How to make a recipe work like its supposed to

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In the kitchen study is done by reading cookbooks and magazines and through finding inspiration on TV and the internet. While inspiration is motivating you don’t want to get so carried away that you spend hours looking at recipes but end up without dinner (I’ve done this so many times!).

It’s more important to find recipes that you’re actually able to cook. Its nice to find pretty pictures of food and recipes with ingredients you’d like to try or think you should eat for health or taste. But it isn’t all that motivating to find a great recipe and get discouraged because its too complicated, or requires a heap of exotic (and expensive) ingredients.

How then do you go about taking a recipe you’ve found and know you have a hope of cooking it or that it might slightly resemble the same meal as in the book or picture?


Tips for cooking from a recipe

1. Find a recipe with simple steps

Start cooking from recipes that have simple steps, not ones where you need to do 6 things in the one step. Once your confidence improves you can tackle the harder recipes (that often assume more basic knowledge). E.g. Step 1. Chop the carrots into 2cm pieces. Step 2: Sauté the carrots in a pan until softened then add the spices.

This recipe for cauliflower pizza crusts gets you to do a lot if things in step 1, so it could be too complicated. This recipe for salmon and rocket pasta is a good example for simple steps.

Chopping is a simple step used in most recipes.

2. Don’t skip a step

It’s important to follow the recipe as it is until you have a better idea of how the recipe is supposed to work. I will always follow a recipe the first time I make it and I’ll leave the tweaking for another time (see my post on making changes to a recipe for more info on how to do this).

For example, in this recipe for roasted root vegetables if you were to skip step 3 the recipe won’t be the same at all.


3. Choose a recipe with techniques you know

It sounds really obvious but a lot of us choose a recipe for the ingredients or flavours but then forget that you need to be able to cook the recipe! Find recipes that use techniques you’ve used before or that build on knowledge you’ve already got.

For instance, if you know how to cook vegetables in a pan on the stove then cooking steak in a pan on the stove would be using the same technique. Barbecuing steaks might be the technique you use next to build on your skills.

If you can fry vegetables, frying steak would use a same or similar technique.


4. Don’t worry about the look of the dish

 Magazines, websites and cookbooks always have pictures of food that look amazing. Don’t worry about how it’s presented in these photos because they have teams of stylists and food editors making the dish look fantastic (it’s supposed to draw your eye). Focus instead on the number of steps and the techniques of the recipes – these are more important. How you serve the dish doesn’t matter when you’re cooking at home for the family. And when you do want to present it nicely practice with a meal you’re very familiar with cooking so you can focus on the presentation.

If you’re really keen on learning presentation, read these tips.


5. Don’t pick more than 1-2 new recipes a week

It can be really overwhelming and discouraging if you’re cooking new recipes every day – it can feel a bit like you’re pushing a boulder up hill! Keep new recipes to once or twice a week. It’s ideal if you make a plan for the week ahead on a Sunday night as this gives you some time to search the recipe books. It also means you can plan out which meals will be from new recipes and which ones might need extra time to prepare and cook. Check out my post on menu planning for more tips.


Examples of meals copied from recipes

I’ve put together a few examples of meals I’ve made from recipes that were new to me so you can see that it is possible.

Pea soup and mint pistou

(from the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook).


Slow cooked beef

(from the Australian Healthy Food Guide – Sept 2013)

Question: Which recipes are you thinking of making next?


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