Copyright Thomas Saaristo  All Rights Reserved
How to read a recipe
It may seem like a simple thing, but when recipes go wrong it is often because the
cook has misread the recipe, or does not know how to read a recipe in the first place.
When starting out in the kitchen, the first step is learning how to read a recipe. Believe
it, there is a right way and a wrong way. Master the simple but important task of
reading a recipe, and you will be on your way to preparing delicious homemade meals

The first step in reading a recipe is simple, read it! Read the entire thing from top to
bottom. Do not read it from bottom to top, or part of one section and then part of
another. Read the title, the list of ingredients in order, and the preparation
instructions, in order. Before you do anything, read the recipe. Do not pull out the
mixer or the flour, read the recipe. Why is this important? First, it gives you the chance
to ensure you have all of the necessary ingredients and tools on hand. Out of flour?
Better to find out now than later. Is your baking soda fresh? How old is that yeast?
Had that sage since LAST Thanksgiving?

Secondly, reading the recipe in its entirety gives you an opportunity to do some
advance prep work. Maybe cookie sheets need to be greased, or the oven needs to be
preheated. After you have read the recipe, go back and look for ingredients or
instructions that need to be finished before you can begin. Does the recipe call for
boiled potatoes? Maybe you need roasted garlic. Sometimes recipes do not instruct
you on boiling potatoes or roasting garlic and those components need to be prepared
in advance of making the recipe. There is nothing worse than making a cake batter
and realizing you needed to chop chocolate, prepare the pans, and heat the oven

You have read the recipe, now what? The components of a recipe

The first component of a recipe is usually the title. Some recipes will start with
information about how many servings the recipe will make, or how long it takes to
cook, but usually the first thing you will see is the recipe title

Secondly you will see a list of the recipes ingredients. Again this may vary, but
somewhere you will find a list of ingredients. All recipes list ingredients in the order in
which they are used. If flour is the first ingredient listed, it is the first ingredient used.
If sugar is the fourth ingredient listed, it is the fourth ingredient used. Why is this
important? The list of ingredients helps you get all of your ingredients ready before
you start cooking and it gives you a sneak peek as to how those ingredients will be
combined. Reading the recipe beforehand eliminates surprises. You are in charge of
the recipe, it is not in charge of you

The instructions, or method, for preparing the dish comes after the list of ingredients.
The first instruction will probably be something along the lines of turning on the oven,
or preparing the pans. This is why it is crucial to read the recipe in it is entirety before
you do anything else. You will undoubtedly find something in the instructions that
you will need to have done before you actually start preparing food, and of course
you did that after you read the recipe through the first time... Right? No surprises

Putting the dish together

Assemble the ingredients exactly has described in the instructions, from beginning to
end, meaning follow the recipe to the letter. The instructions are all about method.
They are written in the order in which events occur. Skip a step or jump from one part
of the recipe to the next, and you are playing with fire. Learn about cooking terms like
whisking, beating, and folding. In the world of baking these techniques are especially
important. Again, follow the instructions to the letter. If the first instruction is to
combine eggs and sugar, do not go sift the flour and baking powder together

The final step is often bringing all of the components together. Continue to follow the
recipe. Once cooking has finished the recipe is not over yet! Instructions on preparing
the finished recipe for presenting, or storing, are next: Serve immediately or Serve at
room temperature or Chill overnight. Some recipe are kind enough to tell you if you
can save leftovers and how to do it

Often the end of the recipe will tell you how long it might have taken to make the
recipe and how many people it will feed. Recipes rarely thank you for trying them.
What a pity. You made it this far: Congratulations should be in order. Or maybe that is
reserved for your family


Recipes are often devised of different components, not just individual ingredients, but
groups of ingredients that comprise an essential part of the final dish, for example,
flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder all combine to make the dry ingredients
for a cake. Butter, eggs, vanilla are wet ingredients that are combined separate of the
dry ingredients

Once you can read the ingredients in their groups, you can cook faster and more
efficiently. I have cooking for so long that I have been able to make lasagna in almost
no time at all because I see the recipes list of ingredients as different components that
come together in the end to make the final dish. Instead of seeing 20 ingredients, I see
5 groups of 4

Do not make substitutions unless you are 100% sure you know what you are doing.
Unless a recipe gives you a choice like butter or margarine or identifies a generic
ingredient like vegetable oil trust that the recipe knows more than you do. There are
some pretty bizarre stories out there about recipes-gone-wild because someone
decided that you could substitute sour cream for butter. On what planet!?

Measure accurately. This is infinitely more important for the science of baking, but you
should know that 1 cup of brown sugar, packed is a different ingredient than 1 cup
packed brown sugar. Similarly 2 cups grated carrot is different than 2 carrots grated.
Do you see the difference? In the first instance of the brown sugar the ingredient is
measured and then packed. In the second instance, the brown sugar is packed into a 1
cup measure. 2 cups of grated carrot means you grate carrots until you have two cups
of grated carrot. 2 carrots, grated means you grate 2 carrots. Even within an
ingredient, there is technique.  2 eggs whisked. 1 cup flour sifted. Do you know the
techniques for whisking and sifting? Make sure you understand and follow that
technique. You will be infinitely happier with the results

Why does cooking on TV look like so much fun? Because all of the prep work has been
done in advance! You can do the same thing! Assemble your ingredients and then lay
them out on your counter in the order in which they appear in the recipe. Setting your
work space up like this has a very fancy French name called mise en place (MEE ZA PLA)

Seems like a lot to know about something as seemingly easy as reading a recipe. But
once you have mastered reading a recipe, it all becomes second nature. You stop
questioning yourself. You begin to cut down on your prep work and your cooking
times. Clean up is easier. Cooking is more fun and enjoyable and efficient. You will be
turning out more and more easy and delicious meals that will have everybody asking
for seconds. Guaranteed