The internet is an endless wealth of knowledge. You can find almost anything out there with a simple search query, not least of which recipes. Enter the name of a dish you’d like to make, and you will get tens, hundreds, even thousands of results, from big recipe sites to little food blogs like this one.
If you’re easily satisfied, you’ll pick the one that best suits your tastes, your pantry, or your nostalgic memory of having tasted the dish before… but if you’re like me, that perfect match doesn’t often exist. If you’re like me… you have to borrow a little here, add a little there, and cobble together the perfect recipe you were searching for. I call that method “Frankensteining,” and it’s how most of my recipes are born. It’s trickier with baking, which is more of a science than an art, but it can be done — carefully, and with the acceptance that your result may not meet expectations.
Here’s an example of Frankensteining in action: I am in the process of writing a recipe for Colcannon, which I have never had, but I have a basic grasp of what the dish entails, and of course I know what I like. I did a quick Google search for recipes for Colcannon, and found roughly 162,000 results. I can tell you, I’ve already gone through at least ten of them and completely dismissed half of those. “I can’t trust a recipe for Colcannon that doesn’t even have bacon in it,” I’ll think, or “Kale? Please, this is a cabbage and potatoes dish.” (The name comes from the Gaelic cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage,” but of course it can be made with kale just as easily.)
There seems to be a 50/50 split on whether it should include leeks or scallions; leeks are probably more authentic, but they are also a pain to clean, so I will probably opt for scallions in my recipe. Martha says savoy cabbage; well, it’s the week before St. Patrick’s Day, and green cabbage is on sale, so green cabbage it is. Jason Priestley’s version calls for napa cabbage, and he apparently calls it Irish Potato Salad; I pause for a moment to debate whether or not to be mildly offended by that. Jason Priestley is known for his acting, not his wealth of food knowledge. I decide to let this one slide.
Slowly, I whittle down a list of ingredients, figure out proportions and decide on a course of action. I scribble down vague directions that I’ll need to be able to read only twice — once to make the dish and once, with revisions, to type the recipe up for posting here. Without intending it to, I’m sure that my recipe will favor at least one version out there in the vastness of cyberspace, but it will be my own in many ways.
The final stages are the cooking and the tasting, and of course they give me the most sense of accomplishment. Taking a dish from an idea, to words on a page, to food on a plate in front of me is like I imagine writing, recording and producing a song is for Ian. A way of expressing inner self, talent, ability, love of craft and satisfying that creative itch deep inside.