In Blog, Mindfulness

Recipe Testing

Whilst every day I feel incredible grateful to have a job that I love and that “lights me up”, like anyone there are definitely parts of my job that I love more than others – and for me, one that I’m particularly passionate about is the developing and testing of new recipes. I love how inspiration can come from any and everywhere and often completely out of the blue, how suddenly a tiny acorn of an idea starts to form, the thoughts begin to flow and, before long, I find myself wide awake at silly o’clock in the morning wondering about making this little tweak and that little twist – it truly is all consuming (if you’ll excuse the pun!).

But what does the process actually involve I hear you ask? How does something go from that tiny acorn of an idea into a thriving, glorious oak tree of a finished recipe? How long does it take? How many versions are there? How do you know when to stop? How do you know when you’ve reached perfection? Or, as sometimes sadly happens, how do you know when you need to let an idea remain an idea – at least for now – and potentially one to come back to on another day? Well let me walk you through what the process of what it looks like for me…

As I said before I can get inspiration from anywhere but most often it comes from restaurants I’ve visited, holidays I’ve been on, food trends that I’m seeing and feel inspired by or just wanting to recreate/modernise traditional recipes that my mum has made. From there it’s a process of brainstorming; which ingredients? What approach? How long? How much? This piece is particularly critical as something that’s especially important to me is that the recipes I develop are kosher friendly for some of my follwers and work with my body as, after all, I’m going to be eating rather a lot of whatever it is throughout the process – and who wants to make something they can’t eat?! Then it’s into the kitchen and the fun really begins!

That first round of creating and testing is always filled with of a mixture of emotions; excitement, intrigue, nervousness, hope and fear but before long you are so totally absorbed by the process that your instincts take over – you sense when you maybe need a little more liquid, a bit longer in the oven, a slightly lower temperature. And the trepidation you feel as you take the first taste of that “first run” is simply indescribable. It’s from there that you know if the development process is going to be an endurance event or a relatively easy jog around the park! In the case of my latest creation: the gluten-and-multiple-other-things-free “Little Loaf” it was definitely more of an endurance event! This proved to be one of my biggest recipe development challenges as I was determined to develop a bread recipe that wasn’t just gluten free BUT, that was also free from soy, wheat, psyllium husk, yeast, eggs, nuts and dairy and I was determined that I was going to crack it – no matter how long it took. What I hadn’t quite anticipated though was that it was going to take me 15 attempts as, whilst most of the later attempts were passable, I kept wanting to check that I had reached perfection  or whether a little tweak here or there would actually make it even better. And that has to be one of the biggest challenges with recipe development: knowing when to stop – either because you’ve achieved peak deliciousness OR because you need to put the process on hold whilst you go back to the drawing board – for however long that might take. I’m sure that time and repetition element must be something that my followers must find incredibly frustrating – that they just want to get their hands on a recipe immediately – but feel like I’m teasing them as I won’t release it until I feel it’s perfect – no matter how many attempts that takes!

And it’s that repetition of testing that leads to another challenge – the cost! Recipe testing can be EXTREMELY expensive- especially as, whilst I try to predominantly stick to using things that are widely available in supermarkets, many of the ingredients that I find myself wanting/needing to use (“free from” and wholefood ingredients) are often more expensive than their counterparts . Additionally, with recipes for sweet items and breads often taking more attempts (and thus quantity of ingredients) they are the ones that tend to be the most expensive to develop rather than those for savoury dishes and salads. But the cost doesn’t stop there though – there’s also equipment, electricity – and sleep! I’ve been known to have a recipe related brainwave in the early hours of the morning and compulsion to test it immediately, with sleep being sacrificed in the process! Or to be ordering that one “magic” ingredient that might make the difference via my phone just before I nod off. I always try and keep a notepad beside my bed too so that if an idea hits me, I can write it down to think about more in the morning.

As the process can be long, taking days, weeks and sometimes months I also have to make sure that I’m really strict about taking notes of all of the changes that I’m making – the things that I’m trying and what’s working vs what’s not as it’s so easy to forget or lose track of what you’ve already tried in the past or why you went down route X. I tend to write this all down on a notepad, unless I’m being really efficient and saving it straight onto my computer, as I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve written things on a scrappy piece of paper only to go and lose them within hours!

Once I’m happy with the recipe and getting ready to share it, the next stage is the photography – I think it’s important that each recipe I share comes with a photo of, at least, the final version (so people know what to expect) but I sometimes also take photos or have videos made of the recipe making process so that I walk people through making it and share hints and tips along the way. Having photos is also important as the recipe may be one that I want to share with publications such as magazines or newspapers (e.g. The Jewish Chronicle), submit for competitions or include in books that I might release in the future.

I’m sure many people will read that and wonder why on earth people like me bother – why we dedicate ourselves to something that can cause sleepless nights, headaches and enormous food bills? That is, I suppose, where the passion comes in and is truly important as, just like with anything one is passionate about – be it sport, learning a new skill or organising an event – you want to do and achieve your best, no matter how long or how much sacrifice it takes. And like anything that has its challenges, it also comes with massive rewards; the pride you feel when you’ve finally nailed that recipe, the excitement that comes when you share it with your followers and see them recreating in their own homes and enjoying the results. Another pleasurable part of the process is when I’m invited to work brands, developing recipes using their products and being asked to do so always feels like such an honour and brings with it a unique, but incredibly fun challenge that I wish I got to experience more often. I also get the opportunity to work in collaboration with the chefs in the kitchens of corporate offices, watching as they successfully recreate recipes developed in The Little Kitchen but on a much larger scale. Watching as people tuck in and thoroughly enjoy something that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you fills you with such a huge sense of a pride – one that’s impossible to convey in its entirety.

It’s those parts of the process that make it all SO worthwhile – that makes one quickly forget the “growing pains” experienced along the way. It’s that sense of pride and achievement that makes it something I continue doing week after week, year after year. And, as long as I – and most importantly YOU – keep enjoying my doing so, I will carry on doing it for the foreseeable future!

Lisa x

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