What is a “good” recipe?

What do you consider to be a “good” recipe?  What criteria do you use to say that a recipe worked and the end result was a success?

Is it about the complexity of flavors?  The smoothness of the final soup or the light and airy texture of a homemade bread?  Did the soufflé rise properly or is the skin perfectly crisp on the fried chicken?  Was the dish well seasoned or did it need some tweaking?

When do you put the asterisk by the recipe, pinch the page or bookmark it on the computer to make it again?  Just how many of the recipes you make will you ever make again?  If you were to look at the photograph above, you might want to make that recipe.  Think again.  It lacked flavor and the directions did not work at all.

Today I was going to write a recipe post complete with lovely colorful photographs.  A pasta dish.  Beautifully plated and seasonally perfect.  Delicate egg pasta with a luscious sauce and summer’s freshest vegetables.  Just a bit of lightly sautéed prosciutto added at the end to enhance the flavors and give contrast to the dish.  Finished with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  A delightful dish to serve to guests on a warm summer evening with a crisp dry white wine and a loaf of warm and crusty French bread.

Would you like to join us for dinner?  Doesn’t this meal and pasta dish sound incredible?  I thought so, too.  Hours of standing on my sore ankle in a hot kitchen and piles of dirty pots, pans and kitchen gadgets later, I had very different thoughts.  The recipe didn’t work.  At all.  So, we drank the wine.

These are all great recipes. They work every time.

I realize cooking is not a science.   Baking yes, but cooking no.  Recipes are generally an outline.  You need to taste and improvise to suite your own preferences.  However, when I come across a recipe that appeals to me in a reputable food magazine, especially when it was created by a well-known chef, I expect it to work and have at least some flavor.

I purchase and use high quality ingredients when I cook and bake and I spend countless hours trying out what I would expect to be “good” recipes.  I can usually tell by looking at the list of ingredients and the techniques for combing these ingredients what will work and what won’t.  However, I cannot tell you how many times we have been completely disappointed by the final dish.  The recipes that make it to Bunkycooks are one in three or maybe even one in four that I have tried.  Most fail to impress and it is difficult to find one that I can recommend preparing at home.

One kitchen nightmare story that I have shared several times with friends is from a baking recipe two years ago at Christmas.  I just had ankle surgery and was restless from lying around and decided to bake this gorgeous cake from one of the food magazines I had been perusing while recovering.  Mr. B took me to the grocery store and I spent almost $50.00 purchasing fine white chocolate, hazelnuts, organic heavy cream, espresso powder and other ingredients for this cake.

I hobbled around the kitchen while my foot and ankle swelled in the boot, but I was determined to make this cake.  The cake didn’t rise and I assumed I had made a mistake so, I made the cake again.  It turned out the same way both times.  While I knew there was no leavening agent in the cake recipe, I assumed the recipe was correct.  Obviously it was not.  It was hard as a rock and not at all like cake.  It could have been used as a discus in the upcoming Olympics.

The white chocolate mousse curdled.  The hazelnut brittle seized up and would not cook properly.  I was frustrated, angry and sore.  I went online to see if there were any comments about the recipe.  Yes.  Several.  The exact same things had happened to other people attempting to make this recipe at home.  I left my comments and sent a message to the editor of this well-established magazine.  I never heard a word from them.

The white chocolate curls and hazelnuts for finishing the cake sit in my basement refrigerator to this day.  I never needed them since the cake never was completed.  I still get angry thinking about the waste.  Who tested that recipe?  Anyone?  Can you imagine the number of people that spent the same amount of money on ingredients and took precious time making the components of that cake to end up with no dessert for guests at a holiday gathering?

These might look good, but they were not good enough.

There are countless recipes floating around on the internet, cookbooks galore, cooking shows, millions of food blogs and numerous food magazines.  Everyone has a cookbook these days.  How do you decide which of these resources to trust for recipes?  Have the recipes been made and tested by a panel of taste testers for feedback?  Have they been prepared by several different people in different kitchens and settings to see if the results are the same?

Many chefs don’t have recipes, per se, so when they actually write down a recipe, they will tell you that it needs to be worked through and adjusted for home use.  Their cookbooks require quite a bit of testing and recipe alteration for a home cook to have success with them.

How are the food magazines handling all of the recipes that they publish each month?  Are they all tested by their staff or do they trust that the people submitting them are doing the due diligence?  What happens when one falls through the cracks and isn’t tested?  My cake from Christmas 2010.

What about some of the food blogs that crank out new recipes almost daily?  Did these recipes work for them just once?  Did they have anyone else test the recipe?  Who is to say that they will work again that way or be successful for someone else?

Ingredients are expensive and time is precious.  Neither should be wasted.  I think that any of us writing about food and giving recipes to our readers need to be mindful of that.  Whether you are “adapting” a recipe from another source or are creating your own recipe, it needs to be reliable.  A recipe is about the food and not about the pretty pictures that accompany it, although those are important too.  It needs to be good and it needs to work.  Every single time.

I have heard some recipe developers, under time constraints, make a dish and after the dish is done they adjust the proportions of ingredients but do not make it again.  They are guessing at what would improve the taste or flavor without testing it to be certain.

Chef Craig Deihl's Crisp Wasabi Tuna is complex, amazing and one of my favorite recipes

Some recipes are quite simple and require only a few ingredients.  These recipes probably do not require as much testing.  As long as you use great ingredients and the instructions are accurate, the flavors should be good with minimal adjustment.  What tends to happen with many recipes that are more complex and require more ingredients, numerous steps and are designed to build layers of flavors, is that they seem to have more of a tendency to break down and the flavors get lost.  This could be because the proportions are off, ingredients are missing from the recipe or the process of building the flavors is flawed.  Whatever the reason, the photograph may be beautiful but the flavor is missing.

There are several cookbook authors and chefs whose recipes are spot on.  Every time.  I go to them when I know I want something dependable and am not in the mood to experiment or take chances.  It is too costly to take too many chances, especially as our food becomes more expensive.

I spent a great deal of time, money and effort last evening to be completely disappointed with the results.  Yes, I adjusted the ingredients and seasonings and added a bit more prosciutto, grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.  I tweaked the sauce and kept tasting for salt and pepper, but the robust level of flavor I had anticipated was missing.  It was flat.  The flavors did not work together.  At all.  This was not a basic dish.  This was complex and involved and I expected far more from it.

I often wonder if people visit websites and cookbooks to look at the pictures or if they visit to find recipes they will actually make at home.  One of the great joys of writing a food blog is receiving emails and chatting with friends that make recipes from Bunkycooks and having them say how much they enjoyed it.  I hope that the recipes you find here will live up to your expectations.

As more and more people enter into this cooking and blogging arena and more recipes flood the internet and bookshelves, what criteria will you use to determine your sources for recipes?  What do you consider to be a “good” recipe?

43 Responses to “What is a “good” recipe?”

  1. 1

    Danielle — June 25, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

    I have to admit, once I discovered the blog world and primarily, Google Reader, my cookbooks have done nothing but collect dust. I like that every recipe I find online has a photo (usually a really good one that makes me really envious of the person’s photography abilities!) and I know at least one person has tasted the dish and found it worthy enough of a post. However, I have found that not everyone has the same tastebuds and there are some bloggers that my palate relates to much better than others. There are some sites that I have tried multiple recipes from and each one is better than the last. I consider those recipes “good.” It’s those that my husband comments on without me having to ask. It’s those that have me eager for leftovers the next day so I get to eat it again. Those are what I deem good recipes.

    • Gwen replied: — June 26th, 2012 @ 8:40 am

      Hi Danielle,

      Yes, everyone’s tastebuds are different and what may taste “good” to someone, may not be good enough to you. Thankfully, there is a great deal of choice in recipes and cookbooks, so we can find cookbook authors, bloggers and chefs that create dishes more suited to our own palate.

      The biggest problem I see is that you still come across so many recipes that sound like something you would like and you invest in them with costly ingredients and time and they fail. I just spoke with a neighbor last evening who said this has happened to her many times, so she has backed away from more involved cooking. They either do very simple, her husband cooks or they go out. It is unfortunate that “bad” recipes have turned her away from cooking more frequently.

      Gwen

  2. 2

    ali — June 25, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

    I like recipes that allow for flexibility in both the ingredient and cooking time/temp. I understand that baking is a precise art but I come from an old culture with a wonderful cuisine. Nothing we make needs a measuring device so precise. Food has to be simple not a science project. Even bread and pastry making in the old world didn’t require precise measuring. Food was prepared over open fire. My grandmother had no thermometers, convection ovens, scales and 100 infrequence at her disposal yet the food she made in that small town in a far away place has remained the best tasting food to this day despite the many grade A and above restaurants featuring world class trained chefs that I have tried. Food like everything else in the Western world has become a tool of capitalism. A way to make more money selling inferior products. The TV chefs try to cook at lightning speed and eating has turned into competition! Go back to slow cooked simple food, the way our ancestor’s made it. Avoid restaurants, trends and the business of food in general. Trust your pallet and use time tested old recipes before they were altered by TV and restaurant chefs.

    • Gwen replied: — June 26th, 2012 @ 8:49 am

      Hi Ali,

      I agree with everything you have said here. Unfortunately, the entire food world has been turned into this crazy place where food and cooking have become an obsession and much of it is no longer about quality. Chefs feel the need to compete in some of these shows and food events order to get their names out there, further their careers and keep patrons in their restaurants. Cooking has become a “spectator sport”, as John Besh said last year. His new cookbook encourages people to get back in the kitchen, cook more basic foods and do it with your family.

      Some of the best meals we have had during are travels were made with excellent ingredients, cooked properly and with minimal fuss. The older recipes (particularly French and Italian) are the ones I rely on most of the time. They are traditional and tried and true. No gimmicks, no crazy ingredients. Just good food.

      Gwen

  3. 3

    Kath — June 25, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

    What a thought-provoking post, Gwen! I’m always trying new recipes. I hadn’t thought about what percentage would be considered “good”, but it’s probably only 25 – 30%. We say they aren’t “blog-worthy”.

    I don’t always take pictures when I’m making a new recipe, even when I have high expectations. If it turns out that it’s not blog-worthy I haven’t wasted time with photos. If it’s a “good” recipe, I’ll want to make it again and I’ll take the photos then.

    There are quite a few blogs that I trust, but now that I think about it, they are not ones that are posting a new recipe every day. Perhaps they are only sharing those recipes that they have determined to be “good”.

    • Gwen replied: — June 26th, 2012 @ 8:54 am

      Hi Kath,

      Unfortunately, many recipes are not “blog-worthy”. We will often take photos in case they are better than expected or I am using them to talk about what did not work (photo at the top), but it is sad that the percentage is so low. We also get frustrated at how much money is spent on disappointing results. Some foods you can make do with, but some end up being thrown out.

      Gwen

  4. 4

    Flavors of the Sun — June 25, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

    What an interesting post. Very well thought out and thought-provoking. What makes a good recipe? To me, it is simply one that calls to me using ingredients that I love. Maybe it has 3 ingredients, maybe 20. Maybe it is a tried-and-true classic, maybe a new spin on one. If it isn’t well written, well, shame on the author, but I can work with that. It is a difficult question to answer, but I’ll bet we all know a good recipe when we see one–it is one that works for us, for our own individual tastes. I think the answer might be differente for a novice cook, but if you are a cook with some experience, you can usually tell a good recipe when you read one. I’m just not sure how…

    • Gwen replied: — June 26th, 2012 @ 9:00 am

      Hi,

      I agree about how we choose recipes. Unfortunately, that criteria does not always work. I do think you can salvage some recipes by using your own cooking knowledge. Sometimes you know that certain methods won’t work and make alterations in advance. I am more surprised at the lack of flavors of some recipes, even though great ingredients went into them. I think this is why more testing needs to be done. They need to be consistent and successful more than one or two times and for different people as their may be a problem with the way the ingredients are put together in the recipe.

      Gwen

  5. 5

    Kristina — June 25, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    wow, that wasabi tuna looks great. and this is a great topic.

    and I know your pain of trying a recipe, thinking YOU made the mistake, making it again only to get the same result. I also know whose recipes I can absolutely trust each and every time.

    when writing my own recipes, I make it several times. the ones I know are good are the ones Jason raves about with no prompting from me, then they get introduced to a wider audience. for me, when I use eyeball amounts more often than actual measurements, I think explicit communication is key, writing for all levels of cooking so everything is understood by everyone. then all I ask is that the reader actually READ the entire recipe ;)

    • Gwen replied: — July 14th, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

      Hi Kristina,

      Yes, the tuna is fabulous and one of my favorite dishes.

      I agree, explicit instructions are important. I see many recipes that are written in such a way that someone would take the wrong steps. Since I have cooked enough in my life, I know to do something different, but that only comes with experience. If you are starting out and follow the instructions and they are not correct, you are set up for failure.

      On the other hand, I get frustrated with reviews of recipes that change half of the ingredients and then review the recipe. That is not the recipe. I will try to stick to the ingredient list and then tweak the methods if I see they won’t work. It is not fair to judge a recipe when you have totally changed everything in it.

      Gwen

  6. 6

    Stacey S — June 25, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

    I’ve got binders filled with recipes that were either printed from blogs or torn out of my magazines. What percentage of them do I actually try? 10% maybe? I am drawn to certain ingredients and preparations so that attracts me first, but it doesn’t mean the dish will be a success. I’m always looking for the acid, the pleasant savory feel otherwise known as umami, the crunch and texture of a crusty exterior, and just an overall balanced feel to the dish. I’ve run across a few from magazines and bloggers that were a complete disappointment. I’m drawn to Italian – decadent or healthy. Love finding nutritious recipes loaded with antioxidants but yet are delicious. I’m drawn to a lot of Asian ingredients, but not a lot of Asian dishes per se if that makes sense?

    • Gwen replied: — June 26th, 2012 @ 9:16 am

      Hi Stacey,

      I think we all have the binders or piles of recipes that sounded interesting, but we have yet to try or have only tried a small percentage. I have a filing cabinet filled with them. I usually try to print recipes that have have positive feedback from people that have made them or are by chefs or sources that I trust. While it doesn’t always work, I guess you have to start somewhere with so many choices online.

      The Asian flavors are some of our favorites as well. I find them to be interesting and full of flavor and they do appeal to all of the senses. That is why we enjoyed the Crisp Wasabi Tuna. Every bite burst with different flavors, crunch and texture. You should try that recipe if you get a chance.

      Gwen

  7. 7

    Marie — June 25, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

    I’m with you – I consider a good recipe to be one that turns out the way I expect (though, perhaps my expectations are unreasonable at times). The most consistent recipes I’ve found are in Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman’s cookbooks, The Barefoot Contessa, and you. I tend toward recipes that are more simple and have only a few ingredients, but I have to say that every time I try one of your recipes, I get fabulous and consistent results. My favorite recipes also are easy for me to understand and thus change based on my mood. You are right – for all the money, time, effort and love we put into cooking, you don’t want it to be a waste.

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

      Hi Marie,

      I am so happy to hear that you enjoy the recipes you try from my site. Whether they are my own or from another source, I am always concerned that they will live up to someone’s expectations. I do publish only the ones that are “good” and worthy of making again.

      Gwen

  8. 8

    Jen at The Three Little Piglets — June 25, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

    I do turn to the internet for recipes, but I only ever make ones from a source I’ve come to trust – someone that I know puts the time into creating a solid recipe. I ALWAYS avoid ones where the blogger says I went into the kitchen and added this to a pan and it was delicious. This time maybe it was… As Mr. Darcy says in Pride & Prejudice, “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” Same holds true about recipe sources, be it a book or the internet…

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

      Jen,

      I totally agree. You need to make recipes a few times before you know that will be consistent and taste the same. I think if you have a dish that you have made for years and maybe tweak one or two things and it turns out well, that may be a different issue.

      Gwen

  9. 9

    Susan in the Boonies — June 25, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

    Yes! I’ve had plenty of recipes fail. There are just certain chefs that when I try their recipes, they WORK.

    And yes, there have been several lately that I have put a ton of effort into, and come out with a big bag full of disappointed expectations, but little else to show for it.

    That’s why I’ve decided that unless a recipe that I try is truly awesome, it’s just not worth sharing, because I value my own name and reputation that much.

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

      Hi Susan,

      Yes, I totally agree. Some cookbooks and chef’s recipes work and others just don’t. Even if it is a huge waste of time and money, if a recipe is not a success and we are happy with the flavors, I will not post it. I would rather not post anything for several days. People DO make your recipes, so they need to be good. It is very important to me, too. I want readers to tell me how much they enjoyed something. That gives me great satisfaction to know that a recipe was successful for someone else and one of the reasons we write our blogs.

      Gwen

  10. 10

    Susan — June 26, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    When I worked on Nashville Junior League’s “Notably Nashville,” THOUSANDS of recipes were submitted by members of the League. Every one of these recipes had to be made once, and then tasted by thee committee–we all gained about 15 pounds through the process. After the main recipes were selected, they were tested 3 times on cooks of various skill levels and then, if they were successful, they made it into the book. That’s why some of many favorite recipes come from Junior League cookbooks. They may not all be “high end” dishes, but they are good starts and take additions/embellishments well. I think this is where a lot of recipes fail. They test them with professional cooks and not just your regular everyday person. No matter how many recipes I try, I still have not mastered the macaron–someday…

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

      Hi Susan,

      I do know that the Junior League recipe process is pretty strict and I agree, that is why so many of them are tried and true. While everyone has different tastes and levels of cooking expertise, if several people can have success and enjoy a recipe, then it probably is “good.”

      BTW, I need to work on the macaroon making, too. I have made them once with marginal success. Just don’t try them in this hot and humid weather. That is a recipe for disaster.

      Gwen

  11. 11

    Blunt Cook — June 26, 2012 @ 9:46 am

    Heya,

    Truly a thought provoking post! I think the answer partly depends on what you are looking for in a recipe. Inspiration, method, favourite ingredients, interested a certain combination of ingredients, want to try out something completely new?

    I have cook books sitting on the shelf and there’s the plethora of recipes on the internet but I rarely follow them faithfully. Oftentimes, recipes are kind of a inspiration to me, I like leafing through colourful pictures and entertaining ideas. Sometimes, though, I am looking for certain something. Then I usually prefer thorough instruction that tells me exactly what was done and why. Such as pasta dough, zabaglione or ramen. Recipes that go deep enough in the method and qualities of ingredients, open the dish for experimenting and adjusting.

    Finally, I do prefer simplish recipes. What is simple, is obviously a matter of perception. To me, saltimbocca is rather simple. I feel that when the recipes get more and more complex, there’s the danger of loosing balance and quite frankly, making cooking too fancy … and losing sight of the main goal of food: to satisfy hunger. After all, I think that for the most part people just want to satisfy their hunger in a tasty way, not spend hours in the kitchen for an everyday meal.

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

      Hi,

      I an in total agreement about more complicated recipes. I think there is not only room for error, but you also lose flavors as you add more and more ingredients. It is a fine art to create more complex dishes. More stuff doesn’t always equal better taste.

      I will say one thing, if you are wanting to know if a recipe really works or not, I do think you need to do it as it is written. If that doesn’t matter to you and you are using them strictly for inspiration, then that is fine. I am always interested in reading reviews of recipes online when people changed 10 different things and then said they didn’t like the recipe. Well, I guess not. I think it depends on what you are using a recipe for. I personally like to see if they will work as written, for the most part.

      Gwen

  12. 12

    Flavors of the Sun — June 26, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    That is so true. I think my own problem with bridging the gap from the written word to practice, is that I have the confidence to tinker with a recipe to make it work for me–hence, I just use it as a springboard, unless baking, of course. Of course, when I write recipes for others to use, I have to be much more careful and take into consideration all that you have said. And I have certainly gone wrong before, no matter how careful I thought I was being. Your idea of testing, and retesting certainly makes sense. Because I teach so many recipes to Mexican cooks looking to expand their repertoire beyond their national/regional cuisine, I rely on recipes I find on the internet, just because it is easy. But I can’t tell you how often we have to adjust the recipes mid-stream because something that I didn’t catch beforehand just wasn’t right. I try to be more careful when writing up my own, of course. Truly, this was a really great post which has given birth to some interesting, thought-provoking comments.

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

      Hi,

      Thank you for your comments. Yes, I do think that if you are an experienced cook or chef you can change recipes and will catch things that are inaccurate in a recipe as it is written. As I mentioned in the last comment, I do think that in order to give a recipe a fair shot, however, you do need to follow it as written (unless something is blatantly wrong, in which case, you probably would not even use the recipe). If you are using a recipe as inspiration or a springboard, as you said, then it won’t matter if you make the changes.

      Gwen

  13. 13

    Wendy Read — June 26, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    Great post, so thoughtful and great questions Gwen! I probably make about 5% of the recipes I find online and through blogs. I have my favorite food blogs, those where I can trust the recipes– recipes that have turned out beautifully for me–and they are mostly simple for sure. It means so much to me when someone uses my recipe and comments back on my blog too. I am always asking everyone to please try–isn’t that the point of a food blog?? I don’ t post as often as I would like, but when I do post, I am hoping that my readers will enjoy and try the recipe at home for themselves. I also rely on my favorite cookbooks that are tried and trusted namely the Joy of Cooking which I have used for years. My library is extensive, for Italian I love the Cucina Simpatica, for international and great vegetarian, I love Moosewood Classic books–I could go on and on. These are resources I trust and that is so important to me as I can see that it is to you. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this Gwen, this is what makes your blog stand out for me.

    • Gwen replied: — July 14th, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

      Wendy,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I also have cookbooks that I will go to time and time again. Ones that I know will have great recipes that I can rely on. While I have shelves full of cookbooks, most occupy shelf space and collect dust. There are truly a handful that are exceptional. I have always loved cookbooks and the the feel of a book and the photos of the food, so I have been collecting them for many years

      I have been more curious lately about some magazine recipes and recipes from the internet and while they have been from trusted sources, they have failed me many times. I don’t want to waste precious time and money on disappointing recipes, so I have decided to step back and return to the familiar and trusted sources.

      Gwen

  14. 14

    Lora — June 27, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    I know exactly what you are talking about, Gwen. I have recently had some not so successful attempts with recipes in cookbooks. Some were baking recipes. I usually do not give up and try it again a 2nd and 3rd time to make sure it wasn’t something I did wrong. Thanks for writing this wonderful post. :)

    • Gwen replied: — June 30th, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

      Hi Lora,

      It gets expensive to keep redoing recipes, but I know that sometimes we have to be certain if it was us or the recipe. I did that with the fussy cake I talked about in the post. Unfortunately, with no leavening agent in the batter, that cake was never going to actually be a cake!

      Gwen

  15. 15

    Blunt Cook — July 1, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    Hi Gwen and thanks for reply. I absolutely agree with you that if you want to know if a certain recipe works, you need to follow it rather precisely. If I take some recipe and twist it, and it doesnt turn out nice, it’s my own doing and not really a place for me to claim that the recipe doesnt work.

    Another thing is then when do we say a recipe “works”, to a certain point it is also a matter of taste or preference. Where I come from, the food has traditionally been rather “bland”, not too many flavors and not very spicy. These days many like it very hot, to the point it seems to me more like a bravery contest. I once attended to a party where the host’s roast was said to be very delicious. It looked ok, meat wasnt too dry but it was so hot I didnt enjoy eating it at all. They didnt even serve any “cooler” with it like yoghurt dip or lassi. Some liked it though, but it certainly didnt work for me.
    -Minna

  16. 16

    Jamie — July 3, 2012 @ 2:40 am

    Really a great, thoughtful post, Gwen. I am not a recipe developer and some of what is on my blog has only been made once and some of my husband’s recipes are written down on the fly – from someone who cooks by instinct and taste and whose recipes may never be the same twice. That said, if my husband and I cook the same dish with the same ingredients they may come out tasting completely different! When we turn to a cookbook or magazine or even a blog, we do and should expect these recipes to work. There may be more expectation from a book or magazine because we just expect them to have the money and reputation to hire recipe testers; much more professional than just bloggers who may simply be cooking for their families and have no professional experience. And as another commenter said, there is no accounting for taste.

    • Gwen replied: — July 14th, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

      Hi Jamie,

      I agree, professionals (chefs, cookbooks authors) should be accountable for recipes printed in magazines and books. I also know that what is acceptable to my neighbor in a recipe is not acceptable to me, so there is certainly a difference in palate and expectations.

      Since so many people are taking issue with this topic, maybe there has to be a disclosure on blogs, in magazines, etc. stating that a recipe was made for the first time or not tested by a team of recipe testers. Then, the reader can decide whether it is worth them making it or not. My aunt, who is a fabulous Italian cook, has expressed her disappointment with many of the internet recipes. They just are not good, so she has decided to cook old favorites.

      Maybe people will like the recipes and maybe they won’t, but when they are told the truth, they can make a thoughtful decision about whether they want to invest the time and money to make the dish for perhaps, the second time. If people perceive a reipes as something that is fabulous and has been made countless times and is good, it is deceiving.

      Gwen

  17. 17

    Lisa — July 3, 2012 @ 5:34 am

    I just realized I missed this post because although I check your blog every day, I was looking at the top of the page. Another example of my scatter brain *sigh*. That said, I’m so glad you wrote this article because this has happened to me more times than I can count. I too have reliable sources that I always go to when I need something to work ‘slam dunk’ every time – like Jacques Pepin..Thomas Keller, Ming Tsai, (just a few for example). Although, like you..I can tell when a recipe might not work, you figure a few adjustments will make it work, and forge ahead. Then you realize there’s nothing that can be done because the base recipe just doesn’t work..and you can kiss your $$$ goodbye and order pizza. I hope you find a great cake recipe that you can use those white chocolate curls and hazelnuts on.

    • Gwen replied: — July 14th, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      LOL! Those ingredients are still in the basement fridge! Maybe I can have my cathartic moment after this post and purge them now!! :-)

      Gwen

  18. 18

    Madonna — July 11, 2012 @ 9:15 am

    In my naiveté I thought I was the only one. I have been on a mission to avoid these pitfalls because now I am serious about what I cook or bake. I try to buy a good product and then not mess with it too much. I seem to have the best result if I stay with this approach. Just when I think I am getting pretty good at this I get hold of a bad recipe and my annoyance goes off the chart. I will not trust another of their recipes. Once I made a cake that had four eggs for an 8×8 cake. Now I am sure it was supposed to be a 9×13, but I followed the recipe meticulously. Needless to say I was scraping it off the bottom of my oven. I notice on some network shows, when you watch the episode they will say one thing, but when you look at the recipe the amounts are different. Somebody there needs to hire a proofreader.

    • Gwen replied: — July 15th, 2012 @ 8:36 am

      Hi Madonna,

      It does get discouraging to have recipes fail and then you realize it was the recipe’s fault (my cake, for example) and not yours. I also agree that simplicity is best. There are some recipes that I make that are very involved and they are fabulous, but they are from the few trusted sources that I use. Many of the others that I have tried have either been marginal or failed altogether, so I have become very wary.

      I am sure I will still continue to try new recipes, particularly if the source is reputable, but it will be less frequently. The time I know have available to cook has become limited and I hate to waste precious hours in the kitchen to end up throwing food away the tastes bad.

      Gwen

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    Nealey @ Dixie Caviar — July 11, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    I recently made a three layer coconut cake from a famous Southern chef’s cookbook, which turned out to be a complete disaster. It was a surprise for my fiance’s 30th birthday, and I was utterly devastated.

    Upon further research—and TWO additional coconut cakes using more trusted sources—I discovered the error. The quantity of sugar in the chef’s recipe had been translated from ounces to cups using a standard conversion ratio. It was clear that someone adapted the pastry chef’s recipe and converted the sugar quantity as if it was flour, and then never tested it using the changes. (For those that know, sugar doesn’t weigh the same as flour.)

    My friend happens to work at that restaurant, and I made it a point to tell him about my experience. He informed me that indeed they had quite a number of complaints about the error, but there wasn’t much they could do. Sure there is: test your cookbooks!!

    I am definitely weary of what recipe sources I use (even more so now); “that” cookbook has definitely been removed from my library. Thanks for pointing out the accountability that should be practiced by magazines, cookbook authors, and bloggers alike. Testing and re-testing is key to delivering a solid recipe!

    • Gwen replied: — July 15th, 2012 @ 8:40 am

      Hi Nealy,

      Baking is not something that you can alter like that and expect to have success with it, as I am sure you know. It is unfortunate that kind of error is in a cookbook and cannot be changed. I have had similar situations occur with big name cookbooks and as you have done, I don’t use them again.

      If the chef or restaurant has a Facebook page or website, maybe they would do well to make mention of the error and post the correction. It would be better than having all of the complaints from people who have purchased the book and now may not trust any of the recipes in it. Better to fess up and make it right.

      Gwen

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    Chef Debbi — July 14, 2012 @ 1:28 am

    I have taught cooking classes for many years at many places and one store for instance regurgitates recipes through corporate headquarters. One year they insisted that I teach their ‘recipes’ and with just a glance over the ingredients and directions one could tell the recipe wouldn’t work, wouldn’t rise, wouldn’t cook and would taste like cardboard. I would have to spend hours re-writing the recipes so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself by making a crappy dish. It’s no wonder that many people don’t like to cook, they need recipes that work so they don’t have to, after all we are the food professionals, oh well some of us are…..

    • Gwen replied: — July 15th, 2012 @ 8:44 am

      Chef Debbi,

      I completely agree that trying recipes time and time again that fail would discourage anyone from cooking. I often opt for a simple grilled piece of local meat and some fresh vegetables over standing in the kitchen creating some long and involved dish that may or may not be good. If the recipe is from a trusted source, I will do it, otherwise, I know I am taking chances these days with many of the recipes in magazines or newer cookbooks.

      Good for you for taking the time to redo the recipes to make them right to preserve your integrity and make the class a success.

      Gwen

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    Nancy Baggett — July 14, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    I’ve been nodding as I read your story. I have always developed and tested my own recipes carefully and grade myself hard. For my cookbooks I actually parcel out recipes to home cooks to collect feedback on taste appeal, ease of preparation, etc. These days with so many people “borrowing” recipes instead of spending the time and money to develop their own, it is becoming harder and harder to justify doing what I’ve always done. I can’t really compete if I spend two-three days and $75-100 actually testing before I shoot and post when others are making/tweaking a dish once just to shoot it. Additionally, I’ve actually had reader comments criticizing me for running mostly only my own recipes on my blog- it is somehow seen as unfriendly of me or egotistical not to post recipes from other writers. But I learned long ago from magazine and newspaper food editors that part of what they wanted from me was MY way with food, so it’s a habit hard to break. Just this week I decided to make and post a dish from a very popular cookbook to seem more friendly–it had no taste even after I doubled the amount of fruit called for in the original recipe. So, I’m back to doing my own recipes again.

    • Gwen replied: — July 15th, 2012 @ 8:54 am

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank you for your comment. I know that you are doing things the right way and as it should be done. I don’t understand why someone would have a problem with you putting your own recipes on your blog, especially if they are good. There are plenty of us who make recipes from other sources (chefs, cookbooks, magazines, etc.). There are so many recipes that never get posted that I prepare because they are not good enough, so I understand your frustration.

      I do like to prepare the recipes that I receive from chefs before I post them because I know that they have been scaled back and may need some adjustment to work for the home cook. They only time I will not do that is if I have worked side by side with the chef in preparing the recipe and have tasted it and I know that it is good or it is something very basic (like a baked ham or a sauce/condiment recipe).

      Gwen

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    Julie @ Peanut Butter and Julie — July 14, 2012 @ 11:11 am

    “So, we drank the wine.” — That line made me laugh out loud. This post really resonated with me (as it seems to have done with many others!) There is one very well known personality/cookbook author who comes to mind when I think of unreliable recipes. At first, I thought that it was due to my errors, but I found that many others have had trouble with her recipes as well. The fact that she continues to put out (best selling) cookbooks at a price point of $35 and up, all of which contain some recipes that were clearly untested enough times, shows lack of integrity and respect for her readers. Some cookbook authors/recipe writers seem to rest on their laurels — be it fame, a huge following, subscribers, great PR — knowing that their book or magazine will sell well regardless of quality or content. I am currently working on my first book, and it petrifies me to think of putting a recipe “out there” that doesn’t work.

    Thank you for this great post!

    • Gwen replied: — July 15th, 2012 @ 9:00 am

      Hi Julie,

      Congrats on your book! I agree with you about many of the cookbooks out there. Many of them are published so quickly these days and it is more about who you are and how many books you can sell rather than the quality of the recipes in the book. I think sometimes people don’t think that anyone will actually make the recipes. Well, guess what, some of us do. I always go for the challenging ones (like the cake that failed and the Crusted Wasabi Tuna that was amazing).

      As I have mentioned above, I am probably less likely now, however, to attempt involved recipes from someone who has failed me in the past or a source that I am not familiar with.

      Gwen

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