Writing Up Recipes

When I first started this blog, 2 1/2 years ago, I rarely wrote up actual recipes. The entries were more free form typically. I was trying to capture what I’d cooked, not necessarily exactly how I’d cooked it. As time went on, I’ve tried more to create actual recipes I could repeat and began working on formatting them so they were easier to read.

There are things that some cookbooks do that drive me crazy, personally. One of the ones I like alternates between listing ingredients in bullet point lists (my preferred style) and just bolding them within the recipe like I did here for taco meat pies. I can deal with either but to alternate back and forth drives me crazy!

And some cookbooks list the ingredients in seemingly random order. I can understand putting the main “hunk of meat” up front if you’re trying to scan for something to do with a particular cut, but in general I like the ingredients to be listed in the order used. And if an ingredient is used in two different steps, it should be either clearly labeled “divided” or just put in the list twice.

In a blog, I can’t easily do side by side listings, but when I write things out by hand I frequently list the ingredients of a step to the left with the instructions to the right, so it might say:

* ingredient 1 * ingredient 2 }
* ingredient 3 > blend together 3 minutes
* ingredient 4 }
* ingredient 5 /

That makes a very easily scannable recipe and takes up less vertical space. I can quickly see the ingredients I need scanning down the left and the equipment and approximate time required by scanning down the right.

Even when ingredients are listed in the order of use, I frequently use a highlighter to highlight the main ingredient and any odd ingredient I might not have around. This makes it very easy to take advantage of grocery sales (by scanning for main ingredients) and make up a grocery list (since the odd “might not have on hand” ingredients jump out at me).

When I was first learning to cook, I was very dependent on clear directions. I would easily get confused about when to cover a dish or not, when to lower the heat, how often to stir. Now, unless I’m learning some new technique or ethnic method, I don’t need the fine details, although they don’t get in my way either. What seems obvious to an experienced cook can be utter confusion to the new one.

Anyway, I was reflecting on this as I typed up the creamy lentil soup recipe. I’d made changes to the original recipe as I made the soup and could easily change it again the next time I make it. But I now try to record as accurately as possible what I did and make notes about what I might do differently next time.

One thing I find myself drawn to in cookbooks is the stories behind the recipes or the introductory descriptions of how certain recipes came about, when particular dishes are served most often, details of what might seem odd but why it’s good, and what substitutions can easily be made. This could be why I like food blogs so much. There’s some real person cooking for a real family or real friends (or themselves!) and I like that connection.



  1. There’s two schools of practice for listing ingredients. The ‘American’ way is to list them in order of usage. The ‘other’ way (which I’m quite sure I’ve seen called the ‘European’ way) is to list the ingredients in order of importance to achieving the dish’s outcome. I wish there were a way to switch back and forth, like between a dictionary and a thesaurus, like between metric and, hmm, the other one, the American one.

  2. Andy Baird says:

    I was interested in your discussion of recipe formats, because I think things like this make a big difference in usability. I wonder how you feel about the “Joy of Cooking” format that lists ingredients inline with cooking instructions, indented and bolded so that they can easily be read off as a shopping list.

    I find this style compact, practical and readable, and have emulated it in the handful of recipes posted on my site “Travels With Gertie”…for example, http://www.andybaird.com/travels/arizona/chicken.htm. It seems to fit well with your “ingredient > directions” note-taking format…yes?

  3. As someone who is just now venturing into the cooking arena (very late bloomer here) I so appreciate well written and thought out recipes. Details that most people take for granted really help me when attempting to tackle a recipe. And the discussion about why something was done, or how the recipe came about really helps my confidence (which in the kitchen I admit is lacking). Thank you!