Culinary Ripoffs/Flattery

Let’s face it: we all know that ripping off somebody else’s recipe idea ain’t cool, any more than cover bands are cool. Yet I routinely swipe concepts from other people when it comes to my own home kitchen.

I do not publish recipes that come from other people unless I track down their permission in advance–which has led to the opportunity to be in contact with great people like Mark Bittman or Matt and Ted Lee. But of course I try stuff in my own home kitchen all the time–how else am I gonna learn something new? And other times, I just take an idea from somewhere and do it my own way at home.

For example, tonight’s dinner was based on a salad I have ordered many times at Sweetwater Tavern in Sterling, VA. This meal included components cribbed from Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Kitchen cookbook (which my folks gave me when I graduated from c-school) and The Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook (which is useful for advice on lightening up recipes).

First, I marinated some boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a mixture of buttermilk, salt and tabasco for about 2 hours. Then I crushed some cornflakes and drained the chicken. I pressed cornflakes onto both sides of each piece of chicken and set them aside in a single layer on a sprayed half-sheet pan. I sprayed the tops of each piece of chicken (if you use cooking sprays, spraying the tops of foods is an essential technique IMO) and slid the sheet into a 425 degree oven. I carefully flipped the pieces, using a spatula instead of tongs, after about 20 minutes. Tongs are more likely to force the coating to separate from the meat. (You can make the coating “stick” better by dredging the chicken in flour and then running it through an egg-buttermilk wash before crusting it with the cornflakes, but we were hoping to save a few calories here.)

I pan-fried some John Cope’s frozen silver queen corn in a pan I’d used to sautee some chicken for tomorrow’s dinner. (I am fortunate to live reasonably close to the Land of John Cope. His dried sweet corn, wet-pack corn and frozen products are generally available year-round in my local supermarket. I never heard of this stuff until moving out to WV, but apparently it has a cult following and people spend a lot on mail-ordering the stuff.) And then I made a big salad capped with the corn, some red onions, red bell pepper, cucumber, the chicken and a creamy dressing. My husband and I both cleaned our plates.

Certain politically relevant people have been called out recently for sharing “family recipes” that they actually cribbed from other culinary professionals. (Please, don’t take any political subtext from this post..) In my case, I like to think I’m flattering the writers, instructors and restaurant chefs who give me my ideas by translating their concepts into my own plates and giving them the credit they so richly deserve. It’s not really a ripoff, it’s a tribute. And just like cover bands, it’s FUN. Thank God I’m not out there all alone, trying to come up with something completely off the top of my head every time I go into the kitchen to make dinner. I just hope I can help others in the same way others have helped me learn how to cook and eat well.

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