1. Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover
I know it’s cliché, and maybe a tad overused, but that doesn’t make it any less applicable. Don’t judge a recipe by it’s title— there’s so much more to a recipe than the three words used to name it. The title gives you the basic framework of what’s to follow, but the subtle nuances that make each recipe different come from the ingredients. Think about it: how many recipes do you think there are titled “Sugar Cookies”? Make sure to read through the entire recipe before you decide to make it to ensure it’s something you actually like. You also definitely don’t want to discover halfway through that you’re missing an ingredient.
It’s important to remember that time estimates on recipes are, in fact, estimates. Budget for at least 10-15 minutes more than what the recipe claims. Most authors write their recipes based on how long it took them, but chances are it’ll take you longer (think Rachael Ray’s 30-minute meals). Also, cook times can vary based on oven and stove temperatures. Lastly, don’t shy away from a recipe labeled “difficult” or advanced”— it may not be as hard as you think. Read through the entire recipe (ahem, number 1) before deciding. You might surprise yourself and learn a new trick or two.
3. It’s What’s Inside that Counts
The ingredients are the most important part of any recipe. They’re what makes each recipe unique and what gives each dish its flavor. That being said, authors make their recipes to their own tastes, not yours. If you know you can’t stand red bell peppers, leave them out. Recipes are also all about ratios. For example, mayonnaise to dijon mustard. As long as you keep the ratio constant, you should be able to swap out regular mustard for dijon without a problem. Recipes should be treated as a guide, not the law. If you’re just learning how to cook, it’s probably a good idea to stick to recipes until you learn how different flavors interact with one another. With a little experience under your belt though, you’ll have more freedom to adjust recipes to your own liking. It may not come out as the author intended, but if it’s good, who cares?
4. Putting it all together
Like I said, recipes are a guide, not the law. Obviously, it’s best to follow as closely as possible, especially if you’re new to cooking. But if forget to add the peppers in step two, it’s likely not the end of the world to add them in step three. What’s important are key words like “translucent and soft” because those tell you what your end goal is. Also remember that even if it says “sauté for two minutes” you may have to sauté for five, and that’s okay. As long as you know you’re trying to get the onions “translucent and soft,” the timing doesn’t really matter.
5. Picture Perfect?
Don’t freak out if your final product looks nothing like the picture. Recipe authors put serious effort into making their pictures flawless and appetizing. Food styling is an art all on its own; you don’t have to be a food stylist to be a good cook!
This article references our very own Alex Vu’s recipe for Maryland Crab Cakes as an example. Check out his full recipe here.