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A Recipe (that doesn’t have to be) For Disaster

Recipes need a few specific details to be great.

Updated 11/2020

When I was little, I had a “popovers and pie crust making” moment.  We ate nutritious, balanced meals so I don’t know where the pie crust fixation came from, but there it was. Luckily, my parents let me learn to read recipes and see how ingredients came together to make delicious food. I helped with so many dishes, including my popovers and pie crust.

Picking and making a recipe. Setting the table, clearing and washing the dishes – these chores collectively help teach about cooking and cleaning as we go. It is about the full experience of planning, creating, and enjoying a meal, so simple that a kid (with proper supervision and age approrpriate activities) can do it. Enter the importance of a well written recipe.

These days, the visual overload of recipes and people clamoring for making the next big recipe or sensation is both relatable and silly to me (I’ve worked with some of the best recipe developers out there and know how much we need them and how much I myself rely on them).

How many new recipes do we need, especially from people who aren’t trained in developing them?

Aren’t most “new” recipes variations of other ones that already exist?

Don’t we take recipes and often tweak them ourselves?

Here are my favorite ways to transform recipes by serving size, ingredients, and the ever present “what to do with leftover ingredients” question.

Downsize that dish. If you have a small household, recipes for 6 or more servings may seem daunting. The good news is, typically these can either be decreased or made “as is” and then frozen into mini meals for other days. If it can’t be cut in half or doesn’t freeze well, like the Sharks say about an idea they don’t think is viable, “I’m out”. 

Managing our food budget and honoring the food that farmers and ranchers grow for us is essential to managing food waste which is good for our budget and for the planet (throwing out food also means you are throwing out the natural resources it took to grow it). Isn’t it great when doing the right thing is good for you and for the community/planet? #winwin

Be a super swapper. If there are ingredients you don’t have or would not care to eat, oftentimes, you can change them out for something you do have and like. Look up substitutes if it’s not super clear what the ingredient options are. This TED talk on the functionality of ingredients is an AMAZING resource. It’ll be well worth the 13 minutes it takes to watch it to help you learn more about this.

Pay attention to who created the recipe. Cooking can be super fun if you know what you are doing. Lots of people share cooking ideas. I encourage you to find test kitchen approved recipes. These are tested for us. It’s like having our own personal chef create dishes for us that we can make consistently over and over again. Plus, the directions are super clear and important details like cooking temperatures and proper amounts of spices are spot on.

Here are some things to consider when wrangling your recipes:

How many servings do you need for one meal?

Does the recipe focus on the meal at hand AND include what to do with leftover ingredients and portions of the dish itself?

Does the recipe tell you if you can freeze leftovers and/or how long it keeps in the fridge?

Bigger recipes that are GREAT recipes tell you how to scale it up or down. It might be as simple as including a link to a tool that can help you do this.

The best recipes also tell you how to handle extra ingredients that are perishable. It’s a bummer to me when a recipe calls for a half a can of pumpkin or tomato paste and forgets to tell you how to properly store the rest of that can. PS – if there is any chance I can use the whole can, I do. 😉

Here are a few more common dilemmas you may encounter regarding what to do with extras:

You can freeze fresh herbs.

You probably need recipes for extra tomato paste or chipotles in adobo sauce.

How do you choose a soy sauce, and how long/where do you store it? (I like to store it in the fridge, and for items like this – consider writing the date you open it on the label to keep track of it.)

You can swap dry herbs and spices for fresh. Try swapping one part dried for three parts fresh. So one teaspoon of dried instead of one tablespoon fresh, for example.

Next time you click “like” on a blog recipe because you think the recipe picture looks sooooo delicious, then end up unliking it because of a #recipefail, share your thoughts with the creator. Type in a respectful comment. Tweet a reply. Hashtag it on Instagram. Don’t be afraid to ask the question or raise a point, because my guess is, there’s loads more people who are thinking the very same thing.

To the recipe developers, thank you – your skill is needed. You are the unsung hero in almost everyone’s kitchen. The rest of us are inspired by you.

Where will you find your next recipe inspiration?

joy of cooking
One of my favorite cookbooks. Still crack this one out regularly. Simple recipes for delicious food from all food groups. That’s the ticket.

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.