Reading and Executing a Recipe
Reading a recipe is one thing, excuting that recipe is another. For a very linear-thinking mind like mine, I really need to see a recipe that is straightforward and clear in the instructions. I also need the instructions to be as chronological as possible. I absolutely hate getting three-quarters through preparing a dish, when it suddenly asks for something I should have prepared at the beginning. Let me give you an example.
My Java Bread Pudding recipe is based on a bread pudding recipe straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook, or The Betty as we call it. When I first made this recipe, I nearly ripped all the pages out of it in frustration, partly at myself and partly at Betty. See, the recipe was great all the way through until the very end when I was about to put the dish into the oven. It said that I should take the casserole dish and place it inside a larger one and pour boilingwater into the larger one, thus creating a hot water bath.
Problem was, I hadn't even looked all the way down there, so my sogging, uncooked bread pudding sat in the pan until I could wait 15 minutes for my kettle to heat the water to boiling. The end result was a very dry bread pudding. Somehow, the milk and egg mixture sat too long and soaked into the bread too much before setting up. I can't explain it, really, other than to say it just came out all wrong.
You'll notice that most of the recipes I write here include a Pre-Prep Prep line just after the ingredients list. It usually looks like this:
Pre-prep Prep: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop the onions, bell pepper, and chiles. Grease a 12" casserole dish
This does tie in well with the concept of Mise En Place, or being prepared. However, I do think that it makes more sense to list things in the order in which they are used, and do make the instructions read in chronological order. Most recipes that use the oven do mention preheating the oven in the first sentence. This is imperative, of course, when you are baking. You wouldn't want to put cold, wet batter into a cold oven.
So what can we learn? Not all recipes are going to be written they way that I write them.
Befre you begin cooking, take a few minutes to read through the recipe. Read it twice or thrice. Make mental notes of the things that need to be done first, such as preheating ovens, chopping ingredients, or preparing dishes. Think about all the dishes and cookware you will need, even the ones that aren't specifically mentioned. For instance, if it calls for 2 cups of milk, you'll need a 2 cup measure. Also, before you even begin your Mise, make sure you have all the ingredients needed. My wife is notorious about dashing into a baking project and realizign halfway through that she's out of sugar or flour or eggs.
Once you're satisfied that you have everything you need, and you are ready, get on with it.
Related post: Mise En Place