Recipe quirks

Even good cookbooks & magazines have quirks in their recipes, and lesser ones can be rather annoying. Here are a few that especially bug me:

– No/poor index: How can you not put an index in a cookbook? And some have indices that are poorly organized or incomplete. Then there’s the inconsistent listing of ingredients between books. Do you look under Beans, white; or White beans? Peppers, green; Green peppers; or Bell peppers? I get intellectual whiplash trying to remember which book does it which way.
– Ingredient lists not in recipe order: Yes, you should always read the whole recipe first, and I’m a big fan of getting everything ready before I start. It’s still easier to get things right if all the ingredients are listed in the order you need to use them.
– Major steps/time gaps buried in the recipe: You’re moving right along, until you run across that buried “let chill overnight” or “prepare X the day before”. Yeah, read ahead, but I love cookbooks which state right up front that there’s a longer prep stage. Same goes for cooking time; don’t just say “stir until ____”, give us a sense of how long to expect. This helps too if you’re skimming a recipe to see if it’s worth proceeding on.
– Lazy/nasty substitutes: This is partially me being a food snob, but I hate processed ingredients that have no business being there. Garlic powder? How hard is it to chop a clove of garlic? Everyone will define this cutoff differently, and I’m pretty far toward the snooty end (rejecting anything with corn syrup, among other things). Italian dressing in marinades is a big reject, as is orange cheese (we actually cancelled a cooking magazine over this one, though it was just the last straw in a string of annoyances).
– Blatantly unseasonal combinations: Yes, I know most people don’t grow all their own food and take seasonality literally. But some things just don’t make sense together, especially when the recipe is from a monthly cooking magazine that makes a point of touting seasons. And some things just aren’t very good when out of season; again the gourmet cooking magazines should know better. Asparagus and peppers in the Februrary issue? Uh uh.

– Placing wet ingredients before dry ones, especially in baking. It’s easier and more efficient to measure and mix all your dry ingredients first, then move on to the wet ones with the same utensils when practical. You can get around this, but why not write the recipe in the most efficient and fool-proof order in the first place?

I’ve sure I’ve violated many of these ideas in writing up recipes for this blog, and will only justify it by noting that I’m not paid and am not selling them. So even with my glass house, these are what annoy me about real recipes. Anyone have others, or comments on these?

2 thoughts on “Recipe quirks

  1. Generally I agree with you, especially about the index thing (Bittman seems to have really good indexing in his books, btw). Just to play Devil's advocate on point 4 though – in candy making, for example, corn syrup (or some other sort of invert sugar) is sometimes a necessary ingredient to prevent crystallization of the sugar into big jagged pieces. Also, dried turmeric is to fresh turmeric much the same as garlic powder is to fresh garlic, but that doesn't stop me using the former.One thing that really bothers me in some recipes is a complete lack of seasoning advice. Sometimes this is no big deal; if a soup or pasta dish needs additional salt, you can get pretty even distribution even at the end of cooking. But the first time I went to roast a pork loin (chicken too, come to think of it) the recipe said to salt to taste. Really? I'm supposed to salt a giant hunk of raw meat to taste, how exactly? And, if I under-season, I can't fix it later, since the salt would just sit on the surface of the meat. But "season to taste" gives me no idea at all, not even a ballpark.

  2. Fair point on the turmeric, though to counter-Devil's you, whole garlic is a lot more readily available than fresh turmeric. But yes, I see your point. I certainly live in a glass house.Regarding the corn syrup, context does matter. If it's really chemically necessary, as in making candy, I see that. Personally we're still going to find a different recipe, as people were making candy long before someone invented corn syrup. But I've seen it used in recipes the way it's used in processed food; just thrown in there for the hell of it (or included in half the short-cut ingredients). I look at it as an extension of the somewhat-useful trope about eating only foods your grandmother would recognize. I haven't run across too many foods that are only possible with corn syrup, that were never made in the world before, that I really need to make. But this is just my list, not anyone else's.Great one on the meat salting.