WordPress Recipe Challenges ~ a mid-term report

Before we headed out to the Alps I came up with the notion of asking for recipes to cook while we are away. A sort of best of bloggers, or rather a best of those who comment on my blog, which makes them best anyway! Ha, a bit smaltzy? Yup. Anyway moving swiftly on ….

It was I thought something for me to do, after all how was I going to fill my time away from my garden? It was a way of connecting and saying thank you, for referring others to some of my favourite blogs. Besides there is a lot of WordPress food out there and I needed a way to choose.

Lots of the recipes that were suggested are sweet, I’m not a big baker, I don’t have a massive sweet tooth, I’m more of a savoury person. So it’s been a revalation to bake again. Honestly I bake about 2 or 3 times a year, it’s a bit of an event or at least a bit of a rush of blood to the head moment. Reading through the recipe suggestions, looking at the ingredients they were all tempting. I’ve made a fair few so far, a few gaps have appeared, especially over the last couple of weeks – cooking with a busted arm has been more of a challenge than I intended when I first set out!

I thought the Recipe Challenge would be fun, good to share, and get me trying some new and different things. It’s been all of those. The baking has certainly challenged me, along with cooking at altitude, cooking in a different kitchen, without all my bits and bobs around me. It’s meant I’ve had to work out quantities, convert cups and tablespoons to metric. To interpret recipes.

And the last point is probably the most important one. Interpretation. All the recipes I’m trying out are amazing, have been lovingly cooked, noted, photographed, written up, shared and commented on. And when it comes to actually making them it’s been down to me to interpret the recipe, small details, how I think the cook meant it to turn out, trying to interpret taste. How is it meant to taste? I will have noted the flavours, but are they balanced as planned?

And yes it’s been a challenge with a cranky oven, less gadgets and I have realised that I miss my zester more than anything else. The zester my mum bought me turns out to be the one thing I’m missing most from my ktchen. Using a grater just isn’t the same. I had to buy a few bits, but didn’t want to replace my kitchen at home, besides budgets, I didn’t want lots of duplicates. So I have had to be inventive or accept that it will be different.

By making and interpreting the recipes it has been driven home that lots of you are supreme bakers, I don’t have a powerful mixer, the little hand held machine I have isn’t up to the job, it’s simply not powerful enough to mix the doughs and batters and the quantities. But it’s the actual baking that I struggle most with. With a savoury dish, I can taste test it as it cooks, amend and alter, thicken, or sweeten. With baking, I make the mix and hope. Hope it turns out ok – what if it’s stodgy, doesn’t rise, is too crumbly, too sweet, collapses. You name it there are countless things that can go wrong with baking. And by the time you pull it out of the oven it’s too late to make any amendments.

So I’ve come to appreciate those that bake. I can cook ok. I can cook savoury. I know what I like. I know my limitations, but every now and then something winks at me and I try something new.  But baking, frankly scares me! You guys must have nerves of steel. That and a lot of patience.

And then to present my efforts literally presents another set of problems. I think it’s a universal bloggers problem. How to make your efforts look good? I battle with natural daylight here in a dark and small apartment. But I think this is where bakers might have it easier. Cakes, biscuits and the like are simply more photogenic than a stew or a curry. Simple! And again I’ve hit up against my tools – the apartment is overrun with green plates and crockery. It’s not particularly pleasant to eat off nor is it particularly good looking when it comes to photographing it. So my tools have limited me, and I’ve taken unfancy, simple photos. No or few dressings. Just as they come out of the oven. But that’s good too isn’t it?

And then onto the ingredients – I realise we are an international bunch, and I haven’t always been able to get all the ingredients, so I’ve had to interpret, amend or tweak. And I know my omissions will affect the outcome of the dish. The dish simply won’t be the same. But then because I’m making it and not you, the dish will by default be different.

It has made me think about how I write up recipes, I’m more of a brushstroke kind of person, or perhaps that’s how I’d like to think of myself. Maybe that’s flattery. But I realise the devil is in the detail – try and describe the consistency of something, how long something is to be cooked, what does it look like during preparation. And so on.

I also use a lot of tried and tested recipes, so I tend to copy out the details and descriptions for any reader to use, where as in reality I skip and miss and add and alter at will.  So the Recipe Challenge tells me more about my cooking style, my omissions, my faults and weaknesses, I can rush at things, like a very rushy thing indeed.

But it’s the thought and effort that goes into every single WordPress recipe that is as clear as a bell to me. Every single one is shared with thought, and that includes the ones that don’t work out as planned, or don’t look quite as appetising as the list of ingredients would have you believe.

So it’s told me lots about Blogging too. About how much effort is expanded by bloggers, how much care and attention is paid. And how valuable the little tips and comments that are made truly are.

And when I started to write this I envisaged a short note, a few bullet points maybe and here it is, a slightly tided up stream of consciousness. A realisation. A thank you letter to my fellow bloggers.

I’m off home for a couple of weeks, avoiding the half-term madness that descends on the Alps at this time of year and will be back to sea level, my home, my friends, my GARDEN. I’m planning on continuing the Recipe Challenge, the next likely candidate is another cake, there is a birthday and a book group meet up and I have a St James’ cake in mind, a stunning looking and sounding almond cake, I just hope I can do it the justice it deserves.

A bientot

Here are the links to the recipes tried and tested so far

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27 comments

  • What a wonderful idea it was! and i was nodding and smiling all the way through this piece, especially about interpretation and innovation, and mostly about how we really do cook with a dash of this and a sip of that! and how do you write that? I long for my garden to start producing again and we can get back to simple salads and cooking outside.. enough of the cooping up with yesterdays smells and low light.. I hope you can get some more use out of your arm soon , almost time to start gardening!!

    • “cooping up with yesterdays smells and low light” Here Here! Now I’m home I think some gentle gardening is in order, a few seeds can be planted in pots/seed trays and maybe some plans to be drawn up 🙂
      Pleased the post resonated with you. C

  • Like Celi before me, I think this was a great idea! Your mention of “missing” your zester made me smile. There was a time when I did quite a bit of cooking for Mom. It never failed that the kitchen items I missed most weren’t the “big ticket” items — my stove, food processor, stand mixer, etc. — it was the seemingly insignificant — the zester, peeler, corer. You can make do for most if not all of the big ticket items but no zester? How does one cope with that?

    • hi John, isn’t it strange, I thought maybe I’d miss the good pans, the stove, decent knives, and particularly the spice stash. And yes I have missed them, but I’ve generally made do. No zester – the grater is no subsitute so I don’t know the answer!

  • I love the sincerity of this post and like John and Celi I was agreeing and smiling all the way through. I would say that anyone who really enjoys to cook rarely follows a recipe to the letter – we add our own twists and turns either because we don´t have the “list” to hand and we have the confidence (or temerity!) to try something new…or there´s a streak of maverick in us. When I first moved to Spain and was waiting (months) for stuff to arrive from the UK I too missed simple things which I didn´t want to buy and a zester, garic crusher and measuring cups were probably the most missed. But you just make do and mend!

    • Oh yes the temerity of not following to the letter, but I guess that’s where we add our own personal flavours and maybe some of our personality. Pleased you liked the post too 🙂

  • Ah, all three of our friends above have given such perfect responses. I share all of those impressions of this post, and am especially grateful to know that all of my admired food-gurus (you four here all being very high on that short list!) struggle with kitchen adventures too and know the imperfections and frustrations. Well done! A great plot on your part, well executed, and a marvelously cogent journal of it all. Safe travels, and may your time at home base be filled with delights and renewal and, yes, continued healing! 🙂
    xoxo

    • The continued healing is what I’m wishing for most, I just have to take it all slowly and carefully and remember to ask for help. Luckily I have lovely friends and neighbours who have already seen action.

  • A lovely and beautiful post today. Writing up recipes is definitely the bit I hate because I never used to measure anything! I know how you feel about missing the little things in life, so bring that zester back with you! Have a brilliant trip home, I haven’t been Brighton way in about six months but used to visit friends almost every week there in the past. I’m sure your garden and plants and friends and family and cats will be overjoyed to see you. Have fun!!!

    • Thank you BFN. To be honest I’m pleased I’m not alone out here, so many posts are written with apparent ease, conviction and even (damn them!) wit, style and grace! I’m looking forward to going out onto the beach and stretching my legs, feeling the wind in my face , you know there is always wind on a UK beach!

  • What a lovely post! You do put a lot of yourself into making a beautiful presentation, and I think it comes through. I’m an on-again off-again cook, but I learn so much from well-crafted posts, and I really appreciate the creativity in the baking and cooking recipes. I look forward to learning about a St. James’ Cake…that’s a new one to me, but I like anything with almond! Safe traveling! Debra

    • Hi Debra, and thank you. To be honest I don’t spend much time in the actual setting up of the dishes (maybe I should), but I do take LOTS of photos, the majority are deleted and most are cropped. You know for me the central part is the garden, so it’s been “interesting” to be away from it as a reference point, so the cooking has come to the fore.

  • Funny, I started baking at age 6 but didn’t learn how to cook anything else until I was 18. Now I rarely bake except around the holidays but I cook “without a book” most of the time. And you are absolutely right about the essential gadget; mine is a Foley fork, a mixing fork with flattened and twisted tines that mixes anything. Wonderful post!

  • I understand where you are coming from. I think I am for all practical reasons a better savory cook than a baker as simply there are no measurements required. It is easier to experiment with flavors when you add a dash of this a dash of that, but in baking that could mean a complete failure. I think that is why this year I am going to push my limits and do more experimenting in the field of baking. Crazy…I know…

  • I love the idea that you reached out to the blogging community to find recipes. It’s a wonderful way to search for good food. We did it this weekend for a party. If I was away, I think I’d miss my zester the most also.

  • I loved this post and can totally relate to it. I have always been a cook that has experimented with dishes. I have never measured until I started creating recipes for my blog. I guess I’m a brushstroke cook like you as well. I like adding a dash of this and that to a dish.

    • Hi Karen and thank you, I don’t think you can be a brushstroke person of you bake, I think it is much more precise and exacting. Thank goodness for savoury!

  • Just getting to this, Claire. I both bake and cook, with perhaps a slight edge on the baking side of things. I don’t cook anything fancy — mostly soups, pastas, salad dressings, but I am more likely to experiment with dessert or bread variations, make a new muffin flavor, combine some different things in a crisp. Some baking is particular: I don’t do the piping and decorating bits. I think we all use our strengths, whatever they are, and whatever equipment we can get our hands on.

    • Sharyn, that’s interesting that you are more likely to experiment with the baking, I guess I’m just not as experienced a baker to have the confidence to experiment. I’ve only just started to make a bit of bread, so I think I have a way to go yet before I could play with the flavours and ingredients. I like your take on having strengths and weaknesses, so true. Sometimes I need to remember to focus on my strengths more 🙂

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