Ask Essie: How (not) to Read a Recipe

I need glasses? Really? (then)

Caroline asks if you need to be a professional recipe developer to convert recipes to gluten-free and what’s my favorite way to read a recipe?

Nope.  You do not have to be a professional recipe developer to convert recipes to gluten-free.  But you do have to embrace these qualities:

  • sense of humor
  • the ability to cope with total failure
  • the ability to cope with an obsessive need to get it right
  • coping with lots of dirty utensils and baking sheets
  • not to worry about what anything looks like, but how it tastes
  • ability to have a whole lot of fun with GF flours
  • some ability to skim a recipe (see below)

However, that said.  About reading recipes – I have a confession.

I learned a lot of things from my mother’s kitchen, but reading a recipe was not one of them.  My mom’s cookbooks numbered in the single digits and fit on one small shelf over the counter.  She never cracked one open.  Everything she knew about baking was an heirloom passed from mother to daughter for centuries – without anything written out.

Our time together was abruptly short and I never did nail down some of those family treasures as well as I would have.  When it came time to test drive those recipes in my own kitchen, I had to search early the childhood memory-bank which has a number of hyperbole and half-like holes in it (think: simple dog).

Needless to say, my recipe reading skills never were developed – or that is what I’d like to think.

However, some people (talking to you, Cap’t Awesome) say that my general reading skills are more like skim-it-and-run.  I might retain the information, but if it is boring, I am more likely to read it while daydreaming about say, chocolate, or how to find chocolate, or what should I bake next with chocolate.

All this leads me to confess that I am a terrible recipe reader.  I love cooking books.  I own many and I read them for fun, but apparently I retain little except visions of the photos, titles and little snippets of favorite ingredients – yes, like chocolate.  Or bacon.  Or which GF flours will amuse me while baking.

This is a snippet of me while leisurely cruising through a great cookbook.

Me, reading:

Title:  Great Big Terrific Cookie

(sip coffee, tell dog to stop barking, sip coffee, lose page in book, tell dog to stop whining, sip empty coffee cup, get up and pour more coffee, give dog a treat, stop by computer to check email twitter, remember coffee on the counter, get coffee, toss coffee down drain because it is cold, get hot coffee,go back to chair and book and lose page, find page and read)

Title: Great Big Terrific Cookie

(sip coffee, ignore telephone, tell dog to stop barking at ringing phone, read title, wonder what that smell might be and look at dog)

Title: Great Big Terrific Cookie

(moving on)


Flour (wondering who called, wondering why dog barked, wondering if that meant the UPS guy dropped a package at the door, thinking coffee tastes sucky and would a cup of tea be better, hungry – is it lunch time? oh yeah, reading)


Butter (it must be lunch time, I really need some food, getting up now, kitchen calling, two hours later back to book, wonder what I was reading?)

Title: Great Big Terrific Cookie

Recipe:  flour, butter, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 


The short answer is this: don’t read a recipe the way I do.  But if you happen to be all kinds of distracted while reading, just pay attention to the picture and imagine the GF flours that would enhance the food.  I am pretty sure that is how I do it.  But don’t test me on that.

How do you read a recipe?

Where are my glasses?  What? (and now)


One response to “Ask Essie: How (not) to Read a Recipe

  1. Well, it depends. Sometimes I read a recipe like food porn (you know what I mean, don’t you)… Sometimes I skim just to get a general “how to” feel for something. Sometimes I read it and say, “Wow, I never thought of using those ingredients together” and I’ll go off and do something similar to the recipe. Sometimes, though, I read the recipe like I would read a contract (when I was a full-time “real” lawyer) — carefully, very very carefully; and, I sometimes, rarely, make a copy and annotate it. (Yes, I am just a teensy weensy anal…) Like, I got a new gas grill/barbeque lately. I love it. But I am famous for massacre-ing steaks. Badly. So, I got on the ‘net and got a few recipes (well, more like “how-to”s) for how to grill a steak. I read a few, carefully, noting the similarities and the differences, and went out and applied what I had read. First time through: well, not too good. Second time through, after re-reading a few of the recipes, superb. So, there you go.

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