Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hello, My Name is _________

At what point do our recipe make-overs, substitutions, swap-outs, and stand ins, take a recipe "title" out of the equation, and create a whole new animal?

I’m one of the newest members of the Barefoot Bloggers, who plan to cook Ina Garten recipes twice monthly and compare recipe notes and impressions. One of the questions asked, is how literally the recipe has to be followed. Tara, the founder, responded:

"Add nuts, omit nuts, use pecans instead of walnuts…all of that is fine…but if the recipe is for Ina’s lemon cakes and you turn out a chocolate pound cake, I think you’ve gone too far. Amending recipes to your own tastes is what cooking and baking are about but we’re all baking the same recipes here and I feel like our end products should be fairly similar - how can we rate Ina’s recipes if we change them so much?"


I’ve seen quite a few recipe swap-outs and stand-ins recently which just confuse me. I’m not talking about using Splenda in place of sugar, or pecans in place of walnuts, removing an allergens and replacing them with non-allergens, converting something to gluten free because one must do so, using applesauce in place of oil, or using vegan ingredients in place of non-vegan ingredients. In fact, there is one substitution I will always make: Best Food's Mayo in place of Miracle Whip. This should be mandatory for every person, in every case.

Anyway, I understand and even sympathize when one of more of these swaps are necessary for health reasons, and I always give those efforts a pass -- but if many or even ALL of these steps are taken -- plus several more -- is it still the same dish?

As Tara pointed out, when do we draw the line when a recipe for Ina’s lemon cake comes out as a chocolate pound cake, but it’s still titled "My Version of Ina’s Lemon Cake"? When the "appearance" of something is the only similarity? For instance, Bread Machine Soft Pretzels which are nothing more than white bread dough shaped into a pretzel shape and salted? Or when someone bakes up a Pillsbury tube biscuit, sugars the top, and calls it Homemade Shortcake. This same person sliced pre-made sugar cookie dough into rectangles, brushed them with butter and almond extract and called the recipe Scottish Shortbread.

I spotted a post today on a blog I enjoy, regarding a makeover for a very specific, very regional, very beloved tea beverage – Thai Iced Tea – which uses a different type of tea altogether, a different sweetener, a different (non)dairy, added a non-traditional flavor extract, but still calls itself Thai Tea. Why? I truly applaud the creativity, and what the cook has made here sounds like a really interesting beverage – but it isn’t Thai Tea. Admittedly she does say it’s "a decent approximation", but I think it deserves it’s own name, like Cashew Milk Rooibos Tea – which is what it is, and there is no shame in calling itself that. One could even say "Inspired by the appearance and viscosity of Thai Tea, but going in a whole new direction."

Similarly, pureeing an ingredient to a fine paste and serving it with pita does not a hummus make. The blogger Desert Candy has a GREAT opinion on the subject, and wrote a really interesting post about hummus which stuck with me a long time and actually influenced and changed my marketing habits. I started identifying, buying and thereafter making the "proper kind of hummus" and appreciating it so much more, than say, tubs of goo at Trader Joe’s marked "Tuscan White Bean Hummus." It’s Tuscan flavored White Bean Spread. Why not call it that?

So, folks, where do you stand on Recipe Makeovers which make a whole new animal out of something familiar? When should it be retitled? When does a makeover because Extreme Makeover: Food, or worse a Gender Reassignment?


  1. Well, I can understand if you have to make something gluten free, or sugar free, or nut free, but you still want the essential flavor of something.

    But if you make teriyaki chicken out of steak and bbq sauce, it's not teriyaki chicken!

    Thai tea is made with a very specific tea and flavor (and food color) blend. I myself make it sugar free and fat free all the time, but I stick with the actual thai tea base, so I get to call it Thai Tea!

    I think most people call these things by common names just to give someone an idea of what it's like -- like White Bean Humuss etc --but i agree, why not just say "White Bean Bruschetta -- like hummus only with beans?"

    gender reassignment --hah! lol

  2. What a fun group! I love some of Ina's recipes!

  3. Ok, on this I have a Very Important Opinion. I know the Thai Tea Makeover you're talking about, and I'm reminded of that debate with Dan Quayle where his opponent said "Sir, you're NO Jack Kennedy."

    Substituting Thai Tea for Rooibus tea, and Cashew Non Dairy Liquid for cream, Faux Sweetener, and Almond Extract, is in no way, shape or form, "Thai Iced Tea."

    It is exactly what you said:


    It's just the appearance and mouthfeel she was going for, and you're right, just to give someone an idea, I suppose.

    Still. Sacrilege!