Thursday, 23 February 2012

How to create your own recipes and write them up: 10 tips


 I often get looks of puzzlement- and even disbelief- from people when I tell them that the recipes on my blog are my own inventions. Experienced creative cooks wonder if making a note at every step spoils the flow of inspiration and less experienced cooks wonder how I work out the exact quantities to use. Still others intend to write their creations down but somehow never quite manage it, and their greatest dishes are sadly forgotten. It does, in fact, take a bit of practice to get into the habit of recording things as you cook, but with time I have discovered that making some small changes in my kitchen makes it a lot quicker and easier and I no longer have to take time out of my usual routine to cook up new dishes. These days I normally fit it all into the hour or so I take to cook a family meal. (It's the only way I would ever find time to do it!) So I hope the following things I've learnt as I went along will be of use to any of you readers out there who have a cookery writer inside just waiting to burst out...

  1. It's all about being organised! (As with any other aspect of cooking.) Plan to cook something new, then allocate a day and time for that recipe. As with any kind of writing, inspiration may come at any time, anywhere, so remember -or jot down- what you've thought of and make sure you get hold of the ingredients you want in time for when you want to cook it. (If you're anything like me, your idea will just keep nagging away at you until it becomes a compulsion and you have to do something about it!)
  2. When it's time to cook, make sure you have a notebook (NOT scraps of paper!) and pen and your camera in the kitchen. You may not be able to run off and leave your cooking to hunt for them later. I avoid taking my laptop into the kitchen in case I damage it, but if you have a larger kitchen and somewhere safe to put it, you might want to type up your recipe as you go, although you would have to be fastidious about making sure your hands were clean before and after typing- personally, I'm not sure I'd have the patience for this when I'm "in the flow."
  3. DON'T assume you will remember exactly what you did tomorrow, or even later on today! I have probably forgotten as many recipes as I have written down by making this mistake, so make sure you have a readable record in your notebook to use when you do the final write-up.
  4. Have measuring equipment handy, even if you don't usually bother. I always get out a teaspoon, a dessert spoon, a tablespoon, a measuring jug and scales.
  5. Get the quantities accurate: There are 2 ways of doing this; by starting off with an amount in mind/ from a previous recipe of yours or by pouring out a quantity that looks right and then measuring it. In either case, you will first need to decide how many the recipe will serve. The next thing is to make sure that the quantities of ingredients are accurate in relation to each other, ie: that they are in the correct proportions. This is especially important for cakes, which can be a complete failure if the ingredients are not in the proper proportion to each other. Experienced cooks will just have a "feel" for this, in which case all that is required is to record how much you used of everything as you go along. Less confident cooks or those who are trying out a new genre of dish for the first time may want to start by looking at other recipes for an idea of the proportions. I started off by making my own adaptations to recipes that were already written down, gradually getting further and further from the original until I could honestly call it my own. I learned a lot from others, and I'm still learning now.
  6. Get good pictures: Especially if you are a blogger, this is really important. A great picture makes your recipe more attractive to readers and shows what the finished product should look like. It is the proof that you really did cook that recipe, and that it works. You could even, if you have the time, take step-by step pictures, especially for a specific procedure (such as making chapattis) that would benefit from a visual approach. I have seen some great blog posts in which the authors have even photographed the ingredients and labelled them. You don't have to be a professional photographer these days to create a decent picture, but try not to use a mobile phone if you can help it as you won't get the definition and detail. Your pictures should be in focus, reasonably well lit and detailed enough to be of use to your readers. Photograph in natural light if possible- outdoors can be really good- and take several pictures from different angles. Avoid taking pictures of steaming hot food unless you want them to come out blurry! I usually let a portion of the food cool while we are eating, then once the mealtime pressure is off I go back and set up the shot. Make sure your food is attractively presented, and free from ragged edges and crumbs. You can retouch/ edit pictures quickly and easily using such basics as Windows Live Photo Gallery but if you get the shot right when you take it, this won't be necessary unless you need to crop your picture. Practice makes perfect!
  7. Be consistent in your write-ups: By this I mean don't use a mixture of American, Imperial and metric measurements; choose the one you are most comfortable with  and stick to it. Be consistent with your layout too, as it makes your recipes easier to read, eg: if you use bullet points, always do this in the same part of the recipe and employ other features such as bold, numbering or italics consistently too. For a blog, you don't need every single post to be about a proper recipe, but the more of these you have, the more useful your blog will be and the more readers will come back to it and try out your recipes. Try to be consistent in your style of writing, too, so that you develop a "voice", either formal or informal.
  8. Get spellings and grammar right: - You don't have to be an expert, but it makes you sound less of an authority on your subject if there are glaring mistakes in your writing.
  9. Be detailed: You might know what you're doing, but remember that you are writing for other people, who may not. Add any little tips you have found help your recipe to come out just right, make sure your instructions are as clear as possible and ensure cooking times are accurate, and that your readers have another indicator besides time to let them know when the dish is cooked, (eg:"..when it's brown and crispy but not too dark.") as ovens vary. Also, check your recipe for errors, especially in quantities, before your publish/ submit it.
  10. Cook it again. .. and again, and again! For a blog, you can make it obvious in your post that you are blogging about the first time you made your recipe, or tell your readers that this is an old favourite. For a recipe which is to be published in print for a book or article, it needs to have been tested at least 3 times, usually by different people. (I am currently contributing to a recipe book, and the editor will be sending out other contributors' recipes to me to test, while my own will also be tested by the others.) Of course, you will want to make your recipe again yourself if you liked it, anyway. Many of the recipes I created specifically for blog posts have become regular meals in my house. Sometimes I keep refining them and trying out different ingredients to make them even better (in which case I may turn them into another blog post), and sometimes they stay just as they are.
I hope this advice is useful, and for those reading this who are already seasoned writers of recipes, please comment on your own top tips for creating successful dishes and write-ups; I'd like to learn and share more kitchen wisdom!

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    You are welcome to comment- feedback from you really helps me to decide what to post, and I love hearing from you- thanks :)