The Misfit's Manual to Reading Recipes

When Betty mentioned that she wanted to write a Misfits Manual to Reading Recipes, her Misfit Crew looked at her as if she had a potty-trained Alpaca living in her second bedroom. Some rolled their eyes, some chuckled, and some even spit out their Asti Spumante onto her just cleaned, test kitchen floor. They thought it was a ridiculous idea and an insult to Misfits everywhere. Betty is the first to say, “If you can read, you can cook,” which she passionately stands by. However, she also believes that unraveling the mystery of the written recipe will help all Misfits, including herself, avoid future common cooking mishaps.

Reading recipes is half common sense and half art. Yes, literacy is the most important factor but being able to break a recipe down into different components will make for smooth sailing in the kitchen. If you are truly dedicated to having the recipe come out exactly as the author intended, it is imperative you understand the process behind reading and preparing a recipe.

A recipe is broken down into three key components: Servings, Ingredients and Directions.

The easiest component to understand is Servings. This term denotes the amount of people that can eat or portions that can be served from the amount of ingredients given. For example, if a recipe states (4) Servings, either four people can eat one “portion or helping” or one person can eat four “portions or helpings.” This term is subjective, because some people eat more than others. In Betty’s home, generally four servings would be just enough for two people, mainly because she, alone, can eat twice her body weight in food and for that, the 5 foot, 110 pound Misfit is proud. They call her, “The Hummingbird.”

The next component is Ingredients. The ingredients encompass three parts, the measurement needed, the food or item noted and its preparation. For example, you could see something like this:

½ Onion, diced
2 tsp Olive Oil, divided

     In these cases, the measurement is ½ or 2 tsp. The food or item would be Onion or Olive oil and the preparation would be diced or divided. The author is giving you directions to follow within the directions. You will need to dice a half of an Onion. You will need to separate 2 tsp of Olive Oil, most likely to be used at different times. Then the question becomes, are you separating the teaspoons of Olive Oil in half or is there another dividing measurement that is required? Good question! For further information, you will have to read the step-by-step instructions under Directions.

Are you with us so far?

The last and final component would be the Directions. The directions are a step-by-step guide to preparing the dish as a whole, from beginning to end. This component is important. Without it, you would be standing around the kitchen, famished, staring at the ingredients, not knowing what to do with the raw celery, olive oil or teaspoon of cumin. Again, directions are important unless you are a gifted Misfit whose creativity is boundless.

Now that you understand (we hope) the three key components that make up a recipe, it is time to learn how to properly read and prepare a recipe. Follow the step-by-step instructions below:

1. Quickly read though the ingredients and directions to get an overview of what you will be doing.


2. Go back and read the ingredients again. Check to see if you have all of the ingredients or items listed. Visit your refrigerator or pantry to verify that you have the proper amounts or measurements denoted. It would be a shame to start cooking and half way through the process, you realize that you are one lemon short or you are missing a quarter of a cup of Soy Sauce. Betty has been there many times but she has finally learned her lesson…we think.


3. Once you are sure that you have everything you need, read the directions again, this time taking care to understand how and when the ingredients are added and in what manner. Once you have a full understanding of the process, you may begin your preparation or mise en place, which means, “to put everything in its place.” Like in step two, make sure to pay attention to the cookware and utensils that will be needed. It would be a shame to make up a batch of crème brûlèe, but not have the ramekins needed for it to set.


4. Beginning with the first ingredient and working your way down the list, measure out and prepare the item as written. This is important so that when you begin the step-by-step instructions everything will be at your fingertips, which will save you a tremendous amount of time. Do the same for your cookware and utensils. Make sure that they are in a convenient place or at arms length for when needed.


5. Once you have completed your mise en place, begin cooking, following the step-by-step instructions.

Voilà, you now know how to read and prepare a recipe. Betty has learned the hard way, by making many culinary disasters, that it is important to fully understand a recipe before the launch of its preparation. She has run out of ingredients, not had the right cookware, missed steps or combined steps (that were not even written), and has had too many mishaps to count. Her mistakes are your good fortune, because if it were not for them, this Manual would not have been written. Good Luck! Happy reading! Happy preparing! Bon Appétit!



Back to Misfit's Manual