Sunday, August 11, 2013

How to write a recipe

Whether you want to write a cookbook or share a favorite recipe with a good friend, these hints will help. I compiled them for a panel discussion at this year's St. Louis Food Media Forum

A good recipe paints a picture. It tells the cook what ingredients to use, how to prepare them and when to add them, and it gives visual clues as to when the dish is done.

Here are some guidelines to use when you write a recipe:

• List ingredients in the order that they are used. Make sure that all ingredients used are listed, and, conversely, that all listed ingredients are used.

• Don't abbreviate. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t sure if tsp. is a teaspoon or a tablespoon.

• Use exact amounts (1 ½ tablespoons, not a heaping teaspoon).

• Be precise, and pay attention to wording. “1 cup heavy cream, whipped,” means you measure the cream, then whip it. “1 cup whipped cream” is just that – cream that has been whipped before being measured. The difference is significant.

• Call for the measurements that home cooks commonly use (1/4 cup water, not 2 ounces; 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, not 1/8 cup).

• Be as specific as possible. (Canned pineapple packed in juice -- or light syrup, or heavy syrup -- not just canned pineapple.) If an ingredient needs to be at room temperature or drained, say so.

• Be specific about package sizes, and be sure that the sizes and products called for are still available. (Package sizes change frequently).

• In the directions, be concise but use full sentences. Be specific about pan sizes, cooking temperature and any other essential details.

• Don’t assume that readers understand cooking terms such as “cream” or “dredge.” Instead, define them: “beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy” or “coat fish lightly with flour.”

• When appropriate, give a range of cooking times and provide a way to determine when the food is done. (Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown.)

• Provide the number of servings that the recipe yields.

• If you adapted the recipe from another source, give credit.

When listing ingredients, three reference guides are especially helpful: 

“The AP Stylebook” has a section for food writers. AP is the default style for most publications.

“The New Food Lover’s Companion,” by Sharon Tyler Herbst (Barron’s, $14.95), is a comprehensive A-to-Z look at culinary terms. The appendix includes everything from a listing of trade groups to pan capacities to a pasta glossary.

The Association of Food Journalists has compiled a guide called “FoodSpell.” In addition to defining a host of terms, the 40-page guide notes AP style on words that can be spelled more than one way (use ketchup, not catsup) and lists common brand names, such as A.1. (with two periods).

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

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