In our kitchen, it's a wonderful thing to get a new cookbook (especially a free one!), because it doesn't happen all that often. Of course you hope that every new addition to the library becomes a Momofuku or an Ottolenghi, somewhere you can always turn for a novel but solid twist on familiar ingredients, or the opposite, a traditional approach to unexpected inputs.
But obviously, a book doesn't automatically make it to the "let's make something fun...grab Momofuku" level without a few smashing successes. And in our kitchen, for test-driving a new cookbook....there's a problem, and that problem is: we wants some delicious food. We never ever want to spend time in the kitchen making something that's not delicious.
I guess that's why we don't review cookbooks rount here. I never want to spend an hour chopping and peeling and dirtying utensils and dishes and then wait another hour while something cooks, only for it to come out of the oven and make us frown...what possible satisfaction could be gained from this. I understand that this is a job some people have, recipe testing, people do this for a living, but god how depressing does that sound (unless it's some kind of perfection-oriented quest like ze Cook's Illustrated)...
So in the interest of this necessary deliciousness we can't actually review a cookbook properly. We start out by trying to test or follow the recipe, but if something is counterintuitive or unclear to the point of possibly fucking things up ("8 potatoes, thinly sliced" can result in some pretty wildly varying amounts of potatoes, no?...give me grams or cups, or at least a potato size), then we cross-reference some other trustable recipe sources to get a better idea of what's supposed to happen in terms of ingredient proportions.
If, when we're cross-referencing, we see that Nigella or Bourdain or Julia or Bittman or Marcella or Wolfert says to put a splash of white wine in there, then we probably will. If the original dish is filled with bacon but the adapted recipe we're looking at has zero smoky elements, then we're likely to season with smoked salt and throw in a pinch of pimentón instead of paprika. And if enough things accumulate that don't sound delicious, then we just switch to rescue mode and "start cooking".
So after looking at the recipe for Home Made Winter's tartiflette with cod today, we knew from the outset we were going to throw some bacon and white wine in there just to be safe, but really, we changed a lot of things. And our end result was delicious, but I'm sure it's quite different from whatever the original instructions would've resulted in.
tartiflette with cod.
250g raw lean bacon, cubed, or lardons
3 cups mandolined red-skinned potatoes
3 medium yellow onions, mandolined
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
250g fresh cod filets
1 and 1/4 cup cream (full cream, anything less will curdle)
1 tsp black pepper
tiny pinch pimentón
tiny pinch smoked salt
200g reblochon cheese
So yes we added bacon. Saute the bacon until it's given up all of its, ehh liquid, and has lost almost half its volume, as bacon tends to do. Set the bacon aside and get rid of most of the fat in the pan.
We decided that something in this recipe should have some direct contact with a hot pan and the onions weren't quick enough to escape. We threw the onions in with the reserved bacon fat, sauteed for a bit then tossed the wine and bacon and maybe half the thyme in there when it got dry. We sauteed a little more.
Then we tried to assemble everything in layers in a buttered baking dish. We did season the cream as the Home Made Winter (hereafter HMW) recipe suggested. We did not grate the reblochon as suggested because we'd still be trying to get it out of the grater if we had: seems like a cheese you'd want to freeze a little before grating. We did use the rind as everyone suggested.
HMW says to layer your cold ingredients (our onions were hot), cover your dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 15 more.
Based on our results, there may be a good reason why almost every other recipe we saw including Bourdain and Nigella has you pre-cook your potatoes before layering and baking. It took our potatoes a full hour to cook the HMW way, which is pretty much exactly what Cook's Illustrated told us would be the case (they start you instead with bringing your potatoes to a simmer in a pan (5 min), simmer till they're tender (15-20 min) and then bake for 20 minutes and rest for 10-15 minutes.
It's not a big deal, right? We added some extra ingredients, one or two seasoning tweaks, did some extra cooking, and things turned out delicious. It just makes me put Home Made Winter back on the shelf for now instead of looking for the next thing I'll cook out of it.