Yes, the title of this post sounds extremely basic. It seems obvious that if you know how to read, then you should know how to read a recipe, right? Hmmm. Reading a recipe is basic; however, there are also some tips to remember when cooking with a recipe that can help ensure success as you try out a new dish. These are some tips that I’ve learned from a few sources (a , b ) and have been using for a while. I find them helpful, so I thought I’d share them with you.
Before I get started with how to read a recipe, I’d like to touch on the benefits of even using a recipe in the first place, especially if you’re a new cook. I remember attending a party several months ago and overhearing two young women talk about how they like to cook but don’t like using recipes. Based on their conversation, I gathered that they were new cooks, so I found it interesting that they both said they didn’t like cooking from recipes.
Experimentation and creativity are good, but I just don’t see how one can turn out many great dishes as a new cook not using recipes. I mean, how do you know the right amount of a particular ingredient to add in order to have a balanced taste rather than an overpowering taste? How do you know what herbs or spices go best with a particular meat or vegetable? And how do you know how high or low to keep the temperature in order to achieve your desired effect?
These are things you learn from trying out a variety of recipes and noticing the trends of how certain ingredients and techniques are used in a way that works. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals of cooking, then you’ll have more success with your original creations. At least that’s what I’ve been told, and that’s what my experience shows.
I’m sure a new cook can come up with some tasty dishes without using a recipe, but I would image that her number of successes don’t outweigh her number of duds or mediocre dishes. But anyway, I digress. For those of you who like testing out new dishes with a little guidance and want to do away with kitchen frustration, read on.
Read the recipe carefully – Thoroughly read the recipe all the way through before you do anything.
Pay attention to details – Take notice of the order of the ingredients (usually listed in the order used). Note specific measurements and ingredient details such as “rinsed and drained,” “minced” or “roughly chopped,” or “at room temperature”. Also pay close attention to direction details.
Gather everything in place – Mise en place – Mise en place is French for “put in place”, which means to have all of your ingredients and utensils prepped and ready to use in front of you before you actually begin cooking. This will prevent frustrations like letting the oil overheat or the butter burn while you look for the garlic press or the knife to dice your onions.
Read the recipe carefully again – After you’ve read the recipe once and gathered everything you’ll need, read the recipe once more before you actually begin cooking just to be sure that no key ingredient is missing and to increase the chances that you won’t overlook a step.
Compare and Adjust – You can do this before testing a recipe for the first time or before the second time you try a recipe. I like to compare several recipes for the same dish in order to see the different approaches people take. Then, I choose the recipe that I like best or make adjustments based on two or more recipes.
Earlier this week as I brainstormed for this post, I tried out a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis for Tuscan White Bean Soup  with Ciabatta Bread. It was delicious, creamy but not too heavy, and a perfect soup for cooler weather. You can try the “How to Read a Recipe” tips using this quick recipe. I highly recommend it.
Tuscan White Bean Soup – Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Note: If you want a vegetarian version of this recipe, just substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth. Also, the recipe doesn’t call for salt, but I recommend salting to taste. Also, immersion blenders work like a charm.