The Recipe Tweaker

This morning I tweaked a recipe and I wasn’t even cooking. I was reading Twitter (as I do every morning after reading The New York Times, Google Reader, and checking Facebook) and I saw my friend Elise Tweet about her beet hummus. I clicked to the recipe (see here) and then I Tweeted to her: “Have you considered adding horseradish to your beet hummus? I wonder if that’d work?” She Tweeted back: “love the idea of adding horseradish to the beet hummus. yummmmmmm.” That’s what’s known as a Tweet tweak and it’s just one example of the many tweaks I’ve been tweaking, lately, in my newfound life as a recipe tweaker.

This tweak streak started a few weeks ago when Craig and I threw a little party for our February birthdays and, being the person that I am, I bought way too many lemons and limes. When the party was over, I used the lemons to make lemon sherbet and the limes? What would I do with those limes? I decided to make a favorite cake–The Barefoot Contessa’s lemon cake (recipe here)–and to substitute the limes for the lemons. And thus was born the Leftover Lime Cake:


Everyone who ate it ooohed and ahhhed and asked for the recipe. “It’s not a recipe,” I explained, “it’s a tweak.” They looked at me blankly. Such is the life of a recipe tweaker.

The next tweak I tweaked was an idea I got after reading your comments on my Heaven & Hell Cauliflower Pasta post. Brenda, a commenter, asked: “The fennel seeds are used whole? Not ground? Not toasted?”

Well, yes, Brenda they’re normally used whole. It’s not like I even came up with that, it’s in the original Zuni Cafe recipe, but your comment got me thinking. What if I did toast the fennel seeds first? And what if I then ground them up in a coffee grinder?

Behold the best Heaven & Hell Cauliflower Pasta I’ve ever made:


As always happens when you toast and grind a spice, the fennel flavor here was much more pronounced. I also took it easier on the salt this time around after some of you complained that the dish was too salty (a strange complaint, I think, since–besides the anchovies–you’re always in control of how much salt you add. It’s not like I gave salt amounts!) But still, I’d always been too un-Bloomberglike in my salting of that particular dish, so this time I took it easy. And Craig said: “This is the best version of this you’ve ever done.”

Take a bow, recipe tweaker.

Not all of my tweaks, however, have proved successful. Sometimes what I define as a “tweak” is really just me being lazy. I was excited to make the scallops in Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home.” I followed his instructions to brine them in salt water:


But, when it came time to cook them, I ignored his instruction to use clarified butter (which would take a little time to make) and, instead, “tweaked” the recipe with olive oil as the new fat. The resulting scallops–which were supposed to be golden brown and crusty–were sad, soggy, unseared specimens (you can see them at the top of this post).

But all wasn’t lost. I “tweaked” the recipe so instead of serving them with whatever it is Thomas Keller wants you to serve them with, I served them on a bed of cabbage cooked with bacon and wine (a recipe I learned from Rebecca Charles when we made our fish musical. Recipe here.)

So even a bad tweak has a silver tweak lining. And that’s the point, isn’t it? The beginner cook cooks nervously, makes mistakes and follows a recipe like it’s the written word of God. The intermediate cook might make a change here or there, but does so cautiously. It’s only when you make big, bold changes–swapping limes for lemons, grinding and toasting your spices, ignoring the Mighty Keller–that you can call yourself a real cook. AKA: a recipe tweaker.

Let's dish!

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