Starting from Scratch – Writing Recipes
Beginning my culinary journey as a baker, I have always kept recipes close at hand. A recipe tells you what ingredients to include, in which proportion, and how to effectively blend them together. You can make dozens of very different cakes with the exact same ingredients by changing either the proportions, or how you blend the ingredients together (e.g. add eggs one at a time, whip the eggs, beat the egg whites and egg yolks separately). I have some recipes in my head, but I enjoy following recipes. That doesn’t mean I don’t change them by adding a bit more of this or a bit less of that to get exactly what I want, but I appreciate the process of following a roadmap.
When I first started cooking, I was a bit stymied. While there are some definite rules to follow, there is less need for recipes. Intuition is a key player. A friend was over for dinner recently and I was serving Cornish Hen. She asked if it was “my recipe”. I scoffed and said it wasn’t a recipe, it was just some herbs, spices, and butter rubbed on a spatch-cocked bird. She looked at me blankly. “Amy…that’s a recipe.” Huh. And she’s right, but because it’s in my head and doesn’t have the rigor of a baking recipe, I minimize its importance. As I think about the multitudes of cookbooks in my kitchen I realize that there are hundreds of baking recipes I use, but cooking recipes I read through and use as inspiration or guidance for the dish I ultimately modify or invent in my head.
So all this leads me to a task I was asked to perform. My friend Dana runs a preserving and condiments business called “Pickles Eh!” She asked me to develop recipes for some of her products to share with her customers. I was excited.
As I began to work on the savoury recipes, I realized that this job was demanding that I approach the cooking recipes with the same rigor as baking recipes. I couldn’t just say “put all the ingredients in a bowl, let it sit, stir it around, and cook it till done.” I needed to be specific and detailed.
The process of writing these recipes forced me to examine steps I take automatically and break them down into components. I wanted these recipes to be user-friendly for Dana’s customers and that required me to do a lot more explaining than I would normally do. Having studied adult learning for many years I am aware that when an adult learns something new there are many more details to consider. An adult may want to know why the step is necessary, what it accomplishes, what to look for…it isn’t as straightforward as just writing instructions. The reader may question the instructions and to me, a successful recipe troubleshoots and educates as well as instructs.
This was a good lesson for me as I start this “start with a bowl” journey. So readers, I will do my best to follow my own advice. For now I am adding two of my new recipes to this site: Lemon Lime Marmalade Shortbread (which is a modification of an existing shortbread recipe) and Roasted Tomato Cilantro Shrimp. If you are interested in purchasing any of Dana’s awesome products, contact her here.