Writing your own recipes-- do you do it? How?

Sometimes I make things and people want to make it too. If it’s something I cook all the time, I end up saying things like “Put enough olive oil and vinegar until it looks right” or “a little palm-ful of fennel seeds-- not a big palm-ful, though”. This frustrates people sometimes.

What prompted this thread was the ribs I made yesterday that my husband put on the grill (temps in the mid 50s? Break out the grill!) that we shared with our left side neighbor. His wife came back and asked for the recipe. I wrote it down like this:

Boil the ribs in Killian’s Irish Red and water, peppercorns, whole cloves, five spice and ginger. Put some tomato paste in a pot with some vinegar, plum sauce, honey, a little bit of molasses, habanero hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, a few dashes of liquid smoke and red pepper flakes. Get that bubbling. Grill the ribs until dry and then put the sauce on. Grill until the sauce is crusty.

She came back today and requested clarifications that I just couldn’t give her. Falling back on telling her “Until it looks right” a lot.

So, do you write down your recipes? Do they make sense?

P.S. These ribs are friggin delicious, if I may say so myself.

When I write stuff of my own down, I do it like that.

Unless I formulated the recipe from combining several, like my plum pudding. (Which I ignore, and use only as a guideline–I make it a bit different every year, depending on my mood, and whether or not I have help.)

I’d rather just show someone how to do it, then write down specific quantities. Make it again, and “pay attention” to how much you use. Write down the approximations.

Edit: Also, if you need temps to be in the 50’s, you’re an amateur. If it’s above 40 below, it’s warm enough to grill. :smiley:

If you just can’t measure while you’re cooking, one trick is to take note of how much of each ingredient you have at the start, and how much you have at the end.

I started out life as a recipe only cook, and only in the last few years have become a “y’know, yea much” or “until it looks right” cook. As I made the transition, I spent some time measuring herbs and such with a measuring spoon and then pouring them into my palm before tossing them in the pot. Then I did Weight Watchers for a bit, and got very good at eyeballing “4 ounces” or “1/2 cup” type measurements. This gave me a pretty good feeling for quantities even when I don’t measure.

So I’ve got two versions of recipes. Mine, which is mostly a list, and those I give to others, with units of measure inserted. I don’t get too anal about perfectly remembering each quantity, but I give it a shot. I find cooks pretty much come in two groups, anyhow: those who can’t tell a canned tomato from a fresh one, much less 1/2 tsp of thyme vs. 3/4 tsp of thyme, and those who have six flavors of pepper grinders in their cupboard and know when to use each. The first batch won’t notice if there’s a little less thyme than would be ideal, and the second batch will know how to tweak my recipe to their taste, anyhow.

I knew I officially turned into my grandmother when I pulled out a recipe I wrote down and realized it wasn’t a recipe, it was a list of ingredients. And it was fine - I knew what I meant to do.

I can write down stuff for other people, but it’s a pain. And some things just have to be based on experience - the whole “cook it until it’s done” thing. You can sorta kinda take a stab at it - “saute on medium high for 4-6 minutes, until onions are soft and golden” - but it differs depending on the stove, the pan, the person, etc. There’s just no way to really write it down perfectly, but the happy thing is that for most food, it doesn’t matter.

My boyfriend does this, even if he’s never made the dish before. He reads over a few recipes to get an idea of what flavors should be strongest, what ones are optional, etc., and then just sort of plays around with things.

I used to drive one of my roommates up the wall with my “recipes”. For me, a recipe is generally just a starting point, and that only if it’s something I’m not accustomed to making. I do a lot of the “do this until it looks right” and “add that until it smells right” sort of instructions, because that’s how I cook. I throw things together along the general theme of a dish, and it works out (or, occasionally, doesn’t–though I’ve never made anything so disastrous that it was inedible).

Roomie, on the other hand, is a strict constructionist when it comes to a recipe. “One teaspoon of paprika” means exactly one level teaspoon of paprika. Descriptions like “a pinch of salt” frustrate him, though he can usually cope with that level of vagueness. What finally broke him was the baste I use on smoked (and sometimes grilled) meat; he tried for years to duplicate it without ever quite getting there, despite watching me make it dozens of times. To him, it looked like I was dumping spices into olive oil at random. In reality, I was adding spices based on the smell and color of the mix, and my judgment as to how much of each flavor was appropriate to the meat at hand; the baste for turkey is slightly different from the one for beef, and burgers get a different mix from brisket. The “recipe” changes every time.

He’s more laid-back these days. Now he just asks me to come over and help when he wants to smoke a turkey.

When something comes out well enough to write it down and list it on my website, I will make the recipe and measure each thing as it goes in, and write down the amounts. You only have to do this once so it’s not a big deal. I’m a pinch-of-this handful-of-that cook myself so I know what you mean, but when you decide to write it down, take one time of making it to actually measure what it is you’re putting in there. It’s worth it.

The same applies to beer-making. My friends call it “Jedi brewing.” You just add ingredients and brew by feel. It drives the anal-retentive types up the wall.

Depends on what the recipe is for. Most stuff, I have a basic idea of how much this and how much that, but I’m not anal retentive about my measuring (I rarely use a measuring cup, and I certainly don’t have different measuring cups for dry and liquid ingredients–I just use a pyrex cup when I need it), and I always taste throughout the process and correct for seasoning at the end.

As for times, I hate giving cooking times or even roundabout estimates, except for things that cook really quick. When it comes to stews, it may be done in 2 1/2 hours, it may be done in 4+ hours. Depends on a lot of factors. It’s done when it’s done.

The one thing I am extremely precise on are my sausage and bitters recipes. My sausage recipes are set up so each ingredient is indicated in grams per 100 grams of meat and fat. This makes it really easy to scale up and down, plus it makes for solid consistency. I have a bratwurst recipe I came up with after much experimentation, and I’ve finally gotten it down to the exact proportions I like, and it’s amazing how just a little more mace or a little less mace throws the balance of the whole thing off. But, more importantly, I like my salt amounts to be exact: usually 2.5%, although I will go as low as 2.0%. Any less, and it’s bland and undersalted. Much more and it’s too salty for me.

I look at a bunch of recipes, use the ingredients I like from several and change the spices to ones that I know work together from previous experiments, creating a sort of recipe mashup. It usually works just fine.

Here’s one I just wrote down for someone who liked it. It was awesome, if I do say so myself :):

Ko’s Spicy Lentil Soup

1 potato sliced thinly
1 zucchini sliced thinly
1 onion coarsely chopped
2 carrots coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
1/4 C olive oil
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2 C dry white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 C lentils (any color – I used green)
2 T honey
5-6 cups of water
spices: 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger*, turmeric, thyme, paprika. 1 Tbsp parsley, 1 tsp basil, 1 tsp cayenne (adjust to your taste, this makes the soup spicy but not painful). 1 bay leaf, salt to taste, I used about a scant Tbsp.

  1. Heat oil, brown the onions then throw in the rest of the vegetables and garlic and saute for 10-15 minutes.

  2. Deglaze pot with the 1/2 c of white wine then add the tomatoes, lentils, water, honey and spices.

  3. Bring to a boil, turn down heat to simmer for about 2 hours. Soup is best the next day.

*next time I will use minced fresh ginger, but I used powdered this time.

Cooking is an art; baking a science. My specificity in sharing recipes follows that. I’ve spent years experimenting (and am still experimenting) to get proportions right to get the effect I want (e.g., soft or crispy cookies; high or low rise cakes; dense or light breads) and know that someone else will need a lot more clarity on salt/sugar/etc. proportions than they would with cooking in general.

For non-baked goods, I’m with the above generalities crowd.
(Oh, bakers out there. Do you adjust your shared recipes based on the recipient? For example, some people I’ll tell to cream the butter and sugar. To others–who I know don’t know or care what it means–I’ll just tell them to mix it together.)

You do what!?!?!?!? :mad:
(Just kidding. I do measure everything and write it down when I brew, though…)

My view is that you don’t really know how to cook something until you can do it without any formal measurements.

It is hard to write such a recipe down, though. The most effective–and fun–way to convey it is to cook it with the person who wants to learn.