Monday, November 23, 2009

Tips and Tools: Recipe annotation

The handwritten recipe book that my mom kept and used when I was a kid held a wealth of information in its pages. Almost every page was also decorated with the remnants of egg white, coffee stains, dustings of flour and smears of peanut butter and Crisco. It's impossible to not get a little bit of your ingredients on your cookbooks, and it's one of the things that makes them living documents. Another thing that makes cookbooks and recipes much more valuable than the paper they are printed on is the knowledge one learns every time one makes a recipe. What substitutions were made, how the end results looked and tasted, and the exhortation to use less salt next time are all pieces of information that should be written down when you make a recipe so that they next person who makes it has insight beyond what's printed on the page. Taking good notes on recipes saves time and headaches the next time you want to make the recipe, and it will help you decide what to make or what not to make. Of course, many of the things home cooks make aren't found in recipe books at all, but come out of our own heads, and it's a good idea to try to write those down as well, as you are making it, as trying to remember after the fact is nearly impossible, even if you've made it a hundred times.

Some things you can annotate your recipes with:

  • Date you made the recipe
  • Occasion for which you made it
  • End result: good, bad, ugly?
  • Your recommendation whether or not to make it again
  • Any substitutions made or ingredients omitted
  • Changes to the method that you made or want to try next time

If you feel uncomfortable writing on the actual pages, you can use a Post-it for your notes and affix it to the page. I use a pencil and use page flags to mark recipes that I have made and that I want to try. Also, check out my how to organize recipes series: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email 

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