweaking to you all!


14 comments:

  1. I haven't tried a lot of Martha recipes, probably for that reason -two and a half spoons of vanilla is definitely on the high side.
    I'm also with you on yhe constant tweaking. I made a pie recipe a few months ago (chicken, asparagus and tarragon) that called for two tablespoons (!) of mustard! I was having a "maybe I should follow recipes" moment and followed it and it was way too much. I remade it last week with some tweaks and it's now going to be my go-to for chicken pie.
    Do you sometimes think they make it up and publish without testing or tasting?
    Incidentally, do you have any suggestions about what to do with feta? I left my partner unattended at the cheese counter and now have over a kilo to deal with..

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    1. hello erin and welcome to dig in! ncie to meet a fellow tweaker :-)
      that's a lot of feta! I have no idea ... could you preserve some in pretty jars in olive oil with herbs and other flavourings? perhaps find out if it freezes (at least well enough to cook into pies, tarts or quiches)? good luck!

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  2. American recipes are always SO full of ingredients. A lot contain commercial preparations too. I have just seen a recipe on a Patchwork blog I follow which called for "Bisquick", presumably an ingredient that is common in the States. And I'm with you on the sugar too!

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    1. welcome to dig in, linda! I think bisquick is like an instant cake mix of some kind? reading recipes can be like travelling abroad without leaving your kitchen, understanding different tastes and cultural norms!

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  3. All your baked goods look delicious. :) I find that American recipes tend to include copious amounts of sugar. Definitely in need of tweaking!

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    1. ah you are too kind, leaf :-)
      it's becoming apparent that most of us are sugar tweakers!

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  4. Wow Martha likes her sugar and sodium. I have never made one of her recipes before. I will always trust your tweaked version!

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    1. thank you jem! I'm sure we are healthier for it.

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  5. I'm a serial tweaker too, usually because I realise half way through the recipe that I'm missing a vital ingredient. Beef & carrot casserole but made with pork and apricots ...
    I don't get on with Jamie Oliver recipes; my scales must measure differently to his! The most reliable recipes seem to come from bloggers I trust.

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    1. i love your casserole story! that is called putting your own spin on things. "it started out as beef and carrot..." :-)
      I'm trying to think of Jamie recipes - i haven't made anything of his for a long time. i think we all have authors we don't get along with, and ones we do.

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  6. I dont see that oaty slice recipe anywhere - that looks good. I made a slice a couple of weekends ago that was so good, but I had changed the recipe so much that I couldnt re-create it. It has dates and grated apple and next time I am going to try it with no sugar (last time I only used half a cup).

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    1. mmm, your dates and apple would be moist and sweet enough not to need a lot of sugar. yum!
      i tweaked the slice recipe SO much i really didn't think i could reproduce it here! and even though it turned out well, i don't think I'd make it again because of the amount of work required. i have others far more reliable to make!
      i must say hello to your blog:-)

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Word-verification is on, as the robot-spammers are loving my tuna past bake too much at the moment! I hope you understand - and I hope you'll still leave a comment at Dig In. I love hearing your thoughts, knowing someone is reading, and will always reply. Unless you're a robot-spammer.