There’s no doubt that Chef Kelsey Nixon of Kelsey’s Essentials has mastered the art of creating stellar recipes in the kitchen. Writing a cookbook, however, was a learning process. Kelsey shared her experience writing her first book, Kitchen Confidence, with us, and even dished on her recipe-writing tips for all you aspiring authors.
BONUS: We’re giving away 5 signed copies of Kitchen Confidence; to enter, tell us, if you were writing a cookbook like Kelsey’s, what would you name it? Full contest rules are located here.
Writing a cookbook was the most difficult work project I’ve ever taken on. After completing Kitchen Confidence I have a newfound respect for all cookbook authors! I’ve been developing recipes for my show Kelsey’s Essentials on Food Network and Cooking Channel for years, but there’s something about content that will live in a book that just feels a little bit more infinite. While writing my book, I often thought about Ina Garten and how I’ve been buying her cookbooks for years because the recipes always work. I trust her recipes, and this is exactly how I want people to feel about the recipes contained in Kitchen Confidence. To fulfill this goal, I put everything I had into the recipe-testing process. Every recipe in Kitchen Confidence has been tested by me in my home kitchen, my mom (Kathy) in her kitchen, and in the Food Network Kitchens. But before we began the labor-intensive (yet completely delicious!) process of recipe testing, I had to first write the recipes.
Learning how to properly write a recipe is the first step to creating foolproof recipes for readers. This skill can be super-helpful if you’re a food blogger, aspire to write a cookbook one day or simply want to compile family recipes. Plus, it reduces the amount of time spent testing and helps to keep everything organized. One tip I like to give is to create your own “style guide” so that every time you write a recipe or even adjust a recipe that you have from another source, it is done in the same format. After writing nearly 500 original recipes between my show and my cookbook (wowzers!), I’ve developed a consistent way of doing things so that I don’t even have to think about it anymore.
When I first started on Kelsey’s Essentials I received some really great advice from my culinary producer about how to write great recipes, and I refer to these pointers often.
Every recipe has an ingredient component and a method component.
First, let’s consider the Ingredients:
- Always list ingredients in order of use.
- Include the full measurement words (tablespoon instead of TBS).
- If your recipe has multiple components (sauce, vinaigrette, crust), break up the ingredients with headers to avoid confusion.
- When listing cans or packages, always include their weight/volume in parentheses: “1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese”
- To simplify method directions, if the preparation of an ingredient is simple, include the description in the ingredient list: “3 eggs, beaten” or “1 shallot, minced”
Next, the Method:
- Avoid being wordy. Keep your directions clear yet concise.
- Each step should indicate a new paragraph.
- When a recipe has multiple components, separate the methods with different methods just as you would with the ingredient list.
- Describe the size of cookware and tools to be used, and the level of heat: “In a small saucepan over medium-low heat…”
- Give a range for cook time, and always give additional descriptive cues for doneness: “Roast 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisped.”
- Always list a serving suggestion, including temperature to serve the dish, garnish and what to serve with it (if applicable).
I keep a “kitchen diary” where I write down original recipes as I cook. It’s a great place to jot down ideas. Many, many insights came from my kitchen diary when I was writing Kitchen Confidence. In fact, I’m not sure I could have written my cookbook without it! If you’re a foodie who loves to cook, I encourage you to write out the recipes that mean so much to you; it’s a great way to leave a kitchen legacy and share traditions that will never be lost.