We've all heard and perhaps even practice the home cooking rule to never use an unfamiliar recipe when entertaining. The reason is obvious and simple: not all recipes are perfect and you cannot reliably know that until you've tried it at least once, if not a couple of times. And even if the recipe is good, you still have to adjust for the variables of your specific kitchen, such as oven temperatures, the kind of salt that you use, etc.
Raw ingredients are also inconsistent. Some tomatoes are juicier or sweeter than others, for example, and knowing how to work with those inconsistencies in the recipe can make or break the end results. And why put yourself through the extra anxiety of an unknown recipe when having company over is already stressful enough?
Still, I find myself doing this with a fair amount of consistity. In order to spring a new recipe on my guests, though, four things have to be in place.
• The guests must be friends, people with whom I can fail and not feel awful.
• There must be other, reliable recipes as a part of the over-all menu, so that people will not starve if the failure is truly spectacular.
• The source of the recipe should be generally reliable. Example: I have never had a recipe from The Greens Cookbook fail. Ever. So I'd be more inclined to use something untested from that source over a random internet site.
• The recipe 'reads' well. An experienced cook can usually figure out if a recipe is has any major flaws with a quick read-through. I once stumbled on a recipe that called for two tablespoons of cinnamon for a cake that required 2 cups of flour and that raised a red flag for me. If even one thing is off, I will probably not use that recipe on company first time around.
But why use a new recipe on company in the first place? Why not just go with the tried-and-true? Because it's fun! I enjoy discovering something new with my friends, many of whom are adventuresome eaters just like me. I can get bored serving the same thing over and over again and this is how I like to shake it up. Also, sometimes a favorite ingredient has just reached its peak and I cannot resist throwing it onto the menu at the last minute, and this can require a fair amount of improv.
How adventuresome are you with new recipes and company?
(Image: Dana Velden)