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Is there a place for non-"wow" recipes?

Biscuit's picture

I'm really curious about something, so please indulge me with your thoughts on this subject.


Is there - should there be - a place in everyone's kitchen for recipes that don't have the "wow" factor?


I ask because over the course of my now almost 9 years here at CT I have noticed that people will post reviews of recipes, and quite often I see statements to the effect of, "This recipe was okay, but it didn't "wow" me, so I wouldn't make it again."


Well, why not?  I mean, does every recipe we make have to WOW us in order to have a place in our repertoire?  Can't some recipes just be very good, very simple, very nice, and still get to get made?  Are there really people out there - not me, obviously (G) - who must make "wow" dishes every single meal or it isn't considered successful?


I love "wow" dishes.  There are many recipes I have that are so good I could like the pan/plate/whatever.  But - those are not the norm for my kitchen.  I make blueberry pancakes.  They are good, we love them, but they don't wow me.  Tonight I broiled some grouper, made a salad, etc.  It's very good, we love eating fish of all types - but "wow"?  No. 


I make angelfood cake and lemon cake and cookies and other such simple desserts for my family.  They are good, I make them, I even make them to take to friends who've had babies or are sick.  But do these recipes "wow" me or anyone else?  No, they don't - but they are still very good and we still enjoy eating them and making them.


So - what's with the "wow" factor?  Does a recipe have to "wow" us in order to be considered successful, or be considered for making again?


Life is tough; but it's tougher when you're stupid - Col. J. Richardson, USMC

"When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty."  - George Bernard Shaw

Heather's picture

(post #32858, reply #1 of 100)

I'm sure it depends on what you mean by "not-WOW". The people you are quoting probably define that as a dish that is "edible but I'm not really interested in eating it again." The things you are talking about sound more like "not wildly exciting but it tastes good/is comforting/my family likes it/it's easy to make when I'm in a hurry/etc.
All the dishes you describe please you, your family and your friends--and I'm sure would WOW countless non-cooks across the land! So keep making them!
I have plenty of cookbooks and hundreds of clippings to try--if something is kind of boring and doesn't make me want to rush back and make it again I toss the recipe. But I continue to make some simple things that we enjoy, even if they wouldn't WOW the critics.

Glenys's picture

(post #32858, reply #3 of 100)

I'm interested in what draws you to a recipe in the first place. If it looked good and the basic premise was there, couldn't you just tweak the flavour package? If we try one recipe for twice baked souffle and it wasn't just right, do we a) never eat TBS again to get over the disappointment? b)find another method to improve texture? c) tweak the flavour because the methods are pretty much the same d)realise it just isn't your thing and thus, never make TBS again.

Heather's picture

(post #32858, reply #7 of 100)

I'm supposed to be writing copy for an invitation for a fundraiser today. Every once in a while I sneak over to CT for some diversion. And then you ask me a question that requires thought?! Not fair! And how did you know that I never make TBS? Spooky!
I tweak things all the time, in fact I usually tweak the first time I make something which isn't really the right thing to do. So maybe my answer to Biscuit was a little flip--if I tried something which was very appealing but not quite right I would make it again with improvements. But sometimes I'm trying a new recipe that is similar to something I already have a good recipe for--if it doesn't wow me I'll stick with what I already have. And sometimes things just aren't worth working on--life is short, open another cookbook!

Marcia's picture

(post #32858, reply #11 of 100)

If you know what you're doing, and I assume you do, tweaking a recipe the first time is the RIGHT thing to do. Why should you make something which you know you could make more to your taste or improve upon? I learned to trust myself about recipes a very long time ago, and we eat better because of it.

Heather's picture

(post #32858, reply #13 of 100)

My tongue was in my cheek--I do have people tell me that I should make a recipe as printed the first time so I know what it should taste like. They obviously don't cook a lot.

Marcia's picture

(post #32858, reply #21 of 100)

Got it and good for you. Some people who DO cook a lot always follow the recipe exactly the first time, or so I'm told.

Biscuit's picture

(post #32858, reply #24 of 100)

I do have people tell me that I should make a recipe as printed the first time so I know what it should taste like. They obviously don't cook a lot.


Actually - (G) - I cook all the time, and when trying a new recipe, 99% of the time I make it exactly as written - the first time.  There are always exceptions, of course, but as a general rule I do.  Not because I want to know what it SHOULD taste like but because I want to see what the author of the recipe was going for, in taste, texture, and style.


Take that blueberry cake from FC#80, for example.  She said to bake the cake for 15 minutes, THEN add the topping.  That was new to me.  My instinct was to put the blueberries on top before baking, thinking the cake would fall and become a mess if I took it out of the oven for any reason before it was done.  But I tried it anyway, and voila!  A method to her madness!


I have many other examples, as well, too many.  I have a recipe where it calls for a jalapeno in the dressing.  You can't really taste it in the finished product (I thought) so once I left it out, and the salad came out really blah - you definitely missed the jalapeno.  Now, if I'd made the recipe the FIRST time without it, I never would have known that that recipe was actually a WOW recipe, because the change I made - leaving out the jalapeno - made it blah.  See what I mean?


That's why I always recommend that people make recipes exactly as written THE FIRST TIME.  After that, if you want to tweak, go ahead.  There's always exceptions, of course - such as a cake recipe that calls for 1/4 CUP of salt, when you are pretty sure they mean 1/4 TSP. of salt (G).


Life is tough; but it's tougher when you're stupid - Col. J. Richardson, USMC

"When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty."  - George Bernard Shaw

hcookie's picture

(post #32858, reply #25 of 100)

I never get fancy with recipes so to me a WOW course is one where the ingredients are the best I can get and are cooked just right:  wild salmon that I managed to time so that it was neither raw nor overcooked; a ribeye or strip steak that tastes great and has the right amount of chew; a peach that is juicy ripe; green grapes that are not sour.  When I bake sweets the deciding factor is "was the taste and pleasure worth the calories and sugar?".   

unbaked's picture

(post #32858, reply #81 of 100)

Make a recipe as written the first time? I'd be drummed out of the MM Corps. What I don't do that I should is write down HOW I MM'd it. I've been unable to reproduce some dishes that came out incredibly good and thwap! out of my brain for good.


I think that Gretchen may have been talking about new recipes..and we all try tons of new ones constantly..that if they don't wow us, they may not make it to our non-wow repetoire.


I would imagine that everyone has dozens of old-standbys, our mothers' recipes, things grandma made, recipes we've MM'd over the years and made our own.


If there's a particular type of dish I've been wanting to try and I make one recipe and it's nothing special, I'll read the next one more carefully. I'm pretty decent at reading a recipe and knowing if it will be good or not.


But WOW recipes..maybe 3 or 4 a year get added to my personal T&T.


Of course there's a place for simple dishes. Some things shine in their utter simplicity, just like Glenys said. Sometimes a perfect melon with that Parma ham that cost more than my Michael Kors boots is a religious experience.


And there's a lot to be said for eating ripe mangos in the bathtub, in good company, of course :P


What I don't know is if most of us have any luck trading our non-wow recipes with each other here...sharing our everyday comfort foods.


My creamed tuna is really good stuff, but would I list my recipe for it if not asked? Mom's smothered pork chops are simplicity itself, but sooo good! Many of my non-wow dishes are the most satisfying things I make and not surprisingly with a man with simple tastes like DF, my easiest dishes are the ones he loves the most. Okay, my Mexican Meatloaf is TDF :P simple though it may be, lol.


This thread is fun :)


'The desire to make an effort to improve the lives of those around you does not yet live in everyone, but it does live in everyone who cooks.' -Bill Penzey, one magazine

'The desire to make an effort to improve the lives of those around you does not yet live in everyone, but it does live in everyone who cooks.' -Bill Penzey, one magazine

Jean's picture

(post #32858, reply #82 of 100)

OK. I need to try your Mexican meatloaf. Sounds good and I'm hungry.



My mother's menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.

- Buddy Hackett

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/

A  clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/
help to provide free mammograms for women in need
marie-louise's picture

(post #32858, reply #89 of 100)

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't try many new recipes anymore. And never exactly as written, LOL. These days, I mostly snatch an idea or technique & use it to tweak a recipe I've already made before.

We already have 5 binders w/ all our tried-and-true favorites. There are about 600 recipes in it. We probably "cook" 4 or 5 nights a week-other times we are going out to dinner (alone or w/ friends), going over to someone else's house for dinner, or eating take-out.(We live in the land of fabulous ethnic restaurants-last Thursday we took home Bim-em-Bap w/ all the sides for $7 each from the nearby Korean BBQ.) Last night's dinner was a salad w/ fresh figs & two kinds of cheese. That's not exactly the kind of "cooking" that requires a recipe!

Do the math: Even assuming that I made a few recipes for each meal (and I don't), it would still take me a few years to make every recipe in those binders. And those are the things that we love to eat, from recipes we have tweaked to our own tastes.

So many cookbooks, so many recipes, so little time... IMNSHO, at some point you have to stop searching for perfection and enjoy things the way they are. Good enough (or, non-WOW) is a good thing. Perhaps asking if a recipe or meal has to be perfect before you'd make it again is a part of what you are asking, Biscuit?


Edited 8/1/2006 9:39 am by marie-louise

Fledge's picture

(post #32858, reply #100 of 100)

Mom's smothered pork chops are simplicity itself, but sooo good!


recipe please....?


"Let it be, let be....whisper words of wisdom, let it be."


The Beatles

You don't scare me

I have an African Grey

Glenys's picture

(post #32858, reply #2 of 100)

I think simplicity is often underestimated as well. We had a plate of melon and prosciutto the other night when each was perfect in its own right but the two together were absolute perfection. The balance of sweet and salty, luscious and meaty was in perfect harmony. Think of a simple lettuce salad with the most simple vinaigrette, it's soul soothing.
Food presentation has a role to play in both sides, good and bad. What looks dramatic in the photo or at someone else's table can be utterly simple and eloquent, but if one is expecting an epiphany, it may not be your day. I'd rather have simple any day than overwrought flavour confusion.

Jean's picture

(post #32858, reply #6 of 100)

Even some recipes that at first glance make me go Wow are relegated to the 'not again' file due to other factors...the one I'm thinking of expressly is the sauteed ratatouille in the latest edition.  The first time around I loved it, DH did not, and reheated, it wasn't as exciting. It was a time consuming recipe to make and in the long run not worth the effort to do it again. I do a much simpler zucchini recipe that probably would take the addition of the eggplant without a problem, and it has much less oil in it and is probably more healthy because of it.



My mother's menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.

- Buddy Hackett

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/

A  clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/
help to provide free mammograms for women in need
Marcia's picture

(post #32858, reply #10 of 100)

I just love leaving zucchini OUT of ratatouille. And if it's stuffed zucchini, I figure it could just as easily be stuffed eggplant. I'll eat zucchini, but why so many people love it, I cannot fathom.

avak123's picture

(post #32858, reply #8 of 100)

The "little black dresses" of the kitchen!

Glenys's picture

(post #32858, reply #9 of 100)

Very nicely put!

Marcia's picture

(post #32858, reply #12 of 100)

I like your thoughts on simplicity. Soul soothing speaks to me, too. A perfectly made salad of young lettuce with a simple vinegrette should sooth one's soul.


Today I had a watermelon slice unadorned, and that's the way I prefer it. I feel the same way about most summer fruit, too, and it's what's right for me. Someone else would prefer a wonderful dessert, and that's fine, but a wonderful dessert can be simple, too. I remember a raspberry pie, loaded with berries, some sugar, and topped with whipped cream. It was perfection.


Edited because I left out the perfect pie crust from the perfect pie.


Edited 7/28/2006 11:30 pm ET by Marcia

wonka's picture

(post #32858, reply #20 of 100)

One of my favorite desserts is a halved papaya with the flesh scored, a bit of orange liquor sprinkled all over and left for a bit then serve with a dollop of whipping cream. Simple but really good.

pamilyn's picture

(post #32858, reply #23 of 100)

But that combination was WOW...simple but still WOW.Edit to add.....I don't think I make things again that don't WOW me. I guess it is your idea of what WOW is. To me a perfectly ripe tomato is WOW....or an ear of sweet corn in season is WOW....If it doesn't  WOW me it doesn't get made again. Peanut butter and homemade jam sandwich...WOW that's good. I have too many recipes to try to make something again that isn't WOW. So I guess it boils down to what you think WOW means. To me WOW means that I am really enjoying what I am eating and I will make it again. WOW to me does not mean some overrought three hours in the kitchen. Does that make sense? Pamilyn    The purpose of Art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls


Edited 7/29/2006 12:09 pm ET by pamilyn

The purpose of Art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls

Glenys's picture

(post #32858, reply #26 of 100)

WOW, that's just like my appreciation of melon and prosciutto.

Glenys's picture

(post #32858, reply #4 of 100)

I also think there's a tendency to call them comfort foods, which they may or may not be to some, but that's a different motivation. Perhaps they're dishes lacking combativeness all round.

DeannaS's picture

(post #32858, reply #5 of 100)

I think that comment is often in regards to a recipe that is either:
a. difficult or complex - thus not worth the hassle of making again unless it's outstanding or
b. an old standby redone - brownies, muffins, etc - one that we all already have our favorite recipes for, and wouldn't feel the need to switch unless something's over the top good.

I make lots of non-wow food. All the time. In fact, I make a lot more non-wow food than wow food. Some of it is comfort food, some of it is "it's too darn hot to cook" food, and some of it is, "I have a cranky hungry 3 year od, what can I get on the table NOW" food. All of it fills our tummies and satisfies us on some level.

But, for me to switch from my grandma's banana bread recipe to a new one? Well, that new one had darn well better WOW the pants right off of me. :)

"As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists." - Joan Dye Gussow

cookaholic's picture

(post #32858, reply #14 of 100)

What interests me in this discussion is that you recognized the situation in the first place. It is a subtle question, but one which evokes thoughtful and emotional responses.

Cooks, myself included, too often get caught up in the WOW factor and some very good "simple" recipes get dismissed as too easy or missed entirely. With the best quality ingredients available and some skill, any recipe will be outstanding. We can always add our own version of WOW, but I don't think we should be expected to when perfection is in the pure, clean taste of quality ingredients.

I had guests over last night for some chocolate cake. I've used recipes from some of the best (Alice Medrich, Flo Braker, Gail Gand, Carole Walter, etc.) but this recipe is off the back of a can of Hershey's Cocoa. While I get personal pleasure out of the more complicated recipes, honestly, this is my "go to" chocolate cake. It is almost fool-proof to make, doesn’t need adornment, and couldn't be simpler! Anyone, from beginners to seasoned veterans will enjoy having it in their repertoire.

Last night my added WOW was store-bought ice cream sauces (Fran’s Raspberry and Dark Chocolate). Instead of frosting the cake, I sprinkled it with powdered sugar and floated the cake on the syrup of their choice. My guests were thrilled, each one loved the dessert and everyone walked home happy and sated. In the end that is all that matters. I hope that people enjoy my culinary offerings and walk away with a smile. If they do, I’m guaranteed to have a smile on my face while doing the dishes.

Jean's picture

(post #32858, reply #15 of 100)

Now I have to dig out my can of Hershey's and check out that recipe to see how it compares to SueB's.



My mother's menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.

- Buddy Hackett

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/

A  clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/
help to provide free mammograms for women in need
Gretchen's picture

(post #32858, reply #18 of 100)

Forty years ago there was  a Hershey's chocolate syrup cake that you made in a cast iron skillet. It was GOOD--in memory!!  Who knows.  ;o)

Gretchen

Gretchen
cookaholic's picture

(post #32858, reply #31 of 100)

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts. I love trying new recipes and hers may be even better and easier than mine!

Jean's picture

(post #32858, reply #33 of 100)

This is in our Tried and True.


Here's a link.  http://recipecircus.com/recipes/Schnitzel/CAKE/Sue_B39s_Moist_Chocolate_Cake.html




My mother's menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.

- Buddy Hackett

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/

A  clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/
help to provide free mammograms for women in need
schnitzel's picture

(post #32858, reply #36 of 100)

Jean's picture

(post #32858, reply #39 of 100)

You're soo right.  I lost my bookmark and was too lazy to look for it.  I fixed that just now. It's right there next to my bookmark for Cooks Talk. :)



My mother's menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.

- Buddy Hackett

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/

A  clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/
help to provide free mammograms for women in need