Reading Recipes

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Recipe card for homemade cocoa

One of the first things they teach in a basic cooking class is to read the recipe all the way through before you start, make sure you have the ingredients and make sure you understand how to do it. Do we listen? Ahhhh…. No.

How do I know we don’t always read recipes first? Because I speak from experience. I don’t know how many times I have started a recipe, assuming I know how to do it and discovered half way through that I have done it totally wrong.

How do I know all of you have the same problem? Because 2-3 times a week I answer a question from one of you who asks, “Do we cook this first?” Then, when I look at the recipe, I find the answer to the reader’s question right in the middle of the instructions (and sometimes on the first line).


Then there are the times I’m mixing and stirring, assuming I have cinnamon on hand because I always keep cinnamon in my pantry, only to find out that I don’t have enough.

How do I know all of you do the same thing? Because of all the new recipes that get invented when people have to improvise (which is a good thing sometimes)! I read reviews that say, “This was a great recipe but I changed it a little because I didn’t have cinnamon so I used nutmeg,” or “I didn’t have eggs so I left those out,” or “I used water instead of milk… but is sure was good.” :) :)

Read the recipe. I have 3 fingers pointing back at myself as I say this.

I sometimes find myself just glancing at a recipe, seeing a long list of ingredients or instructions and thinking, “This is too hard.” I have often found that if I take the time to really look at the recipes and read the directions, they are often very easy. The writer just needed to go into detail to explain a certain step which, once you know how to do it, goes very quickly.

We all need to slow down and read the recipe (myself included). It really can save you time and headache in the long run. I don’t know how often I put those egg whites in a small bowl when the instructions said a large bowl only to find them expanding and expanding and, 3 dirty bowls later, boy did I have a mess!

Or how often have you spent 5-10 minutes writing an e mail with a question when the answer was right in the recipe?

Last but not least READ the RECIPE. Maybe now I will remember it! Ya think???? :) :)


Photo By: normanack


  1. Bea says

    Sometimes there is an ingredient in the recipe that isn’t mentioned in the list of ingredients on top, only in the text part. I have been fooled by that a couple of times. I don’t know why SOME recipes are written that way, but it does happen, so it’s better to read whole recipe first.

  2. says

    Yes; we are a society of such short attention spans that we don’t read recipes all the way through!

    The other thing that drives me crazy is when I get a recipe from someone that lists an ingredient like “brown syrup.” (I actually got a ribs recipe that listed that as an ingredient). Fortunately, I talked to the cook who explained that it was maple syrup. When you’re writing a recipe, please take time to explain and be specific with directions and ingredients so that the cook you’re sharing your recipe with will have great results!

  3. says

    This is an excellent reminder. It really does save time in the long run to read all the way through the recipe. I think prepping beforehand help to catch the “ut-oh’s” before they happen too. :-)

  4. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I’ve noticed that sometimes people on this site ask questions that you already addressed in the recipe. I understand that syrup is syrup whether maple, caro, or molaases. As a seasoned cook I only worry about those recipes that make a chemical changes (from batter to cake or souffle where you can’t later change protortions, and none of those that are merley physical changes such as gravy, soup and stew. You can always add more liquid or flour, and the type of veggies make little difference.)

  5. tuxgirl says

    I sometimes invent new recipes, even after reading the recipe. :) If it’s using an ingredient that we just don’t use frequently in our house, I will usually just skip that ingredient or substitute something else, rather than going and buying an ingredient just for that meal.

    This is particularly true for spices. If I don’t normally use a spice, I don’t want to go buy a jar of it just to use for one recipe. That doesn’t make sense to me. If it’s a produce item, and the recipe calls for all of it, I’m more likely to go ahead and buy the item.

    That said, I’m occasionally guilty of looking at a picture with a recipe, then reading quickly through the ingredients, then going and trying to make something along the same lines. My DH gets a good laugh out of some of the results… :)

    • says

      tuxgirl I have to laugh too when I read a story like yours and am guilt of doing it also. A lot of people don’t know that Dining on a Dime isn’t just a cookbook but we have a bunch of funny stories and quotes in it. One of them is a a funny poem how a women gets a recipe from a friend and when she goes to make it she doesn’t have this ingredient or that and substitutes for each ingredient in the recipe. When it is done the punch line says “I can’t figure out why it doesn’t taste the same as when my friend made it.” I laugh every time I read it. :)

  6. says

    I make MANY recipes by “feel”–I have a sense of the ingredients needed and the amount. For several main dishes I’ll use little bits of leftover meat (meatloaf, a meat ball, etc.) and make the sauce by emptying bottles of bbq sauce, katsup, etc.

    I always laugh when my husband says, “That was great! Be sure not to change the recipe at all next time you make it.” He then sees my face and says, “You didn’t use a recipe, did you?!” (but he usually likes it just as much the next time)

    THANKS for all of your great tips and hints!

  7. Pat Jones says

    Shelly, I am a free spirited cook also. My specialty is home cooking…As in my home, my cooking:) Quite often, others will ask for a recipe and since I do most free-handed I just have to laugh when I tell them a pinch of this or more of that. I do look at the list of ingredients but my hubby has a few he doesn’t care for and I adjust. It seems as though most times when I follow a recipe to the letter I’m always unsure of myself and spend much time asking if it taste like it’s supposed to … One draw back of my free spirit.

  8. Angie says

    This post reminds me of an experience I had in junior high school. In one of my classes, we were told we were going to have a surprise timed test.

    The test was passed out to all of the students and we were told the time limit. The test had lots and lots of questions. We were told to begin and I started scanning the test. The very first question on the test said “Read all of the questions first.” I went to question number two and started frantically answering questions. After all, it was a TIMED test! I didn’t have time to read all of the questions first!

    I soon began to notice that some of the other students already had their pencils laid down on their desks. What? How could they be done already? I continued to work at a fast pace until the teacher said “Time! Pencils down?” Great…I didn’t get finished…

    The teacher then instructed everyone to read the last question. There was a collective groan as we read “Write your name on the top of this test and put down your pencil. Do not answer the other questions.” Boy, did we feel foolish. Lol! It was a good way for the teacher to illustrate that we usually don’t follow directions.

  9. says

    I have to remind myself to read through the recipe, even if it’s something I’ve made before, as I forget what goes in when.

    This is what I tell myself — reading the recipe through takes all of 3 minutes, Fixing something I botched because I didn’t read the recipe will take 15-20 minutes, as I try to figure out what to do.

  10. Bea says

    Here is a recipe I thought you might like.
    Lime Fluff Pie
    1 package vanilla pudding (COOK and SERVE type)
    1 package lime gelatin
    1/4 cup sugar (optional)
    2 cups water
    1-1/2 teaspoons grated lime rind
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    3-1/2 cups thawed cool whip
    1 chocolate graham cracker crust
    Combine pie filling mix, gelatin, and sugar (if using) with water in saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil. Add grated lime rind and juice. Pour into bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill until cooled and slightly thickened. Fold in 2-1/2 cups of the thawed cool whip. Spoon into crust. Either freeze 1 hour or refrigerate 3 hours. Garnish with lime slices and reminder of cool whip.

  11. Maggie says

    Angie, Your comment reminded me of a Psych makeup test I took as a continuing ed student.Our professor absolutely said he would not do makeup tests but my mom became seriously ill and I really didn’t have a choice. I asked him in plenty of time before the exam and he finally agreed to let me do it. Because of that, several other students had conflicts and he said we all could come in for the makeup but there were two requirements. We were taking it along with another of his classes and we MUST be on time and we HAD to read all the instructions before we started the test. You can imagine how this went. I was early, several were right on time and one was late. Dr. Mathers passed out the exams, after I read mine all the way through, the final line said. Because you were early, you get an A and you may leave the classroom. Congratulations.
    Later, I found out the the others who were right on time only had about 5 questions on their exam and they got graded based on the answers. Most got A’s and B’s. The student who was late – 25 questions and an automatic D unless he answered everything on the test correctly. (Psych class, remember). This professor was quite mad and did things totally different that any other professor I ever had. As a sideline, let me tell you that I had an A going into the final so unless I screwed up royally, I probably would have gotten a good grade on the exam since I studied intensely before the exam. I don’t know about the other students.
    So, I always read everything all the way to the bottom.

  12. says

    my boys always said I was the best cook.
    I always said do not go to a restaurant and order something they think they have at home.
    Because it will not be the same.
    They didn’t believe me until one day they were out with friends and ordered a taco salad. Totally different from what I called taco’s. They liked it but it was unexpected.
    I read the ingredients and then bluff my way through. Lots of interesting meals that way.
    One day at university my son was cooking a ham. He was just tossing things into the pot when one of his room mates said “Why are you putting onions in with the ham?” instead of admitting a mistake he said he was trying something different. The guys believed him and loved the ham.
    When you make a mistake bluff your way through the comments. And believe me you will get quite a few.

  13. Diana says

    Hey! When it turns out I don’t have enough of something for a recipe, a lot of times I use You put in a list of what’s in your kitchen, and it gives you recipes from what you already have. It saves me a shopping trip, anyway. : )

  14. Jan says

    These comments made me laugh. I usually read through the recipe, but sometimes too quickly, and I miss a method, or an instruction that says “Add this before that”– which can be lethal.
    Also I was always advised to set my ingredients out first. But I almost never do. I’ve had to leave a batter in the bowl in order to buy the rest of the eggs the recipe called for. Even if I have all of the ingredients, I do waste time going in different directions and cupboards for each ingredient, while I’m preparing it, instead of lining them up beforehand.
    I haven’t yet asked a question whose answer was already in the recipe, but it’s not over til it’s over.

    • says

      I know exactly what you are talking about Jan because I have done the same thing. What is even worse I have done the same thing many times. You would think I would learn. I wrote this post almost more for me then anyone. :)

  15. Wilson E. Stevens says

    I have a daughter that has major problems following a recipe. I have her get all the ingredients out, then cover the recipe printed on an 8 & 1/2 inch by 11 inch page. She then must cover it in plastic, and mark each item off as she puts in in the bowl, etc. Still with all that she sometimes fails to complete the recipe with out leaving something out. This has been a real hardship for her in the 50 years of her life. She is still living with me because she doesn’t always function well in society completing complex problems. Tests indicate she is not retarded, she is just handicapped in following s sequence of directions.

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