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Cooks Who Make Me Crazy

Hey, you with the unhelpful recipe comments: ten yards. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

I love recipe sites that let users post reviews. (Ours, for instance.) Friendly advice from other cooks I’ll never meet has helped me come up with small improvements or even saved me from disaster.

But there oughta be a law. Or even an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not post reviews of recipes on Web sites if thou hast not actually followed the recipe — at least for the most part.

I’m not talking about someone who, say, decides to use allspice instead of cinnamon, or cut back on the salt. I do my share of that. I’m talking about cooks who make five ingredient substitutions, fry the food instead of braising it and then have the nerve to opine on whether it’s a good recipe. TWEEEEEET! (Sound of referee’s whistle.) Foul!! You’re outta here!!

Yeah, yeah. I know that recipes don’t have to be set in stone. I know there are some people who brag that they never follow the directions exactly. Fine. Just don’t do that and then award those stars or spoons or whisks or whatever your favorite Web site uses. You’re throwing off the average and making it harder for others to determine whether the dish really is right for them.

Over the weekend I was browsing through recipes for split-pea-and-ham soup on and was encouraged by a four-fork (that’s the top) review that began, “This recipe is wonderful.” I read on, to find out that for half of the split peas, the reviewer had substituted red lentils. And then it continued: “no leeks (I didn’t have any on hand), no chives, no savory, and no pork or ham — so it was vegetarian. I also added a bay leaf, a couple branches of fresh thyme and some peeled, sliced carrots.”

Over on, Lentil Rice and Veggie Bake called for lentils, of course, and long-grain white rice. Reviewer Stephanie gave it four stars (out of five) and wrote: “I used minute rice and I substituted cauliflower for the zucchini and marinara sauce for the tomato sauce…. I also crumbled up some tofu into the veggie mixture instead of using lentils.” Thanks, Steph, but you’re not helping me here.

More annoying are the people who knock a recipe for being bad when they’re the ones responsible for the mess. Back on Epicurious, another cook gave only two forks to a dish everyone else loved. Why? “I made this without the cream topping …. It was merely okay — kind of dry.” Hmmm, I wonder why?

And someone awarded a chicken recipe zero forks and called it “atrocious!” The review went on to admit, “I haven’t cooked this.”

Okay, there is a certain entertainment factor to all this. It can be funny seeing what changes people come up with. Here’s someone who made bread pudding: “The recipe called for walnuts, but I didn’t have any, so I substituted Horlick malt drink mix.”

Skillet Gnocchi With Chard and White Beans: “I didn’t have gnocchi so I substituted a can of potatoes.”

Sirloin Bourguignonne Burgers: “I substituted crab dip (that I got at the supermarket) for the pâté.”

Crockpot Meatloaf: “I ran out of bread crumbs and had no bread either so I substituted Cheez-Its.”

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins: “I didn't have any plain yogurt, so I substituted mayonnaise.”

And my personal favorite, a review I found for a recipe for a Piña Colada Tofu Shake: “Awesome….my whole family loved it.” Wow, I never would have expected that! And then the truth was revealed: “I substituted for the tofu with ice cream.”

Back to the recipe I was looking for. I settled on Yellow Split Pea Soup and skimmed the reader reviews, noticing that a few people warned it tasted too salty. So I decided to hold off on the 2 teaspoons of salt. And thank heavens for that, because there would have been way too much sodium. Now that's the kind of reader advice that's really helpful.

And in the interest of full disclosure: I didn't have yellow split peas, so I substituted green. Not even a close call. No foul!

— Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  June 16, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Jane Touzalin, recipes  
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Next: On the Menu: More Healthful Food?


'And someone awarded a chicken recipe zero forks and called it “atrocious!” The review went on to admit, “I haven’t cooked this.”'

But haven't you ever read a recipe and thought "wow, that tastes good" or "urgh"?

Posted by: backblow | June 16, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Ha. I had the same thoughts reading comments on Alton Brown's meatloaf yesterday.

Posted by: bylinemjf | June 16, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

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