Quick Tip: Reading the Recipe

Recipes should be straight forward, easy to read, and easy to follow. But even the most well-written recipe can cause a fair share of confusion.

We can't even tell you how many times we've blithely dumped a cup of sugar into our batter, only to realize that we were supposed to save half of it for later in the recipe. Or measured out some herbs and started chopping before it occurred to us that the herbs were meant to be measured after cutting.

Gleaned through years of kitchen mishaps, here are a few tips on reading the recipe:

It might be obvious, but it's worth saying: the order in which the ingredients are listed are the order in which they're used in the recipe. This is handy to keep in mind when you're getting organized for a big cooking project.

When getting those ingredients together, take a quick read through the directions. Sometimes ingredients (a cup of sugar, for instance...) will be actually be split into two different additions even if they're listed as one in the ingredient list.

Pay attention to grammar in the ingredient list. If the recipe calls for something like "one onion, chopped," that means that you measure out the ingredient (one onion) and then prepare it as directed (chopped). On the other hand, when recipes phrase it with the preparation before the ingredient, like "1 cup chopped walnuts," that means you prepare the ingredient first (chop the walnuts) and then measure it out (take one cup).

Read through all the directions before starting to cook. Sometimes recipes have a strange way of organizing things. When you read through all the steps, you can get a picture for how the dish should take shape and save some potential back-pedaling later on. You can also save some time by picking out steps that can be done ahead--like bringing a pot of water to boil or putting out butter to soften while you finish preparing other ingredients.

What recipe-reading tricks have you picked up over the years?

(Photo Credit: Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, via )

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