We sometimes use recipes for inspiration and sometimes we just want to follow them to the letter. What should we pay attention to when reading recipes and what can we do to read them correctly and avoid being overwhelmed?
A study in the United Kingdom showed that only four recipes are usually used from a typical cookbook. Forty percent of cookbooks are never opened once they’re on the shelf. There is no doubt that most cookbooks are used for ideas rather than their recipes. Some books inspire while others contain recipes we love. These are the books that find their way from the bookshelf into the living room and onto kitchen racks. Books that grow more beautiful with use, the pages and covers of which are stained with ingredients.
Recently, apps and websites like Eat Your Books, My Cookbook etc. are trying to make cookbooks more practical. You can register on these websites and save not just the cookbooks on your shelves but also your notes and recipes you’ve received from other people. When it’s time to cook, all you have to do is find the ingredients you need. All of the saved recipes, notes and stories that use these ingredients are in front of you in seconds. Just like our Respect Food recipes. You can even choose your favourite Respect Food Recipes and create your very own Respect Food Cookbook!
We can’t expect a recipe to be understood by everyone. American chef Daniel Patterson compares reading recipes to driving. Getting lost while driving can be helpful: It forces you to discover new roads and find your own way. If you’re an experienced cook, a brief description is enough. You can try to understand the reason, flow and story behind the recipe. Maybe you substitute a spice or add in a completely different vegetable. The recipe becomes a guide in the back of your mind and you eventually find your own way.
What about less experienced cooks? You do need a certain level of technical know-how but sometimes the problem is related to reading the recipe correctly. “I was completely lost”, “I followed the recipe but I think I added too much sugar”. Do statements like these sound familiar?
Before you get lost and discover your own way, you need to learn the highway code. Here are some tips for reading recipes:
- First of all, read through the entire recipe carefully. This will stop you from encountering unexpected surprises when you’re in the middle of cooking. This way, you can identify any missing ingredients and know from the start if any technical knowledge or skill is needed.
- Make a list of the necessary ingredients. Check your fridge and cupboards. Check on the lentils you think you have might have run out of last week. When you think you will be making soup, you may be left with chopped onions and carrots. The opposite is also necessary to reduce waste. When you open your fridge, you might find the oranges you think you’re missing.
- It is very important to estimate how long it takes to cook a recipe. If the recipe doesn’t specify a duration, try to think about how long it will take to actively cook and how long you will have to wait. For example, you may need to leave the house but the recipe says that the dough you’re making should rest for one hour. Knowing all this beforehand makes your life easier.
- It is not realistic to expect a recipe to appeal to everyone’s tastes. This is why you should taste the food at every phase of the cooking process and don’t forget to season whilst cooking.
- Cakes, muffins, pastries, desserts… These are recipes that don’t usually benefit from experimentation. Follow the measurements exactly. If the recipe says to mix dry and wet ingredients separately, do it! If the recipe says to use butter at room temperature or beat for 2-3 minutes when baking a cake, it is wise to follow this advice. Otherwise, the result may not be a disaster but it might not be not exactly what you hoped for either.
- The measurements are particularly important for baking cakes, pastries and muffins. Approximate measurements like “a pinch” can be confusing. This may be a different size for everyone. Besides, the amount may differ depending on the ingredient. It is better to choose recipes that give measurements in grams or measuring cups (250 ml). You may want to get a kitchen scale or measuring cups of different sizes.
- The same goes for spoons. Teaspoons, dessert spoons, tablespoons may all have different sizes in different kitchens. Again, it is a good idea to use measuring spoons. One teaspoon is 5 ml and one tablespoon is 15 ml.
- Know your oven well. Recipes are based on standard ovens but you know best when it comes to your oven’s settings and how it bakes. Remember to preheat your oven.