How To Write a Recipe

If you cook you use cook books. And, if you’ve used a lot of cook books, no doubt you are more than aware there are many different ways to organize the presentation of recipes. Not to mention the wide variety of approaches to any given recipe. It seems that every cookbook author has to come up with their own unique style. Some better than others.

Cooky Cat is rather minimalist in his approach. Like some people, who shall remain nameless. (Shout out to the Queen of the Peasant Pot.) His acclaimed work is for the cognoscenti, not the hoi polloi. It's his choice. We've attempted to persuade him to become more universal, but he lives in his own "pussyfied" realm. He's rather, ahem, taken with his own writing approach, so he tends to the "readerly" style.

The main peeve we have with a lot of cook books out there is in the way they are formatted. Many are beautiful vanity pieces, making for better reading in a chaise lounge than for instructions to follow in the kitchen. In the kitchen, as in during the actual preparation, when the fat is on the fire, so to speak.

For actual use, in the kitchen, many cookbooks are just plain difficult to follow. Have you ever had your hands full and messy and then be forced to take extra time to scrutinize a recipe to find your place for the next step because it was written like a novel? In paragraphs, that is. Long sentences. If so, then you know what we’re talking about.

This is a no fail, user friendly template for delivering a recipe that is easy to follow in the kitchen. The beauty of this suggested approach is that it gives the cook, all at once, 1) an easy take on the ingredients with amounts for each and 2) step by step instructions right along with the ingredients list. All together!

Use separations, indents, bolds, italics (especially for Itralian), underscores, bullets, hyphens, capitalization. The formatting helps the eye locate its place.

Just always keep in mind you are attempting to be helpful. Make your instructions interesting, but always as easy to follow as possible.

A good recipe will have: 

1) a story or personal anecdote which may or may not have anything at all to do with the recipe itself. You are in a conversation with your reader after all. Dance a bit. For example, "One day I was thinking about Sir Isaac Newton, and then I had this idea drop into my head with hankering for a warm piece of apple pie."

2) A description / history / background at the head sets the mood and sells the recipe. Include that whenever you can. "Grandma would always . . . " (That's a whole sub-genre about what Grandma would or wouldn't do, and we won't get into the myriad permutations.)

3) As much ancillary information as seems appropriate and/or necessary (i.e., how to serve / how to eat, accompaniments / condiments / garnishes, other menu items to coordinate with, wine / beverage pairings). E.G.: "Best to drink lots of booze before serving this particular dish. It isn't the best looking thing that ever was put on a table."

4) Your recipe should be tested. By you. Some cooks following your instructions will be literal. So be sure to get it right to your own satisfaction first. Stand by your recipe. One of our favorite sources, Saveur Magazine, is famous with us for getting amounts wrong in some of its recipes. 

Some general rules/checklist to follow:

— (Optional) Start each entry with a story or personal anecdote.

— (Optional) Include the description / background / history.

—Include, as appropriate, photos of finished dish and the (Optional) intermediate preparation steps.

— (Optional) Include video if available for online recipe entries.

— List serving portion numbers / sizes and yield.

— Indicate preparation time

— Advice on sourcing hard to find/rare/unusual ingredients.

— All the ingredients are listed in bold with bullets / hyphens for visual separation (or some other separating mark).

— List the ingredients in bold in order of handling.

— We like to capitalize food / ingredient names. (Optional)

— Suggest alternative and additional / optional ingredients.

— The amounts are indicated alongside each ingredient, non-bold.

— The preparation for cooking (e.g., wash, peel, dice/slice/mince) of the item is listed with the item or just below, depending on length of instruction. The preparation of the ingredients is a step in itself; prep is a set of steps prior to assembly, and the (good) cook will want to have that chore(s) completed before going to assembly.

When an ingredient does double duty in a recipe and has different prep styles (e.g., onion half-slices, onion small dice) these will be listed separately and in what amounts; such as, a) 2 Cups-half slice and b) 1/2 Cup-minced. And, so forth.

Cooking / Assembly is a separate section placed below ingredients in italics and indented.

— Serving / Eating suggestions (especially helpful with unfamiliar dishes; e.g., Escargot, Borlengo, Ortolan Bunting [search “How to eat Ortolan Bunting”])

— (Optional) Accompaniments / Garnishes. 

— (Optional) Menu suggestions

— (Optional) Wine and beverage pairings

The recipe below is for French Onion Soup. (In typical Cooky Cat fashion, how to make beef broth / stock is not explicated. The Internet provides.) 

The headers are to show you the structure, not included in an actual recipe.

1. Recipe Title

Traditional Classic French Onion Soup

2. Description/Background/History

The French are a nation of traditional cooks and once they have a good recipe, they see no need to update or change it simply for the sake of change. 

Classic French onion soup is a great example of how a relatively basic yet perfectly balanced traditional dish has stood the test of time and is just as popular today as it ever was.

There are lots of easy recipes for French onion soup and you can alter the soup ingredients or topping ingredients but the photo shows how a classic traditional French onion soup recipe should look. Perhaps you have enjoyed this delicacy before in a restaurant but it is easy to make your own French onion soup at home too.

The trick to making the best French onion soup is to begin with a good broth. Beef broth, also known as beef stock, is usually used in easy recipes for French onion soup and you can make beef broth from leftover bones when you have a roast. 

It is also important to caramelize the onions properly when making the best onion soup recipe. You have to allow them at least half an hour of slow cooking over a medium heat to bring out the natural sugars. This makes the onions extra sweet and juicy. A pinch of sugar to move things along is optional.

This easy French onion soup recipe is best served in French onion soup bowls. These bowls are deep and keep every drop of the soup warm until you have finished. This rich brown colored French onion soup recipe is topped with a layer of bread and creamy Gruyere cheese for an authentic finish. 

The following easy French onion soup uses the traditional steps and techniques for the very best results.

3. Servings

(Serves 8 - 12 ounce servings)

4. Preparation Time

Preparation Time: 1 hour (Beef broth / stock not included)

5. Ingredients Amounts/Preparation/Assembly

 6 large Sweet Onions thinly sliced (approximately 6-8 cups)

 3 T Olive Oil

      — Sauté the onions in the olive oil in a big, heavy bottomed pan, over a medium heat. Cook them for at least half an hour, until they are well browned, but not burnt.

  ¼ tsp. Sugar (optional)
     — Add the sugar about 10 minutes after you start the process to help with the caramelizing.

  2 cloves minced Garlic (optional)
     — Add the garlic and cook for a minute.

  8 cups of rich Beef Stock (Prepared previously)

  ½ cup Dry Vermouth, Dry White Wine or Dry Sherry

  1 tsp. Fresh Thyme (1/4 tsp. dried thyme optional)

  1 Bay Leaf

     — Add the beef stock, wine, thyme and bay leaf.
     — Cover the pan partially and let the soup simmer for half an hour, to allow the flavors to blend.

  Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
    Season with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf.

  8 slices French Bread, toasted

  1 ½ cups grated Gruyere Cheese

     — Ladle the soup into ovenproof soup bowls and top each one with a piece of toasted French Bread.

     — Sprinkle the Gruyere Cheese on top of the bread and broil for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or until the cheese is bubbling and melted.

    — Serve immediately.

6. Serving/Accompaniments

— Serve along with crusty baguette and a leafy green salad. Pair with white wine. dry-to-sweet scale to preference.

"Lucky Strike Extra": How to Eat Ortolan Bunting