Recipe pet peeves

 recipe creation

Have you ever started a recipe, only to find an ingredient in the instructions that wasn't included in the list of ingredients? It's infuriating, and just one of the 20 things that Epicurious' staff and readers hate to see in recipes.

In addition to those maddening extra ingredients, Special Projects Editor Adina Steiman despises extra bowls. "It's a drag when you're instructed to make dressing in a small bowl and then toss it with salad greens in a large bowl," she says. "Just make the dressing in the large bowl, and then add the greens and toss!" Editorial Assistant Tommy Werner isn't a fan of subrecipes that aren't included on the same page as the one he's using. It's annoying when there are so many subrecipes that "your cookbook becomes a flipbook," he says. 

Fussy recipes are a pain, but recipes that are too vague or that play fast and loose with the ingredients can also be problematic. One Epicurious reader says "I need more specific measurements. '1/2 an onion'-what size and what does it yield (for example 1 cup chopped)?" Another reader bemoans vague time measurements like 'until until cooked through or 'until tender, saying "They're okay indicators but how about an approximate time frame as well?" (That reminds me of the time I asked my grandmother how long to cook an old family recipe that she had written down for me. "Until it's done," she said sagely.)

My biggest annoyance in recipes are those that give measurements like "1 cup of sugar, divided." Please tell me what the divisions are up front so I can get the amounts weighed separately without searching through the instructions for the two quantities. What recipe quirks bother you?

24 Comments

  • veronicafrance  on  3/6/2016 at 3:34 AM

    I can't believe the person who is surprised that a pasta recipe requires a large pot of boiling water. Who doesn't put the water in to boil for the pasta before they even start making the sauce? You hardly need a recipe to tell you that, especially if you are a reader or staff of Epicurious. Many of the "problems" in the article could be solved by reading all of an unfamiliar recipe before you start. My pet hate? Cup measurements :)

  • ellabee  on  3/6/2016 at 8:15 AM

    :: measurements like "1 cup of sugar, divided." Please tell me what the divisions are up front :: A big yes to this. What's worse is that I have literally never run into a recipe that *does* tell you the divisions up front. Whoever started that irritating convention has a lot to answer for.

  • veronicafrance  on  3/6/2016 at 9:23 AM

    @ellabee: that seems to be a US convention. British recipes will say for example 100 g of sugar in the list of ingredients, and then in the instructions say "Add 60 g of the sugar". It does mean you need to pay attention and not tip the whole lot in :) Or occasionally you might see "100 g of sugar plus 3 tablespoons for dusting".

  • Foodfann  on  3/6/2016 at 10:13 AM

    I hate recipes with color photos that look nothing like food that is really cooked. I used to think I had done something wrong until I thought more about what "food stylists" really put in the photo. I would rather have no photos than this. I also dislike glossy paper in books, but that is because I like to write notes (and maybe erase them later). I agree that having parts of recipes on different pages is annoying.

  • sir_ken_g  on  3/6/2016 at 1:33 PM

    Ethnic cookbooks that call ingredients by thier native name instead of the common English name. Lots of flipping to the ingredients chapter.

  • hillsboroks  on  3/6/2016 at 2:26 PM

    I agree with all of the above and want to add proofreading. So many times it just seems like carelessness when I find an ingredient in the list but then it is never mentioned in the instruction section. What am I supposed to do with it? If it is something I have made before from another recipe, I can usually guess but not always. Then there are the ingredients that show up in the instructions but aren't in the list of ingredients at the top. Currently I am trying to track down an oven temperature for a savory tart I want to make but the author neglected to add it to her recipe. I have been looking at similar tarts in other cookbooks and asked a couple of cooking friends for their thoughts but so far there is no consensus. It probably should be 325F or 350F.

  • manycookbooks  on  3/6/2016 at 6:31 PM

    "In a 1 quart casserole dish, layer 1 large onion, sliced, 5 large potatoes, sliced, 4 large carrots, sliced, continue the layers until all ingredients are used and pour the cheese sauce overtop (2 cups milk, 1 cup grated cheese, flour, salt, pepper" Now, I may not be very good at 'eyeballing' things, but in this recipe, you end up with WAY too many layers of ingredients and the cheese sauce, when poured overtop, does not penetrate the layers and runs all over the place. A much larger casserole dish is certainly required, but you don't really figure it out until it's too far along! Very annoying!

  • marvymer  on  3/6/2016 at 8:42 PM

    Recipe books that call for extra-large eggs make me crazy!

  • Jane  on  3/7/2016 at 10:52 AM

    As a Brit now living in America I so wish that American cookbooks would give metric weight alternatives. Many baking books now do but most cookbooks do not. The number of cup measures you can use when cooking is ridiculous. And apart from the washing up, the accuracy is so much better. Doing volume measurements for pieces is daft - the amount will vary hugely depending on how big the pieces are, whereas weight is always the same amount.

  • eliza  on  3/7/2016 at 4:34 PM

    I don't find most of the peeves mentioned in the article to be a problem. The things that irritate me are recipes that are just wrong (Martha Stewart's site has a few!) and butter in tablespoons or "sticks".

  • annmartina  on  3/8/2016 at 2:50 PM

    Ditto to recipes that call for other recipes as ingredients.

  • Foodycat  on  3/9/2016 at 11:02 AM

    @ellabee in Australian cookbooks you are more likely to see "60g sugar" and then further down in the order in which the ingredients are used "30g sugar, extra". Which I think makes it perfectly clear!

  • Foodycat  on  3/9/2016 at 11:06 AM

    Nearly all of those "peeves" come down to the number one rule of using recipes: READ THE WHOLE THING FIRST. Then you will know if you need to have a colander in the sink or to marinade overnight.

  • ellabee  on  3/9/2016 at 1:14 PM

    That's encouraging that the 'xxx, divided' format isn't universal. I'm a slow, mise-en-place cook -- I assemble, measure out, and prep the ingredients as much as possible before starting any cooking activity. Although I always read the whole recipe and try to think through the equipment needs and spot any advance prep, it's irritating to have to pore through the instructions a second time just to spot _how_ ingredients should be divided, when it would be easy just to put the info in the ingredients list: "1 1/4 cup sugar, divided 3/4 cup & 1/2 cup". The Aussie method of listing twice, which has the benefit of keeping ingredients in strict order of use, would also work for me.

  • amoule  on  3/9/2016 at 7:03 PM

    My pet peeve is volume measurements (1 cup, for example) for dry ingredients like flour. It so much easier to measure by weight! And it's much more accurate!

  • adewar  on  3/10/2016 at 10:31 AM

    Recipes which have rare and hard to come by ingredients only obtainable from specialist retailers (please give substitutes!). Cup/tbsp/stick measures for butter are really annoying in the age of digital scales! Butter is sold in 250g blocks in the UK, never in sticks. How do you squash cold butter into a cup measure and be confident there are no air gaps? Recipes which do not specify separate temperatures for fan and convection ovens. Golden syrup measured in tablespoons - that is messy and annoying! Lastly, recipes which call for eggs but do not specify the size.

  • susan g  on  3/10/2016 at 2:23 PM

    Last night I had to stop my husband before he added 6 Tb olive oil to the pizza dough he was making from a commercial dry mix -- the oil had to be divided between dough, pan and top before baking. Recipe for disaster! About using 'foreign' names for ingredients: some names translated into English are wrong! Black cumin, black caraway, and more are used for both the same and different herbs/spices for Indian cooking. I spent a long time trying to sort them out, which could have been avoided by using English name/Indian name (though there will be several options, because of the many languages).

  • RaySadler  on  3/11/2016 at 4:21 PM

    Totally agree with the peeve about cup measurements! Please, America, realise the rest of the world reads your books and uses grammes or ounces!

  • FJT  on  3/12/2016 at 5:23 PM

    I second all the comments about volume measurements or annoying quantities like 1 stick of butter. I won't buy a cookbook until I'm sure that it includes weight measurements. Having lived in the US for a few years I've realised that so many people here don't own scales, but if cookbook or blog authors want an international audience they need to understand that no one outside North America understands what is meant by a stick of butter or is sure how big a cup is!

  • SusanN  on  3/24/2016 at 7:50 PM

    Baking recipes that don't specify a recommended tin size. Or those that specify a tin size that is incorrect. And recipes that specify herb quantities in a confusing way - herb plants can be very different in size and using "bunch" or "sprig" or "stalks" (or similar) isn't helpful for many sorts of herbs.

  • MaryMM  on  3/24/2016 at 9:50 PM

    My only big peeves with recipes is when they are incorrect. I can usually catch anything odd unless it's a baking recipe. Baking can be a lot of work and an incorrect recipe is a big time and ingredient waster. I also like to measure by weight but none of my friends would even think of doing that. Odd but I don't think too many baking books would be sold in the US if amounts weren't given in sticks and cups. I like it when they list both. I like to at least weigh my flour, sugar, and fats.

  • MargaretM  on  3/24/2016 at 10:40 PM

    Agree, agree, agree. Difficult to measure measures - cup of butter is the worst (and what on earth is a "stick" says this kiwi). Cups are fine for dry ingredients but litres and grams for the rest please.

  • ohjodi  on  3/25/2016 at 7:30 AM

    "Unthawed", and "Unpeeled". "Un" means "not" (and "to reverse"), so these actually mean "not thawed, still frozen", and "not peeled".......but people often use them to mean "thawed" and "peeled". The rest of the recipe often doesn't give a clue. I use my best judgement ("does this type of dish usually contain apple peel?") but it would be nice to have the correct description in the first place.

  • raowriter  on  3/25/2016 at 3:02 PM

    I agree about not giving the size of an onion, but more annoying is "1 zucchini/courgette" or "1 sweet potato". Both come in sizes ranging from minuscule to gigantic, so choosing the right one is a bit of a lucky dip. Volume measurements are much easier than weighing everything, but with tablespoons you need to know the origin of the recipe - not always easy on blogs - as an Australia tablespoon is four teaspoons, whereas the US is three,

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