10 Tips for Writing Your Own Original Recipes
Documenting the Cooking Process
Do you want to write a cookbook, publish your original food recipes online, or share recipes with friends? No matter which of these you have in mind, when it comes to writing your original food recipes you need to give your reader every opportunity for success. Make your recipes easy to write and easy to follow by using these 10 recipe writing tips.
1. Document Your Original Recipe as You Make It
I keep a pad of large, unlined paper in the kitchen for taking notes about how I prepare a recipe I’m about to write. The notes I take are the first draft of my finished written recipe. I write these notes in the order of the steps that go into making the recipe. This first draft is the most accurate picture I can show you of how I go about creating an original recipe. You can see that I cross out items and rewrite them as I experiment, and that the paper collects bits of stray ingredients while the ink smears under wet hands. These notes are the free-form record of a real time kitchen event. They eventually come to contain all the information I need in order to write a recipe that others can follow with success.
2, Be Specific about Ingredient Measurements and Forms
If I were writing a recipe for my Grandma Ellie, one of the most accomplished cooks I’ve ever known, I could safely substitute a “pinch” for 1/8 teaspoon or a “handful” for 1/3 cup. In fact, when Ellie wrote her recipes, that’s how she wrote her measurements. But this kind of provincial measuring system won’t help a reader who didn’t grow up in Ellie’s kitchen, a reader who wants to make the delicious dish you are promising.
You can see from my initial notes that I recorded precise measures as my beef stew came together. Different forms of the same food occupy different volumes depending on whether they are whole, coarsely chopped, finely diced, fresh, cooked, or liquefied. A carrot cut into 1/2-inch rounds will occupy less volume than if cut into 1-inch rounds. In other words, be specific about the form of the food to be measured. Again, make these notes on that working kitchen draft, as you prepare your original recipe.
3. Use Commonly Accepted Terms To Describe Ingredient Preparation and Cooking Methods
There are worlds of differences between chopping and mincing, grilling and frying, and too many more similar terms to mention. Choosing one term instead of the other can make the difference between success and failure for the cook who wants to follow your recipe.
Fortunately, many excellent cooking term dictionaries are easily accessible on the Internet. The Good Housekeeping Dictionary of Cooking Terms is limited to the most common terms, but is a good place to start before venturing into much more in-depth dictionaries such as the Epicurious Food Dictionary.
4. Use a Template When Writing Your Recipe
Using a template makes your recipe writing process more efficient, since you don’t have to make format or organization decisions as you write. If you are interested in creating a cookbook, using a template is especially important for keeping your writing and formatting consistent across recipes.
Depending on your proficiency with word processing, you can create your own template or use one that’s been created by someone else. If you want to create your own recipe template, search the Internet for “how to create a recipe template.” If you want to use an existing template, search “recipe templates [name of word processing software you have access to]”.
Key Template Elements for Writing Recipes
- Serving Suggestions
- Footer: Repeat Title and add Date and Page Number
A Downloadable Recipe Card Template
5. Rewrite Your Draft Notes Into Recipe Form
The organization of a finished recipe is quite different from the notes you make while documenting the cooking process. That first draft is a record of the creative process, but its organization is counterproductive to creating a recipe others can follow. As you can see in the notes I took while creating my beef stew recipe, the ingredients and method are intermingled for each stage of the cooking. In the final recipe, ingredients and method as well as equipment have their own sections. Cooks expect recipes to be written in a certain order, so don’t disappoint them.
Start with the easiest elements, equipment and ingredients, which are simple lists. Be consistent with formatting and always use the full name of a measurement; for example, use tablespoon instead of tbsp, pound instead of lb. List equipment and ingredients in the order they will be used.
Next, review your creative notes and write the method steps in the order they are performed. As you review and rewrite these steps, picture in your mind what you did and how you did it. Your goal in writing these steps is to let your reader glide through them without stumbling. You achieve this excellence by imagining yourself in your reader’s shoes, anticipating what the reader needs to know.
6. Write a Brief Introduction
A good time to write an introduction is after you’ve re-written your draft notes, or even later. By that time, most of the pieces of your recipe will have come together, and you may have fresh insights about what you want to tell readers about your recipe. The introduction can include a bit of the history of your recipe, information about special features such as low-fat or sugar-free, and anything else you believe will entice your reader to make your recipe.
7. Include Images
There is no doubt that food photography is an art and a profession as well, but absent a professional photographer, don’t hesitate to include your own photos or drawings of ingredients, equipment, and the finished dish. Your readers will appreciate your efforts.
When a major publisher wants to sign a contract with you for a book of your recipes, then those professional photos and drawings will happen like magic.
8. Include Serving Suggestions
This is your opportunity to help the reader complement your recipe with foods that you know add health benefits and other enhancements. What would a somewhat colorless dish of kielbasa and cabbage be without a serving of bright red pickled beets? What would a hearty beef stew be without a slice of crusty bread for sopping up the gravy? Think about how you like to serve this recipe of yours on your table. What foods and beverages enhance the appeal of your dish? Again, your readers will appreciate your suggestions.
9. Use a Spell Checker
No matter how careful you’ve been in the writing process, I guarantee a spell checker is going to find misspellings.
10. Ask for a Review from a Fresh Pair of Eyes
By the time you’ve written your recipe, spellchecked it, and re-read it too many times, you are now blind to whatever faults it may contain. Get a fresh view from eyes that are not exhausted by the process you’ve just been through. Not only will these fresh eyes find errors that you missed, they may also offer valuable insights that will serve to improve your written recipe.
The Challenges and Joys of Writing Your Original Recipes
Writing a recipe is as exacting as writing a set of instructions for constructing a building or using a piece of equipment. It is “How To” writing, which is a specific, disciplined form of writing. By following these 10 recipe-writing tips you can write recipes that anyone can follow, with success.
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