What are your biggest recipe pet peeves?

I'm hunting recipes for the next Genius cookbook (for beginners) and I need your help! I'll be asking a series of questions here on the Hotline as I develop the book, and I'd be very grateful for the community's wisdom, as always. 



This week, I want to hear about the things that frustrate you most in recipes—confusing lingo like "divided" or "stiff but not dry peaks" or "until done" come to mind, but I want to hear about any other sneaky things that have thwarted you, too.

Here's a bit more on the book: https://food52.com/blog...

And the last 4 questions:
What's the very first recipe you learned to make? https://food52.com/hotline...
What book (or TV show or magazine) taught you how to cook? https://food52.com/hotline...
What are the biggest cooking mistakes you've ever made? https://food52.com/hotline...
What types of recipes do you always need more of? https://food52.com/hotline...



Thank you all!
Kristen

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  • 52 Comments

52 Comments

Sandy A. September 16, 2019
When there is no comment about the recipe at the beginning. I like to know what makes it appealing, to whom it would be appealing, like "great for an elegant dinner," or "a quick week night meal," "travels well." Those kinds of things are always helpful to know without having to read through the whole thing to try to figure out if it is something I want to tackle when time is short, or if it would be appealing to a chocolate lover, etc.
 
Meredith C. September 15, 2019
When the recipe flip flops from metric to imperial. Thx for asking, feels good to get that off my chest!
 
Saffron3 September 14, 2019
Hi. I know that even now, many years into cooking, the idea of a baking/cooking pan, a mixing bowl, a spoon for both the bowl or pan, measuring utensils, and only a few other non-electric gizmos are enough to begin teaching cooking. New cooks learn by doing, not by plugging in a device that is way too expensive to own. As in why a mortar and pestle, why a great chopping board and chopping knife, why roasting all winter, bowls of cold all summer. Why that one great pan that cost a bundle, how can I cook so many variations of all meals in that one great pan.. Seems so simple to us with experience; doing with hands and a few more general basics upon which to build a feast? Way not easy.
 
bunten September 13, 2019
Failure to specify a baking pan size.
 
Sandy A. September 12, 2019
Another one is in the wine and beer category. I am relatively knowledgeable about wine, but I know nearly nothing about beer now that we have a million kinds out now. Since the person creating the recipe is most familiar with the outcome, after you say "dry white wine," just go ahead and suggest a couple of options that might be best, e.g. chenin blanc, pinot grigio. The same is true for beer. I once ruined a perfectly decent beer cheese soup using whatever beer we had had in the refrigerator left over from a party, because the type of beer was not suggested. Suggest a pilsner or a dark ale. Suggesting is not making it a steadfast rule. Also it would be nice if ounces suggested for an ingredient were typical of how an item is packaged. Don't suggest 18 ounces for something that typically comes in a 14.5 ounce can.
 
solomond September 12, 2019
the one thing that will make me turn away from an otherwise great dish is when it calls for one ingredient that #1 I have never heard of before or #2 this one ingredient is not carried at a local grocery store and #3 ( this is the most common frustration ) a very hard to find AND expensive ingredient that will only call for say 2 teaspoons or a half of cup and then you are left with a product that does not have a long shelf life and you end up having to discard it before you ever use it again.
 
Elisabeth M. September 12, 2019
What makes me see red! Instructions to blind bake using parchment or foil and pie weights, beans, rice, etc. NO! Just form the crust (any crust, using any fat) and freeze it until very firm, dock and bake HOT (450) for 12 minutes. Voila, perfect every time! No slumping sides, ever. See my instructions at Baking Perfectly Blind, Food52 recipe index.
 
Ruth September 12, 2019
Interesting. I'm teaching my college-age son to cook, and I also belong to an active--and highly critical!--cookbook club. My son and I were making dinner, and I asked him to look at something that was simmering and give it a stir. His response: "How did you know to do that?" I think that gets to the nub of what beginning cooks wonder about: how do I acquire the experience to know when something should be stirred, turned off, when the heat should be increased, and by how much. How do I know what seasonings to add, and how much, if we're not following a recipe--or even if we are. How many herbs are in a bunch? How much olive oil is in a glug?

Perhaps for this reason, my cookbook club all thought Salt Fat Acid Heat was the book we wished we'd had when we were just starting out. Its emphasis on breaking down cooking into conceptual units was really revolutionary, and we've all found that in the months since we used that book for our club, we've changed our style.

Another thing I'd like to see in a book for beginners is a way to make the connection between what's in the recipe and what's in the larder. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything was helpful to me when I was first starting to cook for a family, because his recipes are so well scaffolded, and he includes many suggestions for how to alter them or substitute ingredients.

I'd also like to see suggestions for how to use up what one has. In part because I've belonged to a CSA for nearly 20 years, I frequently will modify a recipe to use what I have in the house. No kale, but chard--that's fine! No butternut squash, but pumpkin will do. For all of his fussiness about arcane spices, Ottolenghi's recipes are well-enough constructed that the substitution of ingredients is frequently possible without changing the basic nature of the dish. Deborah Madison is another author whose recipes are rock-solid.
 
Carol S. September 12, 2019
Please have:
-Index
-Pictures
-Recipe description such as: old family favorite, great flavors, can be frozen, concise because I am cooking, not reading a [email protected]!
-Please tell us that ALL recipes have been tested
-Give alternate cooking vessels, pressure cooker if appropriate w/conversion times
-many of us now use induction so we need temperature, not cook on medium 350, 250, ??
 
chefdb September 12, 2019
All ingredients need to have a measurement or weight( grams or ounces). Numbers of or bunches or slices don't cut it anymore. The majority of us have access to scales at home or where we shop.
thanx
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
Actually, I do have one comment that isn't already here: give readers a way to contact the authors for clarification and other questions. That wasn't so easy, pre-internet. Now it should be a non-negotiable feature. Yeah, there's a cost to that, but no more than all the other costs of a website. Thanks.
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
All my own thoughts already expressed in these comments, and I've replied (hope not excessively). But just want to add that taken together they show how difficult and complex a job it is to do a good cookbook. But if anybody can do it, Food52 can! Looking forward to it.
 
Tudy September 11, 2019
When the metric system is used. We Americans are too lazy to figure this out.
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
When weights (metric or imperial doesn't matter) are NOT given along with volume measurements. Both are needed.
 
Jacque September 11, 2019
Recipes that underestimate prep time by calculating based on a someone with amazing knife skills, or exclude all the chopping and prepping from the total time so it can appear to be an easy 'weeknight' recipe. Recipes that require too many specialty tools or appliances. Recipes that don't offer alternatives to obscure ingredients.
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
you're inside my head, jacque. On both of your points. Must reinforce this as a problem to be addressed
 
Laurie September 11, 2019
Having the ingredients not in order in the recipe itself; it makes it so much easier to list them in the order of their use. I personally like measurements in weight and and volume; but for a beginner I think cup measurements are easier. Pictures pictures pictures for those just starting out so they can see the end result (even better to show a few how to's in the book itself) Hints on the side of the recipe or suggestions for what to serve it with are helpful for those starting out.
 
Carol H. September 11, 2019
Abstruse ingredients that you'll use again in 8.4 years (except they've lost their strength by then) and you can only get from Amazon in a few days or a good friend who is visiting the native country in 3 months and promises to remember to bring some back.
 
Jess S. September 11, 2019
I hate it when recipes simply say "heat" the ingredients. Heat at what temperature? Heat on high? Low? Medium?
 
Bett September 11, 2019
Recipes that call for garlic in clove amounts vs tsp or tblsps., calling for green onion/scallion in amounts of two or three vs 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, etc., same with shallots and onion! One onion is so variable in yield!
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
Ah, so correct. Weight measurements would solve this. I've harped on this ad nauseum. Hope I don't get banned for being so persistent (obnoxious?)
 
Selma M. September 11, 2019
Recipe instructions that are overly wordy and/or are gramatically incorrect.Cookbook authors and bloggers use these terms, incorrectly, all the time. One example:

"Allow it to cool to room temperature"?
"Let it cool to room temperature"?
"Bring it to room temperature"?
"Cool to room temperature"?
-----------------------------------
Allow - means - To give permission. You can't give permission to an inanimate object.
Let - means - Not to forbid something. One can't forbid or not forbid an inanimate object.
Bring - means - Come to a place with, or carry, (someone or something). Or, to make (someone or something) move in a particular direction or way.
"Cool to room temperature" - Is correct, logical and concise.
---------------------
"Mix the butter and sugar together".
Mix the butter and sugar means the same thing. "Together" has become a cliche.
--------------------
"Bake it 350 degrees *for* 30 minutes. You are not baking FOR the minutes! Bake 350 degrees, 30 minutes is more gramatically correct.
 
Beth K. September 11, 2019
I learned to Cook from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I became pregnant early in my marriage, and in the 1960s corporations fired pregnant employees. I always need fast fish recipes for easy dinners. I hate that so many recipes have hot chilis. I cannot eat them.
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
On the chili/spice issue. Me Too! But that's rage now. I guess I have a low threshold for pain, but eating anything hot just hurts. Can't get past the pain to the taste.
 
Beth K. September 11, 2019
I want nutritional information and measures given in weights. Also, it would be nice to know if something can be frozen.
 
jane F. September 11, 2019
I have a couple, 1), inaccurate prep times, 2). Recipes with missing ingredients and 3). Methods that do not have clear directions that I have to interpret what the recipe writer wants you to do and 4). no recipe photo or a recipe photo that is misleading.
 
D Y. September 11, 2019
My biggest pet peeve is that so many recipes don't list the ingredients in the order of use/addition or separate the ingredients so that it's clear that part of an ingredient is used in part of the recipe and the rest in another part--such as listing 2 T of butter, but only one T goes into the batter and the rest is to butter the pan. This has thrown me off more times than I care to remember!
 
Beth M. September 11, 2019
Also, remember that not every one has a new, high-powered gas stove. Cooking on an electric stove or older cooktop may mean many adjustments to method to achieve the same results. For example, "bring the rice and water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer." Happens immediately on a gas stove. Not on an electric.
 
Beth M. September 11, 2019
Pan size matters so often. I recently downsized my household and no longer have 4 baking or casserole pans roughly measuring 9 x 14. Give me volume so I know if I have to improvise before overflowing my 1 pan close to that size. Also, note special pans required such as paella and possible substitutes. This and all of the other answers to your question reflect a lack of logic in many recipes.

Remember, we do not all live in NYC. We are not all able-bodied. We are not all wealthy. We do not all have easy access to fresh produce year round. Please.
 
Thais.Fell September 11, 2019
Not a pet peeve but it would be nice if recipes would mention which oven rack level to bake/roast on... It may sound pretty basic but does make a huge difference when trying to get your recipe cooked just right!
 
Rick N. September 11, 2019
Six ounces of macaroni. Dry or cooked? How many cup(s) in a "medium" onion?
There are only two of us. Most recipes are for four or more! Tell us if your recipe ingredients can be cut in half.
 
HalfPint September 11, 2019
My pet peeve: somewhat complicated technique or a 'new' recipe without a picture or illustration. Recipe for something I've never heard of or made/eaten before and there isn't a picture of what it's suppose to look like. I love to try new foods and recipe but I also don't want it to become the Technical portion of the GBBO. Likewise, cut/folding/assembling instructions. Please give me a picture or simple illustration so that I know I'm heading in the right or wrong direction.
 
Miriam September 11, 2019
Some recipes seem simple but they may have spices, herbs, or maybe, a cut of meat I've never see at the supermarket. I'd appreciate possible substitute suggestions.
 
Bill D. September 11, 2019
When a recipe neglects to indicate whether or not to cover the pot or pan during a specific step.
 
Larry B. September 11, 2019
Differentiate between weights and volumes. Also - being in Canada - a US quart is 32 oz while an Imperial quart is 40 oz. - which is why our gallon is bigger (Trumpie will probably try and fix that). Easier to use universal metric system. The only people in the US that use the metric system are scientists, immigrants and drug dealers
 
Kathleen L. September 11, 2019
As several others have posted, weights or volume on ingredients, not just 1 large onion or 2 zucchinis. Even approximate measures are helpful.
 
Sandy A. September 11, 2019
When a cookbook provides a lengthy recipe for one basic part of a procedure, for instance a particular dough or crust etc., and that is put on one page, maybe in the beginning and then subsequently you are given a recipe in the middle of the book that constantly takes you back to the foundation recipe, so that you are turning back and forth to follow it. Secondly, say you are making a peach something or other, and then they list possible adaptations at the end of the recipe and they change all of the amounts of the original recipe, like substitute this for that all the way through the entire list of ingredients and then they change the cook time and temperature, thus essentially creating a whole new recipe. If it is that different to use cherries than peaches, then print the whole new recipe or leave it out entirely. Mark Bittman's cookbooks are notorious for those kinds of things, although I adore his books. I have any number of cookbooks that do both of those things. His just came to mind first and is one of the ones that is more well known.
 
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
And I love the fluidity and flexibility of the approach that you describe. It is sometimes done poorly, but Bittman has it nailed I guess I have an affinity for that because that's the approach I've always taken. And, in all honesty, sometimes with disastrous results. And then it's good for a laugh. But this shows the challenges of doing a good cookbook!
 
Karisa September 11, 2019
When cookbook authors don't give you the indicator to cook to. Or, when they don't tell you that it's correct that your batter looks weird or lumpy, etc.
 
Miss K. September 11, 2019
I agree. It is helpful when the recipe states that the batter will look curdled (etc) but that is how it is SUPPOSED to look...
 
Michelle September 11, 2019
No do-ahead directions. Let me know how far I can take the recipe in advance, in case I need to work on it in fits and starts throughout the day.
 
Meg S. September 11, 2019
Measurements in weights...I no longer own a kitchen scale (I know, I need to get one), but many people never have!
 
Pat September 11, 2019
It is difficult when a recipe says 1 small onion , chopped or juice of 1 orange. Please use volume measurements. My idea of a small onion may be different. Thanks for a GREAT website. Baking a Food52 recipe for zucchini bread,
 
HalfPint September 11, 2019
So agree! Vague quantities give me such a headache that I will pass on a recipe. I even asked once for a "ballpark" figure (for the love of G, just give me an idea of what this should look like) and was told to "eyeball it". No thanks.
 
Miss K. September 11, 2019
I forgot to add that EVERY cookbook is written for sea level....
It would be SO helpful to have a high elevation section/ conversion scale such as 'Pie in the Sky' cookbook. There are a multitude of cooks that exist above sea level.😉
 
Megan H. September 10, 2019
Don't like it when ingredients aren't listed in order of use.
Also don't like when the preparation is not listed next to the ingredient and I have to drop everything to chop something.
 
Miss K. September 10, 2019
I can't stand it when the ingredients are mixed in with the directions (Joy of Cooking comes to mind.) Also when the recipes make a big deal about using the paddle attachment.... Not everyone has a stand mixer.
 
Stephanie G. September 10, 2019
Mistakes, poor editing..
 
boulangere September 10, 2019
Missing ingredients. Either listed in the ingredients with no instruction as to when to add, or not listed in the ingredients, but included in the instructions. I'm continually surprised by how often this happens, especially with recipes that are Test Kitchen Approved. What are all the editors editing?
 
Gammy September 10, 2019
1.) Recipes that have you dirty a huge amount of equipment. From a different Food52 hotline thread: I recently made a recipe from Cook's Country for a corn pudding and counted 4 measuring cups, 2 measuring spoons and EIGHT bowls or containers dirtied for one casserole. Tasty recipe, but a lot of clean up afterward. 2.) Esoteric or hard-to-source secondary ingredients without suggesting a reasonable substitution. Venison stew for instance, obviously requires venison, but a recipe that calls for Aleppo pepper as a seasoning should have a substitute pepper that could be used instead. 3.) A cookbook for beginning cooks may want to have easily scalable recipes (either up or down), thinking that many beginning cooks are in a single or 2 person household, not 4 or 6 as many recipes list servings. Also a page of equivalent cooking pans would be useful. i.e., 1 standard loaf pan = how many mini loaf pans so recipes can be divided.
 
Mrs B. September 10, 2019
Volume - not mass - measurements. Please provide accurate metric conversions, for mass measures, not just for baking (which the editors well know should always be expressed in mass units), but just about everything else. Thank you for asking.
 
Nancy September 10, 2019
When ingredient measurement is given in a commonly sold commercial unit (is one container yogurt 4 oz up to 1 lb?).
Assumes everyone knows the size and can find it.
This can happen with recipes from the past or from another country, both of which are difficult or impossible to source or define.
Second most frustrating is description of produce by adjective (sm, med, lg).
In all of these, please give weights, volumes or at the very least inches for your onion, apple, cauliflower.
Grandmother recipes (cup, pinch, enough), difficult as they may be,are piece of cake compared to these assured but mysteriously vague measurements.
 
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