Friday, March 02, 2012

How To Preserve Your Food Memories for Generations Without Making Your Grandchildren Frustrated

Lately I've been editing recipes, and using new recipes that I find on the internet, and in both cases I encounter confusing, unclear instructions. Recipe-writing is actually a craft unto itself; courses in "food writing" include units on how to write cooking instructions. So this post is for those of you out there who write recipes for your family, your website, or your work, from the point of view of a copyeditor.

Err on the side of too much detail, rather than too little. Assume your reader knows very little about cooking. Unless your recipe is going to be published in Cooks Illustrated, terms like "braise" or "deglaze" need explaining.

Remember your reader cannot see you making the dish.
If you say to use "chopped green onions," clarify whether you mean the white part or the green part – or both.

Start with a list of the ingredients and the amounts. The list helps people decide whether they are prepared to make the dish, and reduces last-minute emergency trips to the supermarket. Double-check that all ingredients are in the list, including optional ones.

Prepare for the unexpected. If the recipe calls for unusual utensils or needs to be started the day before serving, make a note of that after the ingredient list.

Are the listed amounts reasonable for most people? Perhaps you feel that stuffing and roasting six chickens at once is no big deal . . . but most people would not make more than one or two. Reduce the amounts of all ingredients accordingly. (Then, if you want, you can write "amounts can be doubled or tripled" or "amounts can be halved.")

Every item in the ingredients list should be accounted for in the instructions. If the list calls for a clove of garlic, then make sure the instructions say when to add the garlic to the food. It's worthwhile to double-check for this.

If an ingredient is used in two different steps, make clear how much is used each time. I once edited a recipe that called for adding the paprika to the stuffing, and then later said to sprinkle the chicken with the paprika. More clear instructions would have said "add all but one teaspoon of the paprika to the stuffing."

Be clear about heating instructions. Should the meat be browned over a high flame, or simmer over a low flame? Once the soup is at a boil, how long should it cook? At what point should heat be reduced? How long can the dish be kept warm before serving? Can it be refrigerated and then re-heated later?

Best wishes to all my readers for happy times in the kitchen -- and happier times for food editors. :-)

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