How to Write Recipes
Why Are We Here?
Please don't look away. This is not a discussion of existentialism.
I am here to share recipes.
I read food blogs and visit cooking websites. I strive to gain knowledge from the creative ideas of others who share my passion for cooking. And I am amazed. Do not, however, interpret amazement as "awe." Sometimes I am stunned (not in a positive way) at what I find.
It's not rocket science
...but writing a recipe that will be genuinely helpful to others does require organization, thoroughness, and carefully choosing descriptive words.
Allow me to share an example with you
A few days ago I was searching online for a tamale pie recipe. Here's one I didn't consider:
- 1 pound hamburger
- 1 medium onion
- 1 can tomatoes
- 1 can corn
- 1 can green peas
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp. chili powder or to taste
Brown hamburger meat and onion in skillet. Pour off excess grease. Add remaining ingredients and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour into large casserole and top with corn bread batter. Bake at 450 degrees until corn bread is done and nicely browned on top.
How much is "1 medium onion?"
- I have onions in my pantry that are the size of golf balls. On the other hand, some sweet onions can weigh 2 pounds.
- And, is the onion cooked whole with the hamburger, or sliced, diced, or minced?
What about that can of tomatoes?
- What size is the can?
- Are these whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, petite diced, or pureed?
- Drained or not?
Same complaint about the canned corn and peas
- What size are the cans?
- Do you drain the vegetables? (....and whoever put peas in a tamale pie?!)
"Pour into a large casserole
- How large?
- Deep or shallow?
- Greased or ungreased?
". . . and top with cornbread batter."
- Where the heck did that come from?! Nowhere in the list of ingredients was there the mention of cornbread batter. I thought I'd have dinner on the table in half an hour from now discover that I need to run to the grocery store for a package of cornbread mix. How much? Enough for an 8- or 9-inch pan, a 9x13-inch pan?
On the other hand...
Following is a portion of an article I wrote several years ago. I have presented an introduction which tells the story of the origin of the recipe. Next are lists of the equipment and ingredients needed to prepare the dish, and then the detailed instructions for "Hazelnut-Crusted Salmon":
Several years ago I entered a recipe contest—the requirement was that we focus on local ingredients. My family and I live in the Pacific Northwest. so I chose salmon and hazelnut, both plentiful in our area.
Atlantic salmon are farm-raised, but Pacific salmon are wild-caught. There are five species of Pacific salmon—king (which some think is the best-tasting because of its high fat content), sockeye with its bright orange-red flesh, Coho (silver) salmon, humpback (pink) salmon which is light colored and much lower in fat, and chum salmon. We prefer King and sockeye.
Hazelnuts are also known as filberts. Although Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world, Oregon state produces 99 percent of the hazelnuts in the United States. We are lucky enough to have 20 wild hazelnuts trees on our property.
I have received many favorable comments about this recipe. Although it makes a beautiful presentation for a company dinner it is easy enough to prepare for your family. Mayonnaise might seem an odd accompaniment to salmon, but it keeps the flesh moist. Citrus is a common complement to seafood, and so orange marmalade and zest seem a natural addition. Hazelnuts provide a contrasting crunch to the softness of the salmon flesh. Other nut meats could probably be used as well—almonds, walnuts, or pecans.
Equipment you will need
- a sharp knife and cutting board for cutting salmon
- parchment paper
- large baking sheet (I use a 10"x15" rimmed pan)
- small mixing bowl
- spoon or rubber scraper for mixing ingredients
- 1 pound salmon filet, cut into 4 equal-size pieces
- non-stick cooking spray
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise, (I used fat-free)
- 1 tablespoon orange marmalade
- 2 tsp. fresh tarragon, minced
- 1/2 tsp. fresh orange zest
- 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet; spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place salmon pieces, skin-side down, on parchment.
- Mix together mayonnaise, marmalade, orange zest, and tarragon in small mixing bowl. Using spoon or rubber scraper spread equal amounts of mayo/marmalade mixture over each of the 4 salmon pieces.
- Sprinkle hazelnuts on top of mayonnaise mixture; and then season each salmon piece with salt and pepper.
- Bake in preheated over about 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork.
Yield: 4 servings
So, you want to share a recipe? Here are a few simple guidelines for what to include.
- What do you need to prepare this food? Although one should always read through a recipe before proceeding...some days even I get a little careless and don't take the time to review each and every step before I plunge into the process.
- It is more than a bit frustrating to be in the midst of cooking and find that you need a piece of parchment paper, or a sieve, or lemon zester, etc.
- Provide a list of all of the equipment that is needed.
How many servings does this make? An experienced cook will recognize that 2 cups of uncooked pasta makes a LOT of cooked pasta (about 4 to 4 1/2 cups), but a novice might not know this. If cooking for one, you don't want to eat the same meal three nights in a row because you ended up with enough food to feed a family of 4.
Tell your reader how many servings your recipe will provide.
- List all ingredients in the order in which they are used. If a common ingredient such as salt or olive oil is used more than once in the recipe, list the total amount needed one time, and explain that it will be "divided".
- Provide precise measurements for your ingredients. "1 can of..." is unclear. Canned food comes in many sizes. Vegetables can be big, small, or anything in between.
- Clearly describe the ingredients, especially if you are relying on prepared foods. Items that are available in your local grocery store might not be found in other parts of the country (or world).
- Use verbs. Chop celery. Stir in onions. Blend the tomatoes with a food processor.
- Describe all of the sensory elements of your food. Sauté the garlic until it becomes fragrant. Toast the walnuts until they are a light brown. Cook the cranberries until you begin to hear them pop.
- Be specific about the type of cooking vessel you are using—is it a pot (with lid), a skillet, a sauté pan, a baking sheet, etc.
And Most Important . . .
Make Your Food with Love.
I have a passion for cooking. I believe that cooking is more than just providing something to eat. Behind every recipe is a story, a memory, and I try to impart that with each recipe that I present.
If your recipe is valuable enough to post somewhere on the internet, it should be worthy of a background, a story.
Tell your story.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Linda Lum