Cookbook:How to Read a Recipe
These are a few things to consider when reading a recipe you intend to try to cook.
Read The Recipe Edit
Yes that would be the first step, wouldn't it? Read it - all of it, carefully. Make sure that you have all the ingredients in the ingredients list. Make sure that there aren't any ingredients required by the text of the recipe that aren't mentioned in the ingredients list (a major faux pas, but it happens to the best of us).
Look at how the different ingredients need to be prepared. Do the onions need to be chopped, diced, irradiated with alpha particles, soaked in 12 year old Australian wine for six days and nights, or what? The difference between halved tomatoes and diced tomatoes can make or break a dish. How you prepare your ingredients is half the battle.
Next, does the recipe call for tools? How specifically? Generally if a good recipe mentions a tool very specifically there is a reason. If it's a really good recipe that reason will be spelled out. By the same token, if the tool is only mentioned vaguely or not directly mentioned at all then you should be safe using whatever you like.
Next comes timing. How long will it take to prepare the various ingredients? How long will it take to prepare the whole recipe? This can be important. You don't want to put the biscuits into the oven at the same time as the turkey - one of these items will be finished a long time before the other and both are best served warm.
Finally, re-read the recipe two more times, going through the motions in your head and getting yourself mentally prepared. The more complicated the recipe, the more crucial this step is.
Prepare Your Ingredients Edit
All right. You have all the tools and ingredients you need, you have the recipe handy, and you're ready to cook. First things first, you must prepare your ingredients. If you need half an onion diced, a bell pepper in strips, and two potatoes cubed, you don't want to be doing that while trying to cook. It will only distract you and create an unnecessary opportunity for you to make a mistake. Prepare all your ingredients before you begin cooking. It will make you happier in the long run and the happier you are the healthier you are. If the recipe calls for a preheated oven, this is probably the time for that as well (see note).
Now that you have all your ingredients prepared, glance at the recipe once more. The term "divided" may be used, which means that the item will be used more than once during preparation, so this is an important reason for CAREFULLY re-reading the recipe. Make sure you haven't forgotten anything. Now you can continue to cook in accordance with your recipe.
Look Beyond The Recipe Edit
Yes, recipes are a good and necessary thing. They allow us to accrue knowledge about cooking. However, as a Mr. Einstein once put it, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Even if you know nothing at all about cooking, stop and think about what you are doing. A little bit of creative thought can make a dish made from any recipe an original masterpiece.
On pre-heating ovens: If you are cooking in an oven it is nearly always necessary to preheat that oven. The problem here is twofold:
- Many cooks do not preheat their ovens properly, or don't preheat them at all.
- Many cooks think they are preheating properly when they are not.
When the pre-heat light on an oven turns off all that means is that the air temperature near the probe in the oven has reached the desired temperature. When you open the oven door a large part of that heat energy comes billowing out and, because the oven walls are still relatively cool, the oven takes between five and ten minutes to recover to its original temperature. The solution is to allow your oven to sit (unopened) for fifteen to twenty minutes after the preheating light turns off to allow the oven walls to absorb heat, thus reducing recovery time.
Consider how old the recipe is. A recipe from 1928 is likely to be different than a 1998 recipe. You may need a dictionary to determine what the ingredients are and if you can still get them. Note that many old recipes assume that you already know how to prepare them, listing only the ingredients. Some trial and error (as well as substitutions) may be needed.