Friday, November 27, 2015

Rein's top 10 recipe writing tips

A well-written recipe is a thing to be desired and there are many howlers on the internet. Here are my top 10 tips to craft a good recipe:

1. Decide on your narrative style

You could use a descriptive style (where measures and ingredients are given in the same text with the steps or method). This style is usually found in older recipe books. It suits recipes with only a few ingredients and with three or four steps. 

However, busy cooks would prefer an ingredients and measures list separate from a step by step method description. This is what today's readers are used to and it makes it easier to check if you have all the necessary ingredients at one glance. 

2. Avoid too much personal experience or feelings

Resist the temptation to be overly personal with the recipe and detail at length your feelings when you did a particular step or give too long an introduction to the recipe. Readers do enjoy the personal touch, particularly when it comes to technique or variations but too much may bore the reader and leave them eager to move on to the recipe.

3. Write for a global audience

Ensure that readers from all parts of the English-speaking world will understand your references and measures. Whether you decide on using the imperial or metric system, keep it consistent or better yet, you may wish to provide both. 

This also applies to certain ingredients that are called different things in different countries or regions. A usual culprit is spring onions/shallots/french shallots/eschallots/scallions/onion leaves. These mean different things to different readers so mentioning the alternatives or adding a picture may help. If one of your ingredients must be in a different language, italicise the word and a picture or further explanation is also useful.

4. Perfect your ingredients and measures list

List the ingredients in the order that they will be used in the recipe or for more complicated recipes with several "mini recipes" within them, group the ingredients and then refer to them as a group in the method description. Give easy to understand measures as well. For example, "a teaspoon of minced ginger" is clearer than "an inch of ginger".  

6. Match your ingredients and method description

Do a two-way double check: have you listed all the ingredients used in your method description? Have you used in the method description all the ingredients listed? Nothing worse for an inexperienced cook to have have an ingredient listed which is then left out of the method.

6. Assume your readers have minimal (not zero) cooking knowledge

When describing the method, try to be as descriptive and clear as possible. This will cater to a wider audience and help a reader who is just starting to try their hand in the kitchen. The experts are likely to tweak recipes anyway so you needn't worry too much about them.

7. Include ideal salt and pepper measures 

Especially when cooking mains like chicken dishes, suggest to the reader how much salt and/or pepper they should add to achieve the best flavour from the dish. You may then suggest they reduce or increase to their preference. Salt to taste is easily done by those who are familiar with what a dish should taste like but it does not help the newbie much.

8. Give substitutes for hard to find, unusual ingredients

This is helpful where you think an ingredient is not something commonly found in a pantry. If the substitute will alter the flavour of the dish, alert the reader to this as well.

9. Suggest accompaniments or side dishes

Particularly for main meal recipes or starters, giving some ideas of what the recipe usually matches well with, or what it goes with, or what weather it suits will help the reader who may be thinking of adding  your recipe to a bigger menu.

10. A picture speaks volumes 

Adding a colourful picture of your finished dish will help your reader have some idea of what they're embarking on and also gives them an indication if they got it right at the end. I am always more inclined to try a recipe when it looks good in a picture.

Hope you find these useful - go forth, write and inspire someone to cook!

"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed Never worry how next it comes But always hope for a delicious feed"

Friday, July 17, 2015

The oily truth

Last Tuesday's Good Food (Sydney Morning Herald) had a well-thought out piece comparing the different oils presented to us in the supermarket isle or health food debates. From the humble vegetable oil to the I-have-never-heard-of cotttonseed oil, the article discusses smoking points and nutritional content, dispelling some of my personal prejudices or ideas about certain oils.

So after digesting all the oily details, here is what I am thinking is my plan of fatty action:

Salad dressings, roasting winter vegetables, bruschetta drizzling, breakfast omelettes or scrambled eggs, pasta sauces Meditteranean/Middle Eastern (eg Yottam recipes) - Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) that has not been sitting in my cupboard for over 12 months and definitely sourced from Australia. Cobram is a decent brand stocked in Woolies but there are many other local olive oils found in the farmer's markets or health food shops.

The article suggests EVOO to be one of the healthiest oils and with a smoke point of 200-215 degrees making it suitable for roasting, cooking and baking.

Kerala cooking (vegetables, curries) - extra virgin coconut oil (can be found in independent grocers) and these are usually imported from Sri Lanka

Special event-luxurious Indian cooking like Biryani or melt-in-your-mouth Ghee biscuits (next to Gingerbread people in the picture) - Good ol' clarified butter (pure cow's Ghee).Love it for its flavour and have to ignore its high fat content (hee hee). The article did not discuss Ghee.

Chinese stir fries - Peanut oil (make sure none of your friends are allergic if its not the refined type)

Chinese cooking drizzles - Sesame oil (only a little and after cooking is over)

Malaysian cooking (nasi lemak sambal) - Rice bran oil is nice and neutral for this.

Baking - a good quality vegetable oil if the recipe calls for it. Its great for its neutral taste and gives the cake an unbelievable softness. While the article suggests its sweetness is good for cakes, I personally dislike using coconut oil in recipes (other than a coconut cake) because I find it overpowers the flavours of anything else in the cake).

Other dilemmas: Butter over margarine used in moderate portions feels more natural and less processed while in-season avocado for spreading on breakfast toast can't be beaten! (Interestingly, reading the ingredients list closer on most "spreads" in the butter/cheese supermarket isle will reveal even the most expensive olive oil spreads only contain about 20% of olive oil, the remaining being other plant or vegetable oils.) My choice of spreadable butter is Mainland Buttersoft (I believe its  a New Zealand product).

What oils won't I be using?

Macadamia and avocado as they are not budget-friendly.
Refined/Hydrogenated coconut oil (as opposed to extra virgin coconut oil),
Vegetable oil that has over 20% saturated fat per 100 grams
Re-using oil - oil should be not be re-used because its smoking point falls making it unfriendly to our bodies.

The greasy end

One thing is certain, oil makes our food palatable and delicious and choosing a healthy oil can certainly have some nutritional value.

PS. Fun fact -  Canola oil from the canola plant bred in Canada gets its name from the phrase "Canada oil low acid".

Thank you Good Food for some valuable information, looking forward to the next issue.

"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed Never worry how next it comes But always hope for a delicious feed"