Good Food Blog
A routine issuePosted at 3:02PM, 04 August 2008 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
We're having people over to dinner on Saturday night. What, as Fanny Cradock used to ask, shall we give them? Will it be our tray-bake lasagne with a big bowl of salad? Boeuf bourguignon with potato dauphinoise? And shall we do the tiramisu to finish? Or the pears poached in red wine?
When it comes to flexing our culinary muscles, many of us are as wedded to our routines as we are at the gym. We stick to a core handful of recipes we have been cooking since the days when Duran Duran looked young, for the simple (and perfectly good) reason that we know we can do them. The recipes might have acquired our own little tweaks and twiddles over the years, so they are in some sense personalised, but our adventurous instincts have shrivelled like old tomatoes.
Why is this? Even the best-loved dishes in our modest repertoires were once brave experiments. It isn't just the obvious crowd-pleasers either. There are one or two dishes I first tried from what seemed like cutting-edge cookery books of the 1980s, which turned out nice, and which have turned out just as nice (or thereabouts) many dozens of times since. They have become imprisoned in my culinary consciousness, and I can't imagine ever releasing them back into the wild.
On average, I will have a go with about four recipes at best from a new cookbook
I know from my own experience that, on average, I will have a go with about four recipes at best from a new cookbook (a recent survey found this to be pretty much the national norm). Of those four, either one or none will find its way into the regular rotation.
It turns out that cooking is no different to any other branch of human endeavour in that, as we get older, we tend to consolidate. I'd rather do something familiar well than flop at something new. Also, we acquire a level of taste experience, and it becomes easier to judge from a recipe whether the end-result is likely to appeal. Sorry Heston, I just know I don't want to drink chocolate milk with boiled-down red wine in it.
All of this is a pity. It wouldn't take much to make it new, and novelty can be its own reward, especially when you regularly cook for others. Doesn't familiarity breed contempt?
That said, I'm off to reheat the last of a batch of chilli con carne I made last weekend. After all, I do it so well.