Rants

A Cookbook Full of Recipes Within Recipes Can Be the Greatest of Them All

June 21, 2016

I wrote a really crazy cookbook with lots of sub-recipes. It can be confusing at times, and since the notion of recipes within recipes can be a contentious one at times, Food52 has asked me to express my feelings on the subject. Nobody ever asks me to express my feelings about feminism (I think it’s great!) or the environment (I think we should keep it!), so we will just have to settle for my feelings about cookbooks.

And I love cookbooks that have recipes within recipes! You know, the ones that call for another recipe in the same book as an ingredient in the recipe that you’re working on. Yes, if you’re trying to make the complete recipe, it can lead to the stress of having to run out and buy more ingredients that weren’t obviously stated in the initial recipe, and I can see why that could be annoying. My cookbook is quite frankly silly with them: Some recipes call for three or four other recipes and it can just get so complicated! But I think that a book full of sub-recipes can actually be the greatest cookbook of them all!

I have always loved cookbooks and as a professional cook of the last 15 or so years, I have spent many hours obsessing about recipes in all kinds of cookbooks. And it has literally never bothered me when there is a recipe within a recipe, but that said, I have never actually attempted to make anything from the really complicated French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller or my personal favorite, A Return To Cooking by Eric Ripert.

That’s because I was just looking for inspiration and would simply read the recipes and then make my own versions of them. But it turns out that 15 or so years later, I’m sick of everything I eat tasting like I made it, so I’ve recently started using recipes from cookbooks to the letter and the results have been so incredibly exciting. It’s as if somebody else is cooking with me. Sometimes I am shocked by how foreign familiar ingredients can taste when they’re not cooked the way I’m used to.

The point is that despite my newfound love of actually cooking recipes from cookbooks, it’s pretty rare that I actually cook an entire dish from a book. I’m still usually using components of recipes to augment things that I already have in my refrigerator. And that’s why, if Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman’s amazing book Tacos had been full of start to finish recipes for tacos, each with their own tortillas, proteins, salsas, and garnishes, I probably wouldn’t have used their salsa macha recipe to augment my leftovers recently. And that would be such a ridiculous bummer because I have never had anything that tasted like it ever and it changed my life a little.

And if Michael Solomonov’s recipe for cooked carrots in Zahav had been buried in a 12-hour braised lamb recipe, my wife’s Uncle Larry and I may not have experienced the joy of that simple garnish after getting drunk and roasting a chicken.

Each sandwich recipe involves at least a few sub-recipes. This means that you’ll have to flip around a bit to make any one sandwich, but get out your bookmarks, people, because it will be worth it.
Food52 contributor Megan, on Tyler's book

My point is that sometimes, or maybe always in my case, I would prefer not to dig through a book of recipes and their lists of ingredients just to figure out how to make one component of one dish and that’s why in my book I separated them out! I have a better chance of discovering a recipe I will love if they're seeded in other recipes.

If you hate it, there is literally nothing that I can do about it now because they already printed the books! I guess that if you’re really upset about it, you and your friends could buy all of the existing copies of it so that we’ll have to do a new printing of the book and in the second edition, aside from being able to print “New York Times Bestseller” on the cover (and seriously, thank you in advance for that, even if your motives were less than supportive), I can smash all of the recipes together. In fact, I take it all back, I hate recipes within recipes! Help me fix this! Hate-buy all of my stupid books and we will start a new paradigm of cookbooks with all-inclusive recipes!

Tell us: Are you going to hate-buy or love-buy Tyler's cookbook?

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6 Comments

cso June 27, 2016
I bought the cookbook after reading this article, and I'm cooking from it, and it is inspiring. And it is entertaining. I love cookbooks written by writers more than anything (see Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese as a another perfect example). I am going to be super upset if this sandwich book doesn't make it onto the Piglet list for 2017.
 
MargaretB June 22, 2016
This was such a fun read :)<br />I like recipes within recipes, because they're often vegetarian gems hidden in otherwise meaty cookbooks. Not that there aren't a lot of good veg-only cookbooks out there, but sometimes I want the book from a restaurant or author I love, and the more sub-recipes there are, the more likely I am to find a sauce or a side I can eat and love.
 
Annie S. June 21, 2016
One of my favorite and most used and stained cookbooks is like this. China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp has lots of pantry items and recipes within recipes that make the cookbook sing. It was the first cookbook that had significantly upped my cooking in quite awhile. It was a pleasure to navigate. I guess that broke me in. So yes I am in favor!
 
AntoniaJames June 21, 2016
Cookbooks with recipes within recipes should promote those sub-recipes as useful foundation ingredients by not only making cross references on the sub-recipe page to other recipes in the book that actually call for what you've just made, but also suggesting other more general ways to use it. <br /><br />As anyone who's seen my cheat codes in my NotRecipe posts will attest, I'm a zealot when it comes to applying "cook once, eat twice" or "prep once, cook twice or even thrice" to my own kitchen project plans (my more comprehensive, system-focussed approach to "menu planning"). It should not surprise you, then, that I actually welcome sub-recipes with diverse applications. ;o)
 
AntoniaJames June 21, 2016
P.S. I hope that people who are opposed to and otherwise upset by recipes within recipes will seek to understand before seeking to be understood - always a good idea when rants and hatred could come into play. ;o)
 
amysarah June 21, 2016
I hear you, AJ. And it saddens me that it's become necessary here to suggest a verbal 'speed bump' in anticipation of rants, screeds or even passive-aggressively nasty tone...about recipes. Recipes.