Got some great ideas from Part 1 and continuing to iterate!
Two Part Recipes
I almost figured this out before, but in more detail: Recipes should have 2 parts. One is the “Strategy” view, one is the “Tactics.” The Strategy view is what we recognize as a recipe today: long prose description of the steps. The Tactics is all our new additions. The Strategy could be published in a book, the Tactics should be a tear-out sheet (or a page formatted for ease of photocopying) for quick access while you’re cooking.
Improved engineer diagram
The “cooking for engineers” diagram isn’t quite all you need while you’re cooking. You need to know which steps time-depend on which steps. But I don’t want to make this too terribly complicated; someone should be able to pick one up and understand it the first time.
A couple things might help:
- using the x-axis roughly for time. If a step is “simmer 30 minutes”, make it much bigger than a step that says “simmer 5 minutes.” Trying to get too precise will be pretty impossible (both difficult to lay things out, and difficult to actually measure how long things take), so don’t sweat it too much, but try to get close.
- visually note when different chunks are done. Cooks naturally do this, splitting a recipe into parts when there are more than a few steps. CookingForEngineers has figured this out too; recipes like pan-seared scallops with roasted red pepper sauce include a couple of “boxes”. Each box can be prepared separately, without time constraints; if you finish the roasted red pepper sauce but then get an important phone call, you can let it sit until later.
- The “output quantity” might actually be important. Especially when baking, it’s not always clear how much you’ll end up with. Let’s leave a space for it, but feel free to ignore.
- Sort the “pantry” ingredients roughly from “rarest” to “commonest”, so the ones you’re most likely not to have will catch your eye. Yes, this is subjective, but try it.
- In addition to “ahead of time”, we should have “at start of cooking” - e.g. preheating the oven.
- Step-by-step photos are a thing in CookingForEngineers and some recipe books: I like this in the “Strategy” section for sure. In the “tactics” section, I think it’s too much space; I’d include one or two key photos if it’s the best way to get the information across but otherwise leave them out.
Another example: Masala Beans Poriyal
Recipes v2.1, this time with another randomly chosen one: Masala Beans Poriyal from Dakshin Vegetarian Cuisine from South India by Chandra Padmanabhan
Because this recipe is pretty simple, this “Tactics” view could in fact replace the “Strategy” view. But in general, consider this Tactics view a complement to the Strategy.
What has improved? At a glance:
- you know what equipment you need
- you know that, if we have 1lb green beans (and maybe some curry leaves), and a well stocked pantry of Indian spices, you can cook this recipe
- you know that there are 3 main steps: cook the beans, cook and blend the masala, cook the tempering (the last part) and put it all together
- you know that, once the heat is on, it’ll probably take about 30 minutes to make this (I just made this up, but if I were publishing it, I’d actually measure this time). We can’t make the timing perfectly clear (e.g. the last bit takes longer than the BEANS part) but we can at least make parts of it clear (the “cook on low heat 5-7 minutes” is bigger than the couple minutes on either side).
- if you have a helper, they could easily take over the BEANS or the MASALA part independently
Hard mode: Pita
Is that too easy? Have we gotten lucky with two pretty simple recipes? Here’s a more complicated one, and a family favorite. Serbian Pita with spinach and cheese is a layered pie, similar to Burek. The recipe lives in my mother-in-law’s head, but she taught T and I enough that we could write it down here.
Again, the Tactics recipe doesn’t replace the Strategy recipe1. But viewed alongside the Strategy, it goes from multiple paragraphs to a clear visual schema.
Here we have 4 parts, but because they’re split out nicely, you can see which ones are easier and harder. The trickiest part is layering the whole thing at the end, and it may help to improve this diagram. But this gives you a start.
The journey continues
I’m pretty happy with this format, at this point. But there’s always room to improve! Send me anything that you love or hate about recipes; I’m sure I’m still missing a few obvious improvements. And I’d love to know if anyone else is experimenting with redesigning recipes too.
And neither replaces her expertise! But this is a whole different conversation. In short: I want recipes to scaffold up to that expertise: to get you to the level where you can play around and develop expertise on your own. ↩︎
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