Too many recipes, so little time. This you could hear me say when I was still learning to cook. It lead me to ponder what recipes are and why we need them (read here). But are all recipes good enough to really help you learn to cook.
Nah, I don’t think so.
Hallo, I’m Edie and I was a super picky eater that couldn’t cook. Now I coach people who want to make cooking a more important part of their life.
In this article, part of a series for beginning cooks, I will help you become a more creative and confident cook too.
A recipe is not just a recipe.
A recipe is this one person’s way of describing what ingredients you can use and how to use them to create a certain dish. If you ask 10 people to write down how they made the same dish, you’ll get 10 different recipes. Even if they all use the same ingredients, same tools, same cooking techniques and all that.
Everyone writes them down in their own way.
When I was learning to cook, I jotted down my favorite recipes in a blue notebook. And looking back, I wrote them down in a super brief style. The recipes were for me, so I didn’t need to write down what I already knew.
I simply could say: boil the potatoes. Because I knew how to do that.
What recipes do you need?
My recipe writing changed when I started to write them for others. Just like food historians showed us the changes in recipe writing between the early cookbooks and our now pages long food blogs.
The very first written cooking instructions were very brief, because people knew basics like how to boil potatoes. So they said:
Boil the potatoes.
Now we write multiple page cookbook recipes or long form blog posts that you keep scrolling, because we (as the recipe writer) don’t know what our readers know or not.
And we write: Peel your potatoes, chop in half/quarters. Wash. Transfer to a pot, add water halfway up, bring to a boil. Then add salt and lower the heat. Boil until you easily can pierce a potato with a knife without any resistance. Drain, although water should be mostly gone.
And that why it is always a good idea to read the recipe in full before you start.
What do you already know (think back to this blog post)? What is new for you? What is different to how you have learned or always do it? Do you want to follow the instructions exactly, or can you go your own way?
If you have your own way of boiling potatoes, you often ignore the instructions and do it the way you like it. And that goes with every element of dish. Remember: that recipe writer is also just telling how they like to do it. There are many ways to achieve a similar result. You can read more musings on that here.
Everyone is different, knows different things, learns in a different way.
So now I say:
Boil your potatoes. Peel your potatoes, chop in half/quarters. Wash. Transfer to a pot, add water halfway up, bring to a boil. Then add salt and lower the heat. Boil until you easily can pierce a potato with a knife without any resistance. Drain, although water should be mostly gone.
In bold I write the main instruction, followed by a more extensive description of what you can do. If you know how to cook, you easily glance over the main instructions to get an idea what I’m intending, but there’s more info in case you need that too. And that’s because I strongly believe everyone can learn to cook, and I think helping you understand recipes, dishes and their elements will get you there faster.
Try it out with one of my recipes and see it makes sense to you.
< Next post: What are those “elements of a dish”? is coming soon >
Yeah, learning to cook takes time
But you definitely can speed up the process by cooking consciously and learning why you do what you do. The more you cook and learn about it, the better you can connect the dots and see similarities between dishes. On this site and in my classes, I will help you with that.
This article is part of a series for beginning cooks. Instead of adding more recipes to the internet or giving superficial tips about stocking your pantry, this series will provide a more philosophical, coaching approach. Here’s the list with all the articles.
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Our upcoming classes
- From campfire to air fryer: the cooking techniques explained – class
- ~ on a short break ~
- Knife skills class