How to Read a Recipe


A new recipe can be a real find, or an exercise in frustration and waste.  So, your first defense is to learn how to read a recipe.  First, look at the ingredients.  Are you sure what the ingredients are and where you can find them?  Are the ingredients expensive?  Are the ingredients clearly written out, with the appropriate sizes and amounts?  Are the sizes the ones that are available at your grocery store?  I came across a recipe recently for 12 ounce packages of grated cheese and frozen hash browns, neither of which is available in any grocery store where I shop.  Of course, you can do the math and make the necessary adjustments, but is it worth it? 


Next, look at the instructions.  Are the instructions clear and easy to follow?  Do the instructions use all of the ingredients?  Are there ingredients called for in the instructions that are not in the list of ingredients?  I have collected cookbooks since I was a teenager, and have read more recipes than most people I know.  I have learned to never trust a recipe that is unclear. 


Next, think about the recipe.  Does this combination of ingredients seem like something that would taste good and that you and your family would like?  Is it a lot of work to make the recipe?  Generally recipes with long lists of ingredients are more work that ones with short lists of ingredients.  Any recipe that has lots of prep work is generally time-consuming.  Is the amount of servings appropriate for your family size? 


How much time do you have to spend on cooking?  If you are a working mom and need to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less, a recipe that calls for baking in the oven for 1 hour is not going to work.  Save that one for the weekend.  If you are a stay at home mom or retired, then recipes that need a lot of oven time but require little prep time may be just perfect.


Next consider the source of the recipe.  Is this recipe from a trusted source, one that has actually been tested and tried?  Or is it just a recipe that somebody unknown to you has posted on a website?  I collect a lot of community cookbooks, because I like recipes from people who are not professional chefs but need to get meals on the table regularly.  Some of these recipes are unclear, but some of them are real finds.  The good community cookbooks will have a testing committee that will have tested all of the recipes.  The recipes will be easy to understand and the ingredients will be known to you and in amounts that make sense.  Most cooks like to share recipes, but occasionally you may come across someone who will give you a recipe that is purposefully incorrect and leaves out key ingredients or techniques.  If someone is reluctant to share a recipe, it may be best to just drop it.  I think that the only way to make a recipe valuable is to share it, but some people think that recipes are like gold and are to be hoarded.  These recipes usually end up disappearing when the only people who know how to make them die, but that is their choice.


Finally, is the recipe one that is appropriate for the equipment that you have on hand and your skills?  If you are a beginning cook, with rudimentary skills and basic equipment, you will probably want to avoid recipes that call for specialized equipment and difficult techniques.  Start with the abilities that you have and expand on them as time and money permit, but don’t go buying expensive specialized equipment for recipes that you may only make once and that will probably flop.


When you make a new recipe that your family really likes, remember to save it somewhere so that you can find the recipe and make it again!