Why I Do What I Do

cranberry ketchup

Hello, thick-luscious-tangy-umami-wonderful cranberry ketchup that-I-made-up-all-by-myself. This would never have happened before I had my food revelation.

*Voting is now open through Thursday, September 23.  To vote pour moi, click here.  Just scroll on down to the “P’s” until you get to Pastry Methods and Techniques.  Then, click the cute little gray heart to turn it red for me!

Oh, but you should have seen me when I first decided I wanted to cook and bake.  I was a trembling little thing, sweating with apprehension as I approached a recipe.  Here’s how it went:

  1. I would decide that I needed to cook a Dish of Some Sort
  2. I would pour through my cookbooks, trying to find the Perfect Recipe.
  3. I’d painstakingly copy said recipe onto a wee sheet of paper.
  4. Paper clutched in sweating hand, I’d head out to the grocery store.
  5. I’d wander up and down every aisle, searching for the Mandated Ingredients, checking them off (!) as I found them and placing them reverently in my cart.
  6. Having bought Said Items, I’d go home and follow my recipe blindly.
  7. Usually, and through no fault of my own, my Dish was generally edible, and even quite tasty.
  8. I’d breathe a sigh of relief and accept the Kudos of the Masses.

I went along for quite awhile thinking that my Seven Step Process was just the way it was.  That’s how to cook.  Right?

Wrong.  I was so wrong.

I didn’t realize this at first, of course.  It took years of obsessively buying and reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows on PBS, experimenting on my own, and finally going to culinary school for baking and pastry before I gradually came to the conclusion that nobody really wants us to learn to cook.  Sure, they want us to follow their recipes and then give them full credit when serving to a crowd–“These are She-She-Frou-Fee’s Brownies!” “Why,yes, isn’t it wonderful? It’s Monsieur Hoo Ha’s rack of yak.”

Here’s what I have come to understand over the years, and here’s what I want to share with you, dear readers.  And not just share it, I really want you to internalize it:  Recipes are Tyrannical.  I’ve written about it at great length on many occasions, but it’s impossible to say this too frequently:  a recipe isn’t the Word of God Writ Upon a Stone Tablet.  It’s just a list of ingredients married to a list of techniques.  The most important part is the techniques.  Where recipes fall down, and where I pick up, is in explaining that most of the techniques described are applicable to a wide range of dishes.  Yup, recipes tell us what to cook and how to cook the particular dish described in the recipe, but I walk you through the techniques, explain them in detail (some might say excruciating detail), and help you internalize the idea that once you’ve learned the techniques, you can apply them to many lists of ingredients.

Nutella cheesecake

Learn the Rules of Cheesecake, and this can be yours whenever you want it!

‘Member back up in the list at the top where I said I’d blindly follow my recipe?  Well, recipes tend to keep us in the dark and effectively blind by allowing us to assume that Recipe is Law and must be followed.  Blindly.  New cooks, especially, fall into this trap, and the myth is perpetuated by the majority of food magazines and cooking shows through omission.  It’s not that they are all telling you, “this is the only way to make Dish X.” It’s that they’re not telling you that it isn’t the only way to make Dish X.  So, we cook or bake with our lights out, relying on the road map of the recipe to lead us to our destination without really seeing where we’re going.  But, if I can show you that it’s the technique part of the recipe that’s the most important part, your lights will come on and you’ll be able to see your way to your destination before you even start cooking.  Glory, Hallelujah.

If the recipe rules start off “cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy,” I want you to know that the recipe is describing the creaming method.  I also want you to know how to perform the creaming method from start to finish without having to keep referring to your cookbook.  Furthermore, I’d like you to know that you can probably use the Two-Stage Method instead, if you’re feeling scrappy. I want you to be able to read through the technique portion of a complicated recipe for Gateau St. Honore and know that you’ll be rolling and folding in butter to make puff pastry, bringing some ingredients to a boil and then adding flour and beating in eggs to make pate a choux and making a starch-thickened custard (pastry cream) for the filling.  The rest is just assembly, a craft project.

I am absolutely passionate about this.  I share my knowledge freely, from how and why to do the Sneaky Egg Test to The Right Way to Whip Cream.  I try to answer all questions, even down to taking a look at the way folks find me in my Great Search Term Round Up posts.  Sometimes, I give out certificates, and sometimes I make videos.  I also try to knock the snobbery right out of cooking in as many ways as I can.

Can a Suc Puzzle Sugar

Want the low-down on what you need--and don't need--to be a better baker? I'm here to help.

Baking and cooking should be fun.  Unfortunately, most folks get stuck in “fearful,” leaving them unable to advance to “fun.”  If I can make you laugh while you’re learning, that might just be the spoonful of sugar you need.

My wee blog might won’t win any awards–yet–for Most Visited, but it is the Next Big Thing.  I’m not your typical food blogger.  I don’t take the most mouth-watering photographs.  I don’t even always rely on my own photos.  My goal isn’t necessarily to make you drool (although I give myself a Gold Star if I do), but to give you the confidence to go and make your own family and/or guests drool.  I don’t believe in secret recipes.  I believe in cooking and baking with real ingredients, and I enjoy Ridiculing fake food I hate Cool Whip with the burning passion of a thousand suns.  I believe in laughter.  I believe in knowledge. I believe in this blog.

If you believe in this blog, please vote for Pastry Methods and Techniques in Project Food Blog.  Take a look at my Contestant Profile.  You can also follow me on twitter, friend me on facebook and/or subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you know when my challenge posts are up.  Here are the challenges and the dates for voting:

  • Challenge #1:  Ready, Set, Blog!September 20-23
  • Challenge #2:  The Classics September 27-3
  • Challenge #3:  Discovery Dinner Party October 4-7
  • Challenge #4:  Picture Perfect October 11-14
  • Challenge #5:  Recipe Remix October 18-21
  • Challenge #6:  Road Trip!October 25-28
  • Challenge #7:  Video 411 November 8-11
  • Challenge #8:  Piece of Cake November 15-18
  • Challenge #9:  You’re the Critic November 28-December 2
  • Challenge #10:  The Final Post December 6-9

Thank you, friends.

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Comments

  1. says

    Glory, Hallelujah Jenni – I believe in your blog! And I thought Long and Hard about entering Project Food Blog myself, though I have done so, just at the last minute. So go us, I say – I’d like to think that *some* of the stuff I do isn’t typically food blogger-ish either :)

  2. says

    Hey Jen!I’d like to follow your participation in the challenge, but since I don’t do Twitter and I don’t do Facebook, how do I do your RSS feed thingy? I also love your approach. If I understand the “WHY” of doing something, it makes much more sense. “Because I said so,” doesn’t work for me! You and Alton Brown make it all make sense!

    • says

      Hi, Molly! Thanks for wanting to follow this intrepid blogger on her journey! I, too, am a big fan of Alton Brown. To subscribe to my feed, click on the RSS feed link towards the bottom of this post. In the box that says “Subscribe to this blog,” click on the way you want to subscribe–through Yahoo, if you have a Yahoo account or Google (if using Gmail) are probably the easiest ways. Thanks again! :)

  3. says

    So glad to meet you! And now glad to discover your blog. :) I want those sugar puzzle pieces. You’ve got my vote, and I look forward to see what else you get up to in the future. May we all advance!

  4. Dianne says

    Glad to support you in the contest, Jenni. My daughter and I will be making the bread you showed us how to make about three or four weeks ago this weekend. We’ll finally be home this weekend rather than out and about. You are a wonderful teacher and make recipes and techniques MUCH easier to follow. :) Good luck in the contest!

    Dee (in Fay.)

  5. Dianne says

    Hey Jenni,

    I’m more than happy to support you in this contest. :) What readers should know is you are so down to earth and make things much easier to understand the how and why things are done certain ways in cooking. My youngest daughter and I will finally make the bread you posted on your blog (about a month ago) this weekend. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    Dee (in Fay.)

  6. says

    You are the Wind Beneath My Wings. You complete me. Luke, I am your father … oh, wait, that doesn’t really apply here.

    What I’m trying to say is that you are Awesome with a capital Awesome! If I am a more confident cook, it is because I have always found unequivocal support and encouragement from you. I can’t even remember the first day I read your blog but I am most thankful for that moment! Cheering you on to go all the way in Project Food Blog – you have my vote! 8-D

    • says

      Oh, TN, you are just the best!! Thank you for being so Superior all the time, and I’m truly happy that I’ve been helpful in your Cooking Journey (although you prolly didn’t need it–you just THOUGHT you did)! :)

  7. says

    First time on your blog…and you made me a believer! I love your philosophy about recipes (probably because I don’t follow them ‘in the dark’). You’ve got one of my votes.

  8. says

    Lovely blog. Very original. Now that I’m teaching my niece how to cook I realize that what you say is true. I need to explain techniques to her. Following a recipe is definitely not enough to develop that intuitive part of cooking that you need for the recipe to come out right:-)

  9. says

    Hi, I have been silently following your blog for quite some time and I finally decided to let you know what a great read it is. I was wondering if you’d be interested in discussing something that I have wanted to discuss or read about for a long time, but not knowing where to. For one, how important is culinary or pastry school for someone who would like to pursue that path. I guess the obvious reason would be that it’s very important, but do you believe that anyone who enjoys baking can also learn just as much by not getting a degree and just learning on their own with the help of books and the internet and maybe some seminars. Enough to even go to the length of opening their own bakery or pastry business?
    I guess I should mention that much about this applies to myself. I am currently in the process of opening my own pastry business in Greece. It’s not something I have always dreamed of as I know it is for many who are in the field. For me it all started when I wanted my 2 children to have a “different” birthday cake because with all the birthdays we’d go to on the island we’d always see and eat pretty much the same thing week after week (rectangle cake smothered in whipped cream with a waffle picture on top and some little plastic toys). I remembered seeing some fantastic works of art with three dimensional cakes and rolled fondant and to give it a try. It didn’t work out overnight, but after numerous experiments and tries I had finally found the right formula and started making cakes. A lot of cakes. Then that led to making various sweets to compliment the cake, and then came the bigger projects like wedding cakes, and then more with catering sweets etc. One year later and I’m opening my own shop. Not your traditional bakery but basically a specialty sweets shop (unless there is another word for it that I don’t know). There are times when my insecurity checks in and I doubt myself, and wonder, how it all happened, but mainly, how it all happened without a single hour of professional training. Surely I think something like this could not have been possible 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago. The internet has been my savior, it has been my trainer. Endless hours online searching and reading and experimenting, but nevertheless it has been possible. I have to admit what has helped me is the area to which I cater. A greek island where there isn’t much diversity or options, even when it comes to sweets. So it’s been easy to find that “something different” to offer that the people are appreciating. It’s been harder to meet their needs taste wise but so far so good and I hope only to better that aspect with time and more practice, more knowledge. So that’s my story, and I’m very interested to hear your voice on the subject of professional training. I guess had I been 20 again I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but at 32 with 2 children and bills to pay, the high expense of culinary school plus the 2-3 years it takes wasn’t an option for me. I think I was still able to find my way around it, now I just hope it won’t all backfire someday!

  10. CharlieR says

    Hello: I’m just trying to find my way around this website.
    Came upon it about a week or to ago, by clicking new things in ever new websites.

    I’m still a little confused over it.
    Is it for those in the food industry persea, or for us lowly stay at home cooks with no formal cooking education except for the school of trial and error?
    Do you have to be a food blogger?
    If so where and how do you blog?

    I really liked your blog? today.
    So many “cooks” tend to have the attitude that “you would never be able to do this. I was trained.
    You put people at ease and make anything sound possible.

    Thank you for that!!!!

    And yes you get my vote!

    • says

      Glad you found me. My site and blog are for whoever finds the information useful. All are welcome! Feel free to ask questions if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for! :)

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