Somewhere it is written, or it is now, that if your mom is a gazillion (cough, 35 weeks and 4 days, not that anyone is counting) weeks pregnant and she is the one that under ideal circumstances provides you with dinner, sooner or later that dinner is going to be breakfast pancakes with a side of bacon. You probably won’t mind.
What makes a recipe great? In my head, there’s a list of ten things and eight of them are different ways of saying the first one, which is “It works.”
- It works.
- For everyone. In every kitchen.
- Without requiring an advanced cooking degree or preexisting mastery of obscure techniques.
- Or voodoo.
- Definitely not prayer.
- It explains what you need to do in the clearest language possible.
- It anticipates where most home cooks might struggle. If something is a game-changer — i.e. it will kill the recipe if you don’t adhere closely to a step — it will warn you.
- Did I mention that it needs to work? Because it doesn’t matter what you’re making or who gave you the recipe or how transcendent it was at the Michelin-starred restaurant that night, if the recipe printed in a publication intended for home cooks doesn’t work for most of us at home, it sucks as a recipe. It leads to bad meals, bad moods and take-out. A recipe flop is about the worst way to spend your limited free time. It is a 100% guarantee that you’re not going to feel like cooking next time you have a chance.
If I were forced, because it was my job or something terrible like that, to come up with some sort of World Cup of Pancakes ranking system, it would go something like this: rumpled bed sheet-like pancakes > flat, round disc pancakes. Pancakes with fresh fruit, baked and leaky within > pancakes without fresh fruit inside. Pancakes recipes that instruct only “mix everything” > pancake recipes that make you separate wet, dry and other ingredients. Pancakes that I can decide to make on a whim and have on my plate in just over 20 minutes > pancakes that will find me still ladling, flipping, turning over a hot frying pan with 2/3 of the seemingly interminable bowl of batter still to go 20 minutes later.
Today, it’s time to correct one of the greatest oversights of the last 7.5 years on this website — sorry, no, not the grammar or excesses of commas and em-dashes, oops, there I did it again — we’re going to talk about cheese blintzes. I mean, really, what have I been waiting for? I’ve got all of the bases covered that would prequalify me for a cheese blintz proclivity: I love crêpes and Eastern European food, I’m Jewish, married to a Russian, had a deep cheese blintz addiction* when I was pregnant, and our little half-Russkie predictably cut his teeth on grandma’s homemade cheese blintzes (and Salad Olivier). And with this, I think we can isolate the real reason I’ve never made cheese blintzes for you: I don’t have to, because my mother-in-law makes them for us.
For the last three summers, I have had “fresh corn crepes” on my cooking wish list. I was mesmerized by the idea of mixing roughly chopped kernels of the ridiculously sweet bi-color corn we get around here with eggs, milk, some melted butter and salt and cooking them thin and lacy in a pan. What I didn’t have was a clue of what I’d do with them, you know, besides just eating them. Whenever I thought about them, I fell down a culinary philosophical rabbit hole — Why not just put corn on a plain crepe? Does a recipe require a reason, a bigger purpose? Did this need to be done? Was it going to raise the bar somehow on crepes or was it just cool that you could do it? I have found myself at a handful of restaurants lately that have me questioning all the things I love to do in the kitchen (namely, mixing disparate things to make a new thing I think would be quite delicious) because I felt that they were innovating for the sake of innovating, and not actually making a grander version of anything while they were at it. Oh, you cannot imagine how dull the inside of my head has become. The worst outcome of this was that I never made the crepes, despite still wanting to very much.
Last week was not my week in the kitchen, friends. I had great, ambitious designs on a rhubarb meringue tart that would be pink and pretty with a scalloped tart-shell edge and a meringue that looked like piped roses that had toasted petal tips. But as the week went on and as various really non-torments in the greater definition of the word but nonetheless tormenting to me mounted — thin curds, too thick curds, beige (you know, the color of pink rhubarb + multiple yolks) curd, slumped tart shells, wet meringues, useless broilers, blowtorches so close to empty, they emit the useless wisps of sleepy dragons, refill canister AWOL — my enjoyment of the project plummeted. But, because I’d like to teach my kid one day that he should follow through and finish what he started, I did, and lo, it was good, you know? Maybe I’m just not a meringue pie person and I forgot? None of this matters because the finished pie slid off the plate flopping face-down into the open fridge as I tried to put it away and then, as I crouched on the floor in front of the open fridge scooping fistfuls of meringue and curd into a garbage bag and questioning my life choices, my son walked in and asked what I was making for dinner.
For someone who doesn’t garden, lives pretty far from farms and couldn’t even keep a couple herbs alive on her kitchen windowsill, I take zucchini population control pretty seriously. Sure, I don’t have to lock my car door in August, I don’t have a CSA dumping boxes of it unceremoniously on my porch and then running away like a thief in the night, and it’s been a long time since I lived in a house with bats in the backyard, but I get it. The problem is real. We all must do our part.