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Robin Garr

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Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 12:50 pm

Bob Ross suggested this in another thread and I told him I'd start it later, but I like the idea so much that I can't wait. :)

Basically, the mission here is a community collaboration aimed at coming up with a master checklist of points to keep in mind when one writes down a recipe. Whether it's for publication, for a forum RCP post, or just to share a favorite recipe with family and friends, the art of fashioning a clear, useful recipe is not as easy as it appears ... as a food-and-drink journalist, I've had occasion to learn by doing - mostly based on complaints from readers when I didn't do it right. :)

I would also add that facility in writing recipes is in no way related to cooking skill. I frequently have to interview chefs for favorite-recipe articles, and I can tell you that some of the greatest chefs are the least able to communicate what they do to others, in speech or in writing.

Okay, to the point. I'll start with a few quick thoughts. Please add your own comments and observations, and if we get a consensus, I'll sum it up and maybe use it in an article.

* Be precise. Even if you throw in a little of this and a handful of that in your own kitchen technique, take measurements for your recipe. Try making the dish with a notebook handy, and jot down everything you do - method and amounts.

* Keep things in order. I find that readers strongly prefer having a concise list of ingredients followed by a step-by-step procedure.

* List the ingredients in the order you actually first encounter and use them in your procedure. This makes it much, much easier for the reader trying to follow your recipe. In similar fashion, list the procedural steps in order. I find it's helpful to actually number the steps. 1. boil water. 2. Put in pasta. Etc.

* Avoid approximations. I'm notorious for saying "half an onion" or "one carrot," but it's helpful to add, "Enough to make 1/2 cup when chopped."

* Is your audience international? With about 25 or 30 percent of readers being outside the US, I try to take care to include metric measures and Celsius temperatures alongside the "English" measures, at least the first time each measure appears.

Okay, I've got to get back to work here. Please add your own hints and tips, or from the reader's perspective, your own recipe pet peeves.
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Cynthia Wenslow

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Cynthia Wenslow » Fri Dec 15, 2006 1:59 pm

Along the same lines as "be precise" and write down everything you do....

Give guidelines such as...

"saute the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes"

or

"saute the onions just until they begin to caramelize"

I find that much more helpful for people instead of just saying "saute the onions for 5 minutes" since there are so many variables.
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Robin Garr

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 2:29 pm

Cynthia Wenslow wrote:Along the same lines as "be precise" and write down everything you do....

Give guidelines such as...

"saute the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes"

or

"saute the onions just until they begin to caramelize"

I find that much more helpful for people instead of just saying "saute the onions for 5 minutes" since there are so many variables.


Very good!
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Gary Barlettano

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Gary Barlettano » Fri Dec 15, 2006 4:10 pm

Robin Garr wrote:Okay, I've got to get back to work here. Please add your own hints and tips, or from the reader's perspective, your own recipe pet peeves.


You've hit my salient points, Robin, but I might add that one could include how many folks are supposed to be served and also how large a serving is supposed to be.

And, as in any other instructional endeavor, attempt to know your target audience and adjust jargon and technical talk accordingly. And that's harder said than done!
And now what?
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Laura Brand-Bauer

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Laura Brand-Bauer » Fri Dec 15, 2006 4:19 pm

If a recipe has more than the most basic of steps (more than just "chop up this stuff, and then cook it throwing in a few at a time") a summary up front of the basic steps before getting into the details is nice.

I know that on more than one occasion I've gotten knee-deep into a recipe without having quite grokked that something was supposed to be prepped aside first and I had something sitting and getting too warm or cold or soft or whatever while I rushed to put that part together.

Sort of an "executive summary" up front, if you will. Even if you won't - I don't mind.

:P
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Howie Hart

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Howie Hart » Fri Dec 15, 2006 4:22 pm

For all intents and purposes, this is what I do for a living as a technical writer. I "translate" what engineers want to convey to operators who don't understand engineering. I could set up recipe guidelines based on the formatting and rules for writing an operating instruction (after all, that's what a recipe is), but I don't have time to put it all together right now and I'll be very busy, pretty much through the weekend.
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Thomas

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Thomas » Fri Dec 15, 2006 4:27 pm

One hint that I think fits mainly for cross border or cross culture is to provide a potential alternate ingredient for an item that may be hard to find. Plus, if using wine in a recipe (and who doesn't) be more specific than "dry white." You cannot imagine how many people have trouble with that direction.
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Howie Hart

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Howie Hart » Thu Jan 04, 2007 4:43 pm

Sorry I took so long, but, stuff happens. Here is a suggested format for writing recipes, based loosely on the format I use to write operating instructions. It is followed by an example.

TITLE – Name of dish

1.0 GENERAL DESCRIPTION

Brief description of the dish and number of servings, with perhaps some background and/or wine match.

2.0 INGREDIENTS

List quantity, measure type and ingredient and possible substitutions.

3.0 REQUIRED EQUIPMENT

List tools, utensils, or any special equipment needed (cookie press, plastic wrap, cast iron skillet, etc)

4.0 PREREQUISITES

List anything that should be done ahead of time (prepare a special sauce, preheat oven, thaw, etc.)

5.0 REFERENCES

This could be a listing of any pertinent items of information that is not included in this recipe, such as another recipe, or an instruction manual.

6.0 INSTRUCTIONS

This is a listing of steps necessary to properly prepare this recipe.

***************************************************
TITLE – Chicken Scalopine

1.0 GENERAL DESCRIPTION

Sautéd chicken breasts in a wine & cream sauce, served over pasta (angel hair, spaghetti or linguini). Serves six. A dry Chardonnay can be used for both deglazing and serving with the meal. Accompany with salad or green vegetable.

2.0 INGREDIENTS

4 T Butter, divided
4 c Sliced fresh mushrooms
6 each Boned chicken breasts, flat
1/3 c Thin sliced green onions
1/2 c Chicken stock
1/4 c White wine
1/3 c Whipping cream
Salt & pepper to taste
1 pound pasta

NOTE: For reduced fat version, use non-fat cooking spray to cook the mushrooms and chicken, but use 1 Tbsp. butter for the onions. Also substitute 1 can cream of mushroom soup for whipping cream.

3.0 REQUIRED EQUIPMENT

Non-stick skillet, mallet or implement to flatten chicken breasts

4.0 PREREQUISITES

Using a mallet or other implement, flatten chicken breasts until they are about 1/3 of an inch thick

5.0 REFERENCES

N/A

6.0 INSTRUCTIONS

6.1 Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in large non-stick skillet.
6.2 Sauté mushrooms until tender and any liquid has evaporated from pan; set aside.
6.3 Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet.
6.4 Sauté chicken breasts on both sides until golden brown and cooked through; remove from pan; set aside. Repeat for as many chicken breasts can fit in the pan.
6.5 Add onions to pan; sauté until tender.
6.6 Start boiling water for pasta.
6.7 Add water, wine and chicken stock to pan, bring to boil. Cook and stir until mixture is reduced by half. Add cream to pan. Cook and stir until slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6.8 Return mushrooms and chicken to sauce in pan and reheat to serving temperature.
6.9 Cook pasta according to directions or personal preference.
6.10 Serve chicken with sauce over pasta.
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Larry Greenly

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Larry Greenly » Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:15 am

Some other tips: it's best not to abbreviate some measurements, particularly teaspoon and tablespoon because t and T or tsp and tbsp can be easily confused.

The order of words describing an ingredient is important: 1 cup of blanched almonds, ground isn't the same as 1 cup of ground blanched almonds.

Directions should be worded consistently throughout a book.

The number of servings is always helpful.
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Bill Buitenhuys

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Bill Buitenhuys » Fri Jan 05, 2007 8:58 am

Nice thread Robin (and Bob).

I've found it helpful for flour, and other dry ingredients but particularly flour, always give the weight required as volume measurements vary so with technique (dip and scoop, spooned in, presifted, etc).
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Robin Garr

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Robin Garr » Fri Jan 05, 2007 10:49 am

Bill Buitenhuys wrote:Nice thread Robin (and Bob).

I've found it helpful for flour, and other dry ingredients but particularly flour, always give the weight required as volume measurements vary so with technique (dip and scoop, spooned in, presifted, etc).


I agree, Bill, but would add that for bread recipes it almost makes sense to list it both ways. Anyone who's really into breadmaking knows that you've got to weigh the stuff, but lots of otherwise serious foodies aren't going to bother or maybe don't even have a kitchen scale. So, "17 ounces or about 3 1/2 cups" may be the most user-friendly way to do it. Add metric conversions to put the icing on the cake. ;)
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Peter May

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Peter May » Fri Jan 05, 2007 7:24 pm

Robin Garr wrote: So, "17 ounces or about 3 1/2 cups" may be the most user-friendly way to do it. Add metric conversions to put the icing on the cake. ;)


Cup measurements are totally useless this side of the pond; metric please.

But then writing an internationally understood recipe in English is a major task when there are so many region specific ingredients and names.

For instance, on Howies excellently clear recipe, I don't know what 'green onions' means, nor 'whipping cream' and I have't come across a 'non-fat cooking spray' (but I'd use EVOO any way in place of that and the butter), and when it says fresh mushrooms -- well, what sort of mushrooms (button, flat cap etc) or does it not matter if so should it not say 'your choice of mushroom'?
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Paul Winalski

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"to taste"

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:10 am

One of my recipe pet peeves:

"Add salt/pepper/whatever to taste"

One of the most horrific things a newbie can read in a recipe.

I'm reading your recipe for the first time. It's a brand new dish to me. How the hell am I supposed to know what it's supposed to taste like, let alone how I might eventually come to like it?

So PLEASE -- if salt, or pepper, or whatever, is a required seasoning, include an instruction on when and how much I should add for the dish to come out as YOU like it. Your recipe should include the instructions that let me duplicate YOUR dish. I can then later adjust the seasonings to my own palate.

But I hate reading recipes that say add XXX "to taste", when I'm dealing with a recipe that's entirely new to me, and for which I have no referents to guide my seasoning. I don't know what you think it should taste like. So PROVIDE A REFERENCE POINT, ALREADY.

-Paul W.
Last edited by Paul Winalski on Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Paul Winalski

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Re: "to taste"

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:13 am

I should add that peeves make very bad pets.

But they are excellent sauteed in EVOO with a medium chopped onion, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. :twisted:

-Paul W.
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Harry Cantrell

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Re: "to taste"

by Harry Cantrell » Sat Jan 06, 2007 5:23 pm

I am not a great "follow my heart" cook, but I follow recipes fairly well. I too like VERY exacting directions. Like in the example above, Sliced fresh mushrooms-I would like guidance on how big the end result should be. I've gotten distracted and "Sliced" till almost a mince. Perhaps this is standard information assumed by the larger cooking community, but it isn't to me.
Harry C.
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Bob Henrick

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Bob Henrick » Sat Jan 06, 2007 10:15 pm

I have 2 people in my house. (my wife and I) but more often than not a recipe is written for 6-10 people. And more often than not a recipe can not be equally divided. say it is for 10 people, I can not divide each ingredient by 5 and arrive at a usable recipe. I hate that.
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Martha Mc

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Re: Community project: Tips on how to write a recipe

by Martha Mc » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:03 am

Be brand specific -- where it does make a difference in the end product. All hot sauces are not created alike, after all. If you are using a regional brand, try to explain what makes it unique and a possible way to replace that flavor by adding additional ingredients.
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Larry Greenly

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Re: "to taste"

by Larry Greenly » Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:10 pm

Harry Cantrell wrote: Like in the example above, Sliced fresh mushrooms-I would like guidance on how big the end result should be. I've gotten distracted and "Sliced" till almost a mince. Perhaps this is standard information assumed by the larger cooking community, but it isn't to me.


Try using an egg slicer for your mushrooms.
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MikeH

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Re: "to taste"

by MikeH » Mon Jan 15, 2007 11:40 pm

Harry Cantrell wrote: I've gotten distracted and "Sliced" till almost a mince.


Not a good plan to get distracted when using a sharp implement!! :lol:
Cheers!
Mike

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