Just Good Food


"Page Turners"

by John Ryan


Cookbooks from trendy restaurants are often the best page turners. I'm talking about recipes with ingredient lists such as:

4 fillets orange roughy
2 cups fish stock, (recipe on page 237)
1 cup herbed oven dried tomatoes (recipe on page 17)....

When I'm looking for something to make for dinner and I see that I need to make one or two recipes before I get started on the recipe that sounded good in the first place...I turn the page. But it isn't altogether the restaurant's or the author's fault. Actually, a number of everyday recipes would be amazing page turners if we actually wrote them down.

Take good turkey sandwiches:

Turkey Sandwiches
Serves 6

  • 1 recipe white peasant loaf (recipe on page 115)
  • 1/2 roasted turkey breast (recipe on page 312)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

If we weren't familiar with Thanksgiving and how that recipe could actually fall into place quite naturally, it would be a definite page turner. What's often needed with page turners is that sense of context, an understanding of how a dish can fall into place rather than be an ordeal. It harkens back to a different kind of cooking, one that seems to belong to times past when there was more time (was there ever?). But might be quite useful today.

When I was a kid, I remember that if my best friend's mother made a big pot of sauce on Saturday, a lasagna would turn up by Thursday or Friday. And if I was lucky, I got invited for dinner. If someone had asked for her lasagna recipe it would have been a real page turner. But here's the difference: Her tomato sauce recipe, which took the better part of a day to make, would make a gallon or so. But she'd use it in everything, soup, any number of pasta sauces, casseroles, even messy sandwiches. By contrast, in a modern, leave-no-leftovers recipe, you'd spend that time making exactly 3 cups of sauce. So if, on some cold winter day, you decided to make lasagna from scratch, you would face at least half a day's work before you could get started on the lasagna. At the end of this long day in the kitchen you would end up with just a lasagna. A splendid lasagna no doubt, but a lasagna nevertheless. On the other hand, if you did it her way, not only would lasagna be a matter of assembly, you'd have a delicious head start on several other meals.


John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.

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