How to mess up a recipe? Well, that’s easy. Just don’t follow some simple rules. The thought for this post started when I was working a very simple recipe for my homemade crepes. I thought I had it down pat. I made a mess of it instead.
It’s no secret that I love playing around with recipes and creating recipes, all to make something easy, fun and good to eat. Have you ever wondered if I make something not so good? You bet I do, and will probably do so in the future. It’s subtle, but it’s there. All my errors and mistakes (what not to do) are documented in my notes for each recipe.
How To Mess Up A Recipe, Badly
So how does one mess up a recipe? It’s the little things that would seem so obvious that you would wonder how and why we do them. To share my thoughts on how to mess up a recipe, I’ll list each area with some notes.
Read The Recipe: I make most of my mistakes thinking I know the recipe and don’t take the time to review it along with my notes. I’ve learned the hard way to review my recipe a couple of times just prior to starting the process. I have found myself throwing away the beginnings of a recipe and starting over many times because I didn’t do this very simple step.
Equipment: I know this may seem obvious, but make sure you have the right size pans, your equipment works, and you have the utensils on hand that are called for in the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for a high sided 1-½ to 2-quart casserole dish that doesn’t mean a shallow 9 x 13 inch baking dish that holds 1-½ to 2 quarts. Yes, I’ve seen this happen, and the results weren’t pretty.
Gathering Tools & Ingredients (Mise en Place): I know when you’ve made a recipe a million times this doesn’t seem necessary, but hear me out. The easiest way to mess up a recipe is to find out you’ve forgotten an ingredient while in the midst of preparing a recipe. Or you simply forget to add an ingredient because you didn’t have it out and measured. Doing this may appear silly and will take a bit more time than you may want, but believe me when I tell you it will save you time.
Even with a familiar recipe, this simple step will prevent you from rushing around to find an ingredient or to locate or prepare a cooking utensil when you needed it yesterday. Worst of all would be to find it necessary to start over because of a big mistake such as leaving out a key ingredient. Gathering all your tools, prepping pans and finally gathering and measuring your ingredients BEFORE you start making your recipe will actually save you time, and prevent big mistakes.
Proper Heat: Just because the dial says 375° F doesn’t mean it is. How do you check? Buy an inexpensive oven thermometer and check your oven at different temperatures. Better yet leave it in the oven. For pan-heat, I use a handheld infrared temperature gauge. It’s a great tool that gets used ALL the time for many reasons when it comes to checking the temperature in a pan or skillet.
True story: I can remember preparing to make cookies at a friend’s house. She constantly complained about how none of the recipes she tried worked. She had just made cookies that took around 40 minutes to bake, even when she’d set her oven to 375° F. I went to the store and bought a simple oven thermometer to check her oven. Even though it read 375° F, it was actually 250° F. I’ve never seen one quite that bad. She had someone recalibrate her oven, but she still checks it to make sure it’s at the temperature she requires.
Cooking Times: Many times a recipe provides a range such as 20 to 25 minutes. Always default to the lesser time and add if needed. I have overcooked things when I didn’t follow this rule. You can add cooking time, but you can never take it away.
Ingredients: I can’t stress this enough. The quality, freshness and type of ingredients matter. Many times a recipe will not be as good or fail altogether when we reduce or substitute an ingredient or two. Let me give you an example. Someone decided to substitute low-fat margarine for butter. Mind you it only required a tablespoon for a large batch. When the recipe didn’t taste as good or work as it should have they blamed the recipe. I asked if we could do a test. I made the same recipe using butter, and it was awesome. When she asked why, I explained it’s chemistry; all ingredients interact and cause a reaction. Good ingredients will give you good results. Substituted ingredients or ingredients of poor quality will give you the reverse. You get the point.
That’s it, my list of how to mess up a recipe. When I follow these simple rules, I find much more success when I’m vetting or creating a recipe. My hope is you will find my simple rules helpful, avoiding some of the mistakes I’ve made.
Do you have a set of rules for how to mess up a recipe of your own? I would love to add a few things to my list. After all, it can only help make us all better cooks.
Time to get cooking…