Cooking 101: How to Read a Recipe

Cooking 101: Reading a Recipe (A Seat at the Table)

In high school it was a running joke with my friends that I needed a chicken.  Because I can’t tell you the number of times I’d go to bake something and not actually have all ingredients…especially eggs.  So I’d phone a friend and invite them over for baked goods…as long as they brought eggs.  Don’t be like me.  If you read a recipe properly you shouldn’t have the problem of beginning to cook only to realize you don’t have all the ingredients.

When picking a recipe, start off looking for something easy from a source you can rely on.  Check out my inspiration page for ideas, but feel free to ask friends or family for recipes you know you like.  My grandma was infamous for saying every recipe she made was “so easy,” which is never true when you’re just starting out, but after a little practice you’ll be saying that too.

Read the whole recipe.  You’ll save so much time in the long-run if you just read through the whole thing at the beginning.  Be especially mindful of cooking times and/or resting time.  Some things need to marinate or proof which can add significant amounts of time to a recipe that you wouldn’t anticipate from the name.

Cooking 101: How to Read a Recipe (A Seat at the Table)

Pull ingredients before getting started.  You don’t want to have to get a chicken coop just because you always run out of eggs at the wrong time.  Check to make sure you have the ingredients before getting started so you don’t have to make a desperate run to the store.  If you’re working in a small space you don’t have to get everything out, but at least do a quick run through to make sure you have everything and you know where it is when you’re ready for it.

Mise en place. Everything in its place–prep things ahead of time before you turn on the stove/oven.  Your recipe will frequently start off with things prepped (ie.  1 onion, diced).  Doing this prep work will make the whole cooking experience faster and less stressful.  When you’re trying to dice an onion before your oil burns in your pan on the stove, you’re going to get stressed and that’s no fun.  Use a large cutting board and keep things sectioned so you can easily add ingredients as they’re needed (just be sure that any raw meats are prepped on separate area away from any raw vegetables).

You’re allowed to deviate.  As you have more practice in the kitchen and working with recipes you’ll learn ways to alter recipes to your tastes.  Take some risks.  If you don’t like a vegetable in a dish, substitute it.  If you don’t have an ingredient, do a little research and figure out something that’s similar.  Make cooking fun by finding things that inspire you and intrigue you.

Practice makes perfect.  The more experience you have the better you’ll be able to look at a recipe and imagine all the flavors and textures.  Over time this will make it easier to be able to guess what recipes you’ll like, and also which recipes are more interesting or surprising due to unexpected flavor combinations.

What are your tips for beginners?  How do you pick a recipe or know what you want to try?


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2 thoughts on “Cooking 101: How to Read a Recipe

  1. You write the absolute truth. This is critical if you are just really starting to cook, or want to increase your abilities to increase what you do.

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