On Finns and their recipes

Fuel: Weingut Steininger Riesling Kamptal 2010. Fresh and green and delicious; gives a few New Zealander sauvignon blancs a run for their money.

 

Bless my fellow Finns – we are weird and spunky sort of people with plenty of talents and strengths typically found in the smaller nations. One of those strengths is not recipe writing, however.

 

Enter a Finnish recipe forum. Ask for a recipe, for example: ”I would like to make some sort of quick and spicy pasta dish tonight – I’m thinking with chicken – anyone have a good recipe to recommend?” Behold the answers: ”Oh, I made the best dish last week, you should definitely try it! Here’s the recipe: chicken, pasta, tomatoes, tomato paste, cream cheese, onions (if you like), spices. It was sooo good!”

 

I’m glad it was good. However, what you just wrote there, dahlink, is not a recipe and does not help anyone to recreate the bestest dish you made last week. It’s just a vague list of ingredients.

 

But you must not say so! Do not make the cardinal sin of asking them to be more specific: How much cream cheese did you use? What kinds of spices? How much of each? What did you do with the ingredients? Bake them? Fry them?? Pray tell! If you do, you will most likely be subjected to a condescending, hurt answer along the lines of ”Well of course it all depends on you taste, doesn’t it, I can’t know how much cayenne you like in your food. Just make it as you like it. Haven’t you ever cooked before?” [insert implied huffs, puffs, and eye rolls]

 

You know, maybe I really haven’t cooked before. Does that mean I should never start? Everyone has been a beginner at some point, and some of those beginners do not start cooking by ear, but actually prefer to follow recipes. Some fairly experienced cooks do not cook by ear, but actually prefer to use recipes, maybe tweaking them here and there to their liking (because now they know what their liking is). Some of us never evolve into great, instinctive cooks and actually prefer to use recipes, like, always. So what? That’s why recipes exist. And it is, in fact, not particularly helpful to say to someone looking for a spicy pasta dish with chicken that they should make a dish using pasta, chicken and spices. No, I’m being quite serious: it isn’t.

 

A recipe is supposed to contain the following, at the very least:

First and foremost and absolutely: the required ingredients along with their quantities. It is quite permissible to say “or to taste” after quantities of spices if you feel a need to cover your ass, but for Pete’s sake give a quantity;

Equipment needed to prepare the dish (Pot? Frying pan? Bowls? Oven? Stovetop? What?);

A list of preparation steps – what you do with your list of ingredients does make a difference. And by this I mean the specifics of what you’re supposed to do, not vague nothingness á la “Prepare ingredients into a dough. Bake bread in oven until done.” (A real-life example!) When do I add each thing; do I whip, beat, or stir; what is the oven temperature; what size cake tin do I need – every step.

 

Gone are the days when recipes were written for professional cooks and served mainly as reminders for someone who already knew how to prepare the dish. Most dinners these days are made by non-professional cooks, and recipe writing conventions reflect that. Tempora mutantur, move with them, people.

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