How to Not Follow a Recipe, Part 1

As you will see, my relationship with recipes is varied. Let’s take yesterday’s bolognese sauce. Marcella’s recipe calls for:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus an additional tbsp for tossing w/ the pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef chuck
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1.5 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatos, w/ their juice
  • salt
  • black pepper, ground fresh from the mill

to be tossed with 1.25-1.5 pounds of pasta (i.e., about a box and a half of dried pasta)

I had intended to double the recipe all along, because I had the meat and because it’s a great thing to have in the freezer. Instead of this list, I used (approximately, because I didn’t measure a thing)

  • 2-3 tblsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tblsp butter
  • a sizeable chunk of pesto from the freezer, which had been getting a little worse for the wear
  • 2 chopped onions, and most of a third (one was a bit funky on the inside, so I just tossed that part)
  • about 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 hefty carrots
  • no celery
  • 2 pounds of ground venison
  • 2 cups of 2% milk (or maybe 1%; I’d have to go check)
  • about 2.5 cups of pinot grigio
  • 3 quarts of tomatos

Why the variations? Well, the most important one is that I was cooking with what I had. Ground venison is very lean, and normally (or so we’re told) requires a lot of fat. I have found that’s not true, so long as it’s cooked and seasoned properly. In something like this sauce, it wouldn’t make any difference at all. Also, the milk and wine tenderize the meat.

In general, I cut down on the fat in recipes–in this case, by reducing the oil and butter and by using 2% milk rather than whole milk. I find that it rarely makes any difference at all. In baking, sometimes I’ll add something to increase the moisture–e.g., pumpkin or applesauce–but in general the lower fat products work just fine. That said, I only use good-quality unsalted butter. No margarine, nothing like that. I pay a bit extra for butter that doesn’t have RBGH, and, if it’s cheap enough, I get organic butter, but Woodman’s in Wisconsin is the only place I’ve seen that for a reasonable price. (A side note about butter: cheaper butters often have a higher water content and slightly lower fat content. This rarely makes a difference, except in some baking.)

I don’t normally have celery around; unless I’m making stock or some other recipe that really must have celery, I just do without. It tends to turn into a science project, and I hate wasting stuff, so I just don’t get it that often. When I do, I find a few recipes that utilize it so I can use it up.

As for the extra wine, there was a half a cup left in the bottle, and it was too early in the day to start drinking, and we were planning on drinking beer with our pizza last night anyway, so I just added the extra wine. I like garlic in my sauces, and I like the tang of the pesto, so those went in, too, and I used more tomatos than called for because I like it to be a more tomato-y sauce.

So there you have it: yesterday I told you that I was using a specific recipe, and, indeed, I glanced at it to recall the order things went in the pot. But what I made diverged fairly significantly from the original, except for the basic notion of cooking the meat first with milk and then with wine before adding the tomatos. Was it good? Yup. Plus, I have enough left over for 8 or 10 more meals–into the freezer with it!

On the other hand, the recipe for crackers was nearly unchanged. It called for whole wheat flour, sunflower or pumpkin seeds ground into flour, whole sesame seeds, flax seeds ground into flour, salt, water, honey, and vegetable or olive oil. I had pumpkin seeds and ground those up, but discovered that my sesame seeds smelled a little off so I used this blend of seeds and stuff. I didn’t have flax seeds, but I did have some flax flour (also from KAF, but I don’t see it on their website any more, which makes me sad). I started to make one batch, but realized I had put in double the amount of oil, so I just went ahead and doubled the whole recipe. I haven’t rolled these out and baked them yet–Reinhart recommends letting nearly every dough sit overnight–but, as you can see, there were many fewer changes in the whole enterprise.

The other thing to be baked today, though, is some kind of banana muffins. I had a stash of old bananas in the freezer, and it’s time, but I haven’t settled on a recipe yet. My go-to recipe, sort of, is a test recipe from Cooks Illustrated that eventually ended up in the magazine (no free links to them), but I usually end up changing it. In general, when I’m baking things like breakfast muffins, I look for ways to increase the fiber and reduce the fat, so the product isn’t just a fat and sugar bomb. I’ll let you know what I end up doing, but it’s a good bet that whole wheat flour, some barley flakes, and maybe some golden flax meal will end up in the final product.

One last note: nearly everything in the bolognese sauce came from Wisconsin. The tomatos, onions, garlic, and carrots were from the CSA share, the venison was hunted by a friend. The milk, wine, oil, and butter were from somewhere else–presumably the milk and butter could have originated nearby as well. The basil for the pesto was from a back yard, I think, and I probably left out the pine nuts when I made it.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tammy
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 15:34:59

    I’ve never seen pesto put into tomato sauce. I like your version better by the way.

    Reply

  2. yeschef
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 19:09:38

    If you hang around here, you’ll see that I throw all kinds of random things into other things!

    Reply

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