Write it Right, or Risk Recipe Disaster


After talking about recipe basics over at What to Feed Your Raiding Party, I recently ran into a great example of why pre-reading is so very important!

We had a little family fish-fry this weekend and I was in the mood for some cheese grits. Sure, I could make grits on the stove and melt-in pieces of cheese but I wanted something with a little more… oomph? So I went to a reliable source: River Road Recipes.

Garlic Cheese Grits

2 cups water
1 cup quick grits
1 roll garlic cheese
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce

Bring water and salt to a soft boil. Add grits slowly, stirring constantly, as it will thicken quickly because of the small amount of water. After a few minutes of cooking, remove from heat and add cheese (which has been cut in 4 or 5 pieces) and butter. After cooking a few more minutes, add egg yolks, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. Mix well. Fold in stiff egg whites with a fork. Put mixture in a greased baking dish. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until golden brown. This dish should be served immediately, as it will rise.

Now, I’m sure Mrs Fred A. Blanche, Jr., assumed everyone would know how these grits were made and that no one would mind a little short-hand. And the Junior League committee members in 1976 probably had no idea that their fundraiser would go into more than 20 additional printings and that certain things would need to be spelled out for future generations and cooks that are not local to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In her defense, she didn’t commit the most heinous recipe wrong: asking for additional ingredients in the instructions. Even if it’s just a bit of water, when you’re in the middle of cooking is not always the best time to stop and measure something you weren’t expecting.

Let’s examine the offenses she did commit:

  1. Vague ingredients, both in measurement and description.
  2. Missing preparation specifics, multiple counts.

Two out of three ain’t bad? Maybe in Meat loaf, but in cheese grits it could have been pretty bad.

First the vagueness. Salt and pepper are frequently added ‘to taste’ so that’s not the end of the world, but Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces can have a big impact in little doses–knowing the target is 2 or 3 dashes plus maybe more for taste is better than not having a starting point of reference.

The worst part of this one, though, comes with the “1 roll garlic cheese.” First, what is garlic cheese? If you do not have a labeled product in your grocery store, knowing more about it would give you a better shot of making an adequate substitution. Second, how much is a roll? Is it 10 oz like a large roll of chevre or a 1 pound block? Maybe your store carries different sizes of garlic cheese, which should you get?

But the more problematic is the lack of instructions on both the cheese and the eggs. Reading the recipe we learn that the cheese should be cut into multiple pieces before being added. With the eggs, we know they need to be separated, but what else? Turns out the whites need to be whipped stiff. If you plunged into the recipe without reading the instructions, trusting that you knew the basics, the grits would have turned to well-flavored paste by the time you got those white whipped into shape. Not to mention how difficult it would have been to fold the white and grits together.

The takeaway? Do I really need to say always read the recipe if you’re making something for the first time? Read the recipe if it’s the first time or the first time in a while. Refresh your memory. But, also, when you’re writing down recipes of your own or sharing someone else’s with a friend, do everyone a favor and write it the right way.

Oh, it turns out that garlic cheese is a softer cheese infused with garlic. We ended up using a pound of white cheddar and the grits tasted somewhat like white cheddar popcorn. In the future I’d like to try this with a container of Garlic and Herb Boursin–I’m betting it would be delicious!