How to Find Good Recipes
Finding recipes can be intimidating but oh so deliciously rewarding. Here are my tips and tricks to picking the good ones.
Finding a Good Recipe is Amazing
A new recipe is a delicious thing. It adds variety and fun to your meals. But it can feel intimidating when you start looking at all the recipes out there.
An untried recipe can make or break an evening. I’ve had so many new recipes turn out terribly. Nowadays, I’m more okay with risking it because I like having a backup plan.
Where to Look
There is always google. I only start here if I’m looking for something specific and I want it right now.
Pinterest is a wonderful place to look for recipes because you can both explore and hoard them. It’s also a great place for inspiration. If you want to check out Caramelized Chaos on Pinterest, click here.
Other social media can be inspiring, but harder to gather recipes. It works if you are looking for the spur of the moment type thing; however, it’s not very effective for meal planning.
Why Recipes Fail
There are many reasons why a recipe that looked delicious on the internet fails when you try to make it in your kitchen.
It Wasn’t Tested Enough
Sometimes the person who wrote the recipe didn’t test it enough. It is generally recommended to food bloggers that they test their recipes at least 2-3 times before posting. All recipes on Caramelized Chaos are tried at least 3 times after finalization before being posted.
Conversions are another common reason for failure. It’s hard to realize how ambiguous some sizing is until you are in the grocery store or actually making the recipe. Just how big should a chicken breast be? Because I can find them at the grocery store up the street at over 1 pound each, but when I think of chicken breast, I mentally imagine something around 6 oz.
Some ingredients are different in different places and these variations can affect more than just taste. Tap water can be hard or soft depending on where you live. Flour has different protein contents depending on where the wheat was grown. If you live far away from farms, it can be near impossible to get the fresh produce you need for certain recipes.
There are so many factors that affect cook time. The first that always comes to mind is doneness. I like all my meat at least medium-well, if not well done. My husband (and most people I know) prefers medium steaks and moist chicken. Some people like their salmon flaky in the center and others just want to sear the outside and enjoy the dark pink center.
Is your oven convection? Because that can make or break certain recipes, like roast Turkey for Thanksgiving. My oven does not convect, so I made my Turkey in a bag, and it came out perfectly. But this method was different than my mother’s Turkey recipe because she has had exclusively convection ovens since before I was born.
Is your stove electric or gas? A gas stove controls heat by flame size, but that doesn’t change the temperature of the flame. Electric stoves usually use coils, and the temperature of the coils will change with the settings. This difference is why some people say gas stoves cook hotter. I believe you can cook just as well on an electric stove as a gas one, but you do need to cook differently.
Your Tastes are Significantly Different that the Recipe’s Author
Spiciness is the poster child of this discussion. When I lived in the Midwest, spicy could literally mean black pepper or paprika. Further south, we could be talking about ghost peppers.
It’s important to take into account that what is flavorful to one person is bland to another. As you cook more recipes from a wider variety of sources, you will start to recognize not just what you like, but the intensity of spices you need to be happy with your meal.
Salt to taste is another one of those ambiguous statements. I shamelessly put a lot of salt on my meat when I cook, because I don’t eat a lot of processed foods, so I don’t worry about it. Other people who are watching their blood pressure might omit the salt entirely. There are people out there who love pouring salt on everything and will add salt to their dish regardless of how you season it.
Some people also enjoy fattier foods than others. My husband and I can’t take a lot of heavy cream in our desserts without starting to feel sick (a little goes a long way for us). Other people are happy smothering all their foods in butter. But you should keep this in mind when you are deciding to use a recipe or not.
Perhaps you’re ambitious and trying a recipe a bit outside your comfort zone. The recipe might fail, but you will probably learn a lot by just attempting it. Practice makes perfect and giving those macarons another try could be worth it.
Several things will keep me from even thinking about trying recipes from certain blogs.
People who pay attention to their ingredients while writing recipes will list them in the order they are used. When they are out of order, it’s a sign that there are probably inconsistencies elsewhere in the recipe. So, you need to double-check it before deciding to use it.
Another red flag is when I see extra fussy instructions. Now I don’t mean detailed instructions, where someone writes in-depth about a cooking skill. But that is when they are teaching a skill.
I’m talking about when are ultra-precise bordering on superstitious about their cooking directions. They don’t just list the order to add things into the pan. Instead, they take almost a printed page of instructions to caramelize the onions and add some spices. If the recipe maker has to be that crazy careful when cooking, the chances are high that it’s not going to be a good recipe.
They Don’t Use Their Own Pictures
I sometimes see stock photos for certain recipes. This is sometimes obvious if the brownies look delicious, but don’t contain the caramel reference in the recipe.
Other times when you research a certain recipe, you will see the same photo repeated across sites and that means they are either stock photos or someone is stealing content. Neither is a good sign. The original author’s recipe might still be good. Thankfully, I don’t think this is a common problem, but keep an eye out for it.
Glowing reviews and lots of stars are classic signs of a quality recipe. But it’s not always there for newer blogs or more unique recipes. There are other aspects you can look at when you are considering a recipe.
If they talk about how they have tried different ways to cook the dish. This could be certain substitutions, like butter or olive oil. It’s good when they talk about cooking in different places (ovens, stoves, houses).
When there are both volume and mass units, it shows that the author took extra care while writing the recipe.
It’s important to quantify ambiguous ingredients, like how big is a medium potato? Flour should really be listed with a mass measurement. If the author has paragraphs describing how to sift flour to get a proper volume measurement, run away.
On Caramelized Chaos, I’m trying to get better at listing both volume (American) and mass measurements on my recipes, because I grew up with more of an eyeball method of cooking.
Be Careful with Changes
When you intentionally change parts of a recipe, it’s not quite as the author originally intended and recommended. So, you need to be careful how you go about this.
Always be careful with your substitutions. Some things are relatively safe, like substituting an Anaheim pepper for a poblano. Others you need to do your research first.
You cannot sub most flours at a one-to-one ratio, think white all-purpose flour and wheat flour. Some flours need to think if it’s a good idea in the first place. This is extra true if you are trying to turn a recipe gluten-free.
Oils are another ingredient you need to watch out for. You don’t necessarily want your cookies to taste like olive oil. Besides taste, you need to be careful about smoke points. If you try to deep fry in oil with a low smoke point, you could easily start an oil fire. Please be safe.
Take your cooking appliances into consideration
One instant pot is similar to the next, but one oven can be hugely different from another. Some ovens run hot, and others run cold or have cold spots. You might need to adjust cook times or even temperatures to better suit your oven. If you are not sure how to do this, consider getting an oven thermometer.
You also can’t wave a magic wand and transform your standard oven into a convection oven. If you’re like me and have double oven dreams, my little convection toaster oven brings that dream closer to reality.
Electric stovetops just cook differently than gas. If you are making caramel or even pan-frying, you need to be extra careful and adapt how you cook the recipe for your stove.
People will cut corners on measuring their prep time. They start with diced peppers and washed potatoes. However, it will take you time to prep these ingredients and you need to make sure your schedule allows for it.
There are also certain phrases you need to watch out for, like “leave in the fridge overnight” or “let marinate for at least 30 minutes”. Many recipe authors don’t think that these steps count toward their total time.
So, a chicken recipe that I thought I could throw together on a weeknight, turns into a production because it needs to start marinating the night before.
These omissions are so common that they are almost standard. I don’t think that they inherently reflect badly on a recipe’s quality at this point. But you still need to plan for it.
You need to estimate how much prep time you personally need. It won’t be the same as someone else. It might not even be as long as last time as your cooking skills improve or you buy additional appliances to help you out. A recipe that I know I can prep in the food processor takes a lot less time than a recipe I can’t.
Also, will you need to acquire a specialty item? I worry that online orders won’t arrive on time or that I won’t be able to make it out to a specialty store. Think about any extra work required before you decide to commit to a recipe. I don’t want to dissuade you from trying new things, but I don’t
Be Generous with Yourself
If you are trying something you’ve never done before, give yourself a bit extra, like extra time.
Extra kindness if it doesn’t turn out perfectly.
Perhaps, a gift of extra spare ingredients. Maybe consider stashing an extra meal as a backup safety net (frozen pizza is always a favorite).
You can tell a lot about a recipe by reading it carefully. Don’t be afraid to read it more than once before you commit.
If you found this post helpful, please subscribe to my email list where you will get weekly advanced chaos management techniques and my free meal planning worksheets.