Writing in Cookbooks

Not too long ago, another bloggerThe Ranting Chef, wrote about writing in his cookbooks. He said he didn’t write in books until recently. He came up with a great way of categorizing their favorite recipes and those recipes with the highest ratings were listed in the front of the book by a ranking system he devised.

Writing in cookbooks is a wonderful thing to do. I make notes of variations, adjustments, likes and dislikes. What works and what does not work is also clearly noted.

The only cookbooks I don’t write in are those that I consider “art” cookbooks. Even then, if I make an adjustment of note, I’ll print it along side of the appropriate text.

There is a spiral bound notebook I keep nearby in the kitchen to collect thoughts, ideas and original recipes. I keep post-it tabs on pages I want to find again and again.

My cookbooks are my tools as are my knives and micro-planes. They do you no good if you don’t use them.

Cookbooks are meant to tease you into making something you haven’t tried before. To learn a different technique, style or how to handle a new ingredient. Valuable lessons.

Not all recipes work. When first looking at a recipe, I’ll scan it for technique, style and ingredients and ingredient ratio. After all a recipe is only a mathematical ratio of ingredients with the factor of heat applied.

Many recipe writers don’t understand the complex relationship of ingredients. Considering an ingredients function: liquid, acid, fat, sweeteners etc. and how they interact, and how the ingredients relate to each is crucial for a recipe to work out. I have a text-book that has so many typos in it (shame, shame!) I am not going to use it anymore.

When we discover a recipe in class that isn’t working, we make notes about it directly in the book. Some students look at me as if I just sprouted another head when I tell them to note it “in the book”. The book is a tool and unless you use it, it won’t do you much good.

Leaning on a book  too much instead of learning the essence of the dish, a book becomes a crutch without deeper learning. Learn to scan and analyze what your recipe is trying to tell you. Notice ratio relationships, techniques and methods. Notice ingredient combinations.

Soon you will develop your own recipes and menus from looking at what you have on hand rather than depending on a book to help you decide what to cook.

Learn cooking correctly, you will use a recipe as an idea rather than follow it word for word. If you learn the five basic “Mother Sauces” you will be able to recognize the methods and techniques and be able to say to yourself ” Oh, I know how to do that, it’s a bechamel” and be able to use that as a jumping off point rather than following the recipe exactly.

Most of all, remember not all recipes work.

So, Ranting Chef, I applaud your recipe rating system.

Keep writing and making notes in those books. You won’t need to remember the recipe needs 32 ounces, not 3.

Cookbook Shelf

Cookbook Shelf (Photo credit: LollyKnit)