Sometimes cooking is like a game of telephone. Recipes are passed down from one person to another, and as they travel they mutate – someone adds nuts where none were before, or the teaspoon of vanilla becomes a splash of bourbon somehow. Changes come from personal taste, necessity, and honest mistakes in transcription. The more degrees of separation there are between the originator and any given cook, the more the recipe will vary.
Now that the internet can provide us with recipes at a finger-tip, this phenomenon has only increased. You might think it went the other way – no handwriting to decipher, after all, and hard to find ingredients can be ordered on the same machine you used to find the recipe. Yet there’s something about online recipes that demands innovation and change. Popular sites like allrecipes.com even have sections for customizing recipes built right into them (although I see they’ve turned this into a subscriber-only feature). I think it might be that when something’s in a recipe book, it feels a bit more permanent, locked-in. The changes mostly happen when it’s transcribed on a little card and set free into the world. Online recipes, on the other hand, are virtual, with no weight or substance. It feels perfectly acceptable to bend them to our will and create something else entirely.
Take, for example, the lovely side dish I made last weekend. I found it whilst bumming around on one of my favorite catch-all craft-food-design sites, Not Martha. The link will take you to the whole post, which was an entire meal, but I was drawn to the side dish, some roasted carrots. I’d planned to make a roast chicken, we’ve always got carrots in the house (these and celery are pretty much staple foods in the Menace household – carrots, celery and onions being the basis of pretty much all of existence in cooking.) What intrigued me about the recipe is that Megan herself had winged it out of this recipe. The end result was less adherence to either previous iteration, but using them as a leaping-off point went in a new direction. A direction that once again involved beets! As I’d been contemplating this side dish I realized I had uncooked beets in the fridge and given the similarity between the two root vegetables, why not throw them in? Besides, before I cooked them they looked amazing together, like something out of a jewel box:
(Note the stick of butter lurking in the background!)
I decided I liked the basic concept of both recipes, but since Mister doesn’t care for overly spicy tastes or coriander, I decided to omit both it and the cayenne. I made a mix of what were essentially baking spices – ginger, cardamom, a wee bit of cinnamon, even a bit of nutmeg, and some ground black pepper and tossed the vegetables with them and a good quantity of olive oil. Lacking in fresh herbs I forwent them entirely, but still finished, in the French style, with the butter. The end result was a heavenly match for the lemon-roasted chicken.
Was it Spicy Roasted Baby Carrots? It was not…and yet…they were spicy, in a warm way, and they were roasted, and they were certainly carrots, though not of the baby variety. So what if there were beets at the party, and no fresh herbs? Maybe sometimes the game of telephone is necessary; perhaps we hear the message that’s meant just for us.