Are Recipes Inviolable? by Nancy Root Miller ’79

Nancy Root Miller has been editing books (mostly cookbooks) since the late 1990s. One of her former editing clients, Bristol Press, hired her to write two cookbooks, Best 50 Ice Cream Sundaes and Best 50 Cookies; they were published in the early 2000s and are still available, though sadly, Bristol Press is defunct. This article is an as-yet-unposted entry for her food blog, Rivertree Kitchen. A cookbook based on the blog is in the works. With any luck, someone will publish it someday.

Renowned chef and author David Lebovitz said on a recent blog post about helpful kitchen tips that we shouldn’t substitute ingredients when following a recipe. His reasoning is that the author has put in a lot of time, experience and experimentation in creating that recipe, and you should respect that.

I certainly agree with the logic, even though it goes against my blog’s reason for being (“Think outside the recipe” is my tagline, after all). I do put time and thought into my recipes, tweaking them to get them just right. And I certainly have respect for the cooks who wrote the recipes in cookbooks or on blogs, as well as the brilliant David Lebovitz himself, who knows a heck of a lot more about cooking than I do. Here’s where I run into a problem with that sentiment: I think it’s essential for good cooks to be able to think on their feet. That skill develops when you are willing to veer outside the lines. This issue came up with our Thanksgiving dressing. (Yes, dressing; we are not “stuffing” people in our house.) My Grandma Ruth’s dressing is the only way to fly. It’s very simple: Riley’s beef sausage, Nabisco Royal Lunch crackers, onion, sage, and water.

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