You Know You're In Trouble When......

Joined Feb 1, 2007
We've all experienced it. You're reading a recipe in a book, or one you've downloaded, or even something a friend scribbled on the back of a napkin, and suddenly come across an ingredient or instruction that just makes no sense.

This afternoon I came across what is, perhaps, the ultimate. I was cruising one of the books sent me to review, and among the ingredients in one recipe was:

1/2 large egg.

Anybody know how you halve an egg? And how do you store the half you're not immediately using?

Obviously, I'm not going to attempt that recipe. But it got me to wondering: what are some of the worst recipes you've looked at? I'm not talking about ones that didn't turn out tasting well, but those whose ingredient lists or instructions really left you scratching your head.
Joined Aug 13, 2006
Half a large egg?  crack it into a bowl, mix it with the fork and pour out half.  I have to do that sometimes when i half recipes. 

However, i would also use a small egg, if i had one, and would also use only the yolk, if it was somthing that needed a binder, like a potato croquette, that i didn't want to be dried out - or use the yolk in a baked good that i wanted moistness over rise (if it had leavening in it) or would use just the yolk if it were a recipe that i wanted to favor rise and lightness over moistness... 

But yes, there are plenty of bad instructions, sometimes just typos, sometimes outright and outrageous contradictions, but i can discount those. 

What i hate much more are recipes that are just too fussy and there is no need for it.  Three cups plus one tbsp flour (in a bread recipe - a BREAD recipe) - come on, gimme a break.  It's bread.  It might need more and might need less flour, liquid, whatever, and you'll only know when you mix it.

Or beat the egg lightly with a fork and then add to the batter and beat.  Do you really need to mix the egg first?  certainly not. 

or half a cup of chopped onion (come on, a little more, a little less is not going to matter - "one small onion, chopped" will do it.) 

Or those recipes for the home cook that presume that everyone has a couple of people working for them to prep things and to wash up after them.  Some test kitchen recipes are like this - they needlessly use extra equipment that needs to be washed when it could be avoided. 

Italian recipes almost always have no description of technique, don;t list ingredients in the order in which they;ll be used, and (most annoyingly) will get halfway through the recipe before they tell you some step you should have done a few hours ago  - for example, sautee the vegetables in oil, add water, and then add the beans that have previously soaked for 12 hours.  Ok, you;re supposed to read through a recipe first, but a good recipe puts the various steps in order.  Finally most italian cookbooks have horrendous indexes. You can;t find all the recipes using eggplant, you can only find those where "eggplant" is the first word in the name of the recipe (Ada Boni;s famous cookbook is like that) - you even need to know which kind of pasta she considers good with eggplant to find an eggplant pasta dish - e.g. penne with eggplant, or rigatoni with eggplant, etc. 

In fact, give me a few minutes and i'll write a book on annoying cookbook quirks. 

Oh, right, and how to store the other half egg?  in a jar, so you can add it to the next omelette or for breading cutlets, or (as usually happens) so you find it in the back of the fridge two months later and throw it out, jar and all, not daring to open it. Or, more efficiently, just throw it out.
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Joined Aug 21, 2009
I haven't been left scratching my head too often but I managed to do it to a newbie to cooking ...

She was one of the salespeople at my husband's studio and when I say she is new to cooking I am not kidding.. she is NEW.  (like needs step by step instructions on how to use a kettle new)

She had just purchased a crockpot after talking to my husband and he made crockpot cooking sound very easy to her.  I rather like it because I can put everything in before I leave for work in the morning, leave a note for the kids to set it to keep warm after a certain time and when I get home it's not a mad rush to get dinner on the table in good time.  So she sent me an email asking me for recipes and I was on my way to work at the time so I fired off a recipe to her for a roast using campbell's soup as the base for the gravy.  I know.. shame on me but she was new to cooking and I knew if I sent her my recipe from scratch she'd have run from the kitchen with her arms in the air screaming... lol

So this is what I sent her

Crockpot Roast Beef

1 5-7 lb beef roast, not prime rib, preferrably inside round

1 can campbell's cream of mushroom soup

1 soup can cooking wine

I pkg knorr onion soup mix

pepper to taste

Put the roast in the crockpot.  Mix the mushroom soup out of the can with the dried onion soup mix.  Pour over roast.  Pour cooking wine over alll,.  Set to low and cook for 8-10 hours.

her reply was

"what is soup can cooking wine"  Can I get it at the LCBO?"  What is  pepper to taste?  Do I have to taste the pepper? 

My reply was

you can use any kind of wine for cooking wine.. I either use a cheap brand from the LCBO or the cooking wine you can get at Loblaws.  What I meant by a soup can was a soup can full of cooking wine. Pepper to taste means if you like pepper add more but there is enough salt in the soups to make sure your gravy is salted so you may want to add 1/8 tsp of pepper if you like peppery gravy...

We had many more email exchanges after that and I'm happy to say that while she still relys on premade bases her cooking is getting better.
Joined May 5, 2010
There is a beautiful cookbook series that I have been getting for many years now called "Art Culinaire."

The recipes and full color photos are presented by Chefs from all across the globe.

I like to call the books my "food porn" because of what is done to the food in the name of culinary delights.

Trying to follow those recipes is a Chef's nightmare. 

Almost every recipe needs you to assume more than is in the directions.

Some of the amounts are flawed and the methods don't make sense.

I wrote the magazine years ago to bring this to their attention and one of the editors wrote back.

"In defense of our many contributors, it is most likely the Chef's ego that will not allow him to divulge the entire recipe, since this

would compromise his customer base"  

WTF......... so if I leave out an important ingredient or method from a recipe and someone tries to duplicate my efforts and can't

can I get my recipes cool is that!!!!!                NOT!
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Joined Apr 3, 2008
I tend to blank on recipes that are written in paragraph form.  I like lists without too much explanation or detail.  Most often I will read only the ingredient list and make up the process on my own.  I find that when there are too many details in an explanation the food comes out horribly - I much prefer to go by my intuition than rely on exact instructions.  For example, if a recipe calls for 1/4tsp of cayenne pepper then I immediately translate it to "a dash" etc. 
Joined Aug 13, 2006
I tend to blank on recipes that are written in paragraph form.  I like lists without too much explanation or detail.  Most often I will read only the ingredient list and make up the process on my own.  I find that when there are too many details in an explanation the food comes out horribly - I much prefer to go by my intuition than rely on exact instructions.  For example, if a recipe calls for 1/4tsp of cayenne pepper then I immediately translate it to "a dash" etc. 
Yes, i agree.  I don;t like too fussy recipes.  But i do like lots of explanation that i can read.  I like recipes that have a short form and then a longer explanation.  The time life cookbooks would go into such detail!  For every single cake "grease the pan by rubbing it with butter on a paper towel and flour it by dusting lightly with flour and tapping lightly over the sink to remove the excess"  I'll say excess - excess verbage!  Though for the real beginner who is also very insecure, i guess that's useful.  You can;t go wrong with those recipes.  So i like a well-explained recipe that i can read if i want, and a more concise and practical one for more experienced cooks. 
Joined Feb 1, 2007
I understand your point, Siduri. But you have to understand why books like the Time-Life series are written that way.

Study after study has shown that people, especially beginners, to not read the explanatory text in how-to books. In the case of cookbooks, for example, they jump right to the recipes. Despite being novices, their attitude is "I don't want to learn how to bake cakes, I want to make this specific one."

So, while it seems to make sense that you put all the technique stuff (such as prepping a cake pan) in one spot, the reality is if you don't include it in each recipe then you lose the reader.

Experienced cooks, on the other hand, either already know the necessary technique, or are smart enough to look for it as part of the introductory text or as an apendix. That's why more advanced books do not repeat basic instructions over and over again.
Joined Aug 13, 2006
Yeah, KY, i understand their point and i'm sure people cooked things they never dreamed of using those recipes.  I was thinking (when i do MY cookbook, which is only in my head and may stay there) whether to put the explanations on every recipe or in a techniques section, and i think i would opt for the every recipe option, but would make a concise recipe right after - the detailed one, then the one you actually cook from. 


Anyway, i remember making the french strawberry tart from time life cooking of provincial france.  It took me all day (I was probably 17).  But i did it and it was wonderful.  Only difference is now i can manage to make one in a couple of hours including cooling and resting times.  It's the only one i;ve seen that has a bavarian cream in the brisee crust and then the strawberries on top and currant jam painted on top.  Oh heaven.  The cracking of the brisee, the crumble in your mouth, the utter softness of the bavarian and the sweet/tart juiciness of the strawberries.  Perfect. 
Joined Oct 9, 2008
My favorite is still the thing from Alain Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine, which I have reviewed here at ChefTalk. Take a look at the quail recipes, under Q. Not one involves quail. No, they don't involve squab or something like that --- they're just totally misfiled. There are a lot of serious problem recipes, but an encyclopedia which gives recipes for a main ingredient that do not include that main ingredient, well, that pretty much takes the cake for me.
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