When you're a food blogger who publishes recipe, recipe development is important.  This month on Kitchen Geekery, Dr. J. guides you through keeping a recipe development notebook - a must for recipe testing and quick reference and for one day creating a cookbook!
Kitchen Geekery: Kitchen Notebooks | Food Bloggers of Canada

Last month, I discussed with you what I think are essential tools for food bloggers that also work as recipe developers. The items I listed in that post are tools I use almost every day so I can give my readers as much information as I can when I give them a recipe.

But before you jump into the kitchen, you absolutely MUST (and I do mean MUST in ALL CAPS, bold, underlined font!) have a kitchen notebook because whether you're working full-time on your blog or part-time, you must record the following:

  • ingredients used
  • the amounts of each ingredient
  • what you're making
  • when you're making it
  • the steps you're following
  • the little things you notice along the way…

I think a kitchen notebook is essential to your success as a blogger and the reliability of the recipes you publish. Your kitchen notebook will help you become more professional and reduce your stress level.

Here are some things to consider:

Get a Dedicated Kitchen Notebook

First of all, I know many of you use scrap paper, post-its, or random notebooks (that also contain other notes and work) to write down your recipes and bring them to the kitchen with you. I guarantee those notes will get lost in the day-to-day shuffle. You will lose track of them! They won’t contain all the information you need when it comes time to write up the recipe and publish it on your blog.

Trust me when I say I’ve gone down that road and it leads to disaster. You need to walk away from the post-it/scrap paper system right now and get yourself a notebook dedicated to your recipes, to record and keep track of everything.

Opt For a Top-Quality, Hard-Cover Notebook

Kitchen Geekery: Kitchen Notebooks | Food Bloggers of Canada

My current notebook is a McGill lab notebook (size: 8.5” x 11.5”), hard cover with lined paper inside. The paper is high quality that won’t break down the minute it gets wet or dirty. The notebooks I use are the same kind I used in grad school to write down every single chemistry reaction I performed in the lab over the course of six years. In fact, my kitchen notebook strategy is modelled after my chemistry lab books. By the end of my PhD, I had almost 10 of them so they had to be properly filled out and organized from the beginning because there was no way that I could write a thesis with data recorded on scraps of paper. The same goes for us as food bloggers: we could be publishing recipes on our blog from six months ago, or we could be writing cookbooks one day, so those recipes need to be easily accessed, organized, and all together in a series of dedicated notebooks.

Use Indelible Ink!

By the way, you should write in pen with indelible ink (the kind that won’t run/bleed if the page gets wet or dirty) because your notebook will be by your side at all times, including when your sink overflows or you drop an egg. There will be splashes and mishaps in the kitchen: you don’t want your ink to run.

Organize Your Kitchen Notebook Before You Begin

Obviously, fill in your contact info on the first page in case you happen to lose your notebook, just like you did in elementary school.

Then the next few pages are left blank and will be dedicated to a table of contents. You can fill in the table of contents as you go, or I like to go back when my notebook is complete and write it in when I’m about to set the book on my bookshelf for safe-keeping.

Page Numbering Systems For Your Kitchen Notebook

After the table of contents comes the content section. I number every page. Page numbers are written at the bottom of the page and I continue the page numbering system from one book to another, so if your first kitchen notebook has 100 pages that you’ve numbered 1 to 100, then your second kitchen notebook would have pages 101 to 200. Every page is a single new recipe. Don’t combine three or four recipes on a page; there’s not enough room and it will end in confusion.

You can take this system one step further and give each recipe a number. If you're wondering how to build your numbering system, I suggest that the recipe number should be {your initials or your blog initials – page number}. So, for example, the chocolate chip cookie recipe on page 32 of my notebook would be JL-32 or FBC-32. With the continuous page numbering system that carries over from one notebook to another, all my recipes have unique numbers. There is only one JL-32, thus minimizing confusion. This way, on my computer, I can save all the photos and data associated with that recipe in the folder JL-32.

Why bother? Because you might have five different chocolate chip cookie recipes on your blog, and so you can’t name all those folders/files “chocolate chip cookies.”

RELATED:  Kitchen Geekery: Getting To Know Your Oven's Quirks

You see, my goal is to minimize confusion. Using initials before the recipe number isn’t obligatory, but it can be especially handy if you're part of a team working on a blog because in that case you both will inevitably have overlaps in your numbering systems. Using a numbering system with initials will avoid all confusion. My initials are JL so my chocolate chip recipe would be numbered as JL-32. If my cat were contributing to my blog one day, his initials are ZS so on page 32, his recipe would be ZS-32. Our recipe numbers will never overlap and are easily distinguished.

How Each Page of Your Kitchen Notebook Is Organized

Kitchen Geekery: Kitchen Notebooks | Food Bloggers of Canada

At the top of every page, write the date and give your recipe a title and a number (if you're numbering your recipes). Then organize the page as follows:

Table Of Ingredients

Make a table of ingredients: list every ingredient in the first column, preferably following the order they will be used in the recipe. Then, in the next column, fill in the quantities of each in grams/millilitres and then use another column for cups. I like to do my conversions of grams to cups beforehand, which I can verify once I’m in the kitchen and make adjustments as I go.

In the early days of my blog, I took the time to weigh out cup-sized volumes of my commonly used ingredients, so I know one cup of flour is 125 grams in my kitchen and one cup of granulated sugar is 200 grams.

Leave some space at the bottom of the table for last-minute ingredient additions, et cetera. If you're cooking and plan on adjusting the seasoning as you cook, leave room to make changes and add in those ingredients.

Method/Directions

Write out your method/directions: if you're a baker, you know in advance if you're using the creaming method for cakes or the sanding method for pie crusts, so you can write up a procedure before you head to the kitchen. Then you follow that procedure.

If you're cooking you might work differently, in which case you must keep your notebook by your side and jot down each step as you do it or as soon as possible after.

Finishing Up The Recipe

Finish the page with a yield: how many cookies did your recipe make? what size were they? was your recipe a flop? If so, write down why. Even a failed kitchen experiment is useful and there’s always something to learn. Write it down so you don’t forget!

At the bottom of the page, make sure there’s a page number that matches your recipe number at the top.

Your Kitchen Notebook Should NEVER Leave Your House

Kitchen Geekery: Kitchen Notebooks | Food Bloggers of Canada

Again, this is another lab rule, but it’s also completely justified here: your kitchen notebook should never, ever leave your house. Say you work part-time as a recipe developer and part-time interviewing restaurant chefs for a newspaper. I'm suggesting you have two separate notebooks for these tasks and that your kitchen “lab” notebook should reside exclusively in your house or wherever you work on your recipes because if you lost it, you potentially could lose a year’s worth of recipes and tests. That scenario is completely unacceptable to me.

Again, the notebook with your recipes should never leave your house. If you want to take a backup of it with you, scan it or take pictures of what you need rather than taking the notebook with you.

What Now?

  • Go out and buy a new, clean notebook with high quality paper.
  • Set up a system now so you can organize and record as much information as possible every time you make something in the kitchen.
  • Maintain the notebook as you go. There will be days where you break all the rules, and that’s okay, but you must get all the information you need in your notebook soon because working from memory is asking for angry readers.
  • Back it up by taking pictures or scanning the pages of your notebook.
  • When you finish your notebook, fill in the table of contents in the first pages you saved.

If you develop your recipes in a professional way, using all the right tools and delivering as much of the key information as you can to your readers, your recipes will be more reliable and useful for everybody, including you.

Do you have a system to keep track of all your recipe testing and kitchen experiments? Do you have something to add to my suggestions? Let me know in the comment section below.

More Recipe Development Reading


Kitchen Geekery is written by Janice Lawandi.  Janice is a PhD-chemist-turned-baker, which is why she loves to use science to understand and solve problems in the kitchen. She is currently working as a recipe tester and writer in Montreal, QC. Visit Janice’s blog, Kitchen Heals Soul, for more baking science and inspiration. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

 

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Categorized:: Resources, Recipe Development, Kitchen Geekery, Food & Drink

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18 Comments

Megan
Reply

I LOVE the numbering system you outlined here! I have always tried to keep notes digitally but I always revert back to old school pen and paper, glad I’m not the only one!

Janice Lawandi
Reply

A lot of people are going digital with their lab notebooks, but I’m just not ready for that. Plus, to be honest, a computer or an iPad in the kitchen can be a bit risky because I am messy and there are too many opportunities for splashing and damaging electronics…

Alanna @ One Tough Cookie
Reply

As someone who’s been haphazardly using the scrap paper system for some time now, this post came as a VERY welcome reminder that it’s time to finally switch. This approach looks so much more organized! And has the added bonus of not being accidentally recycled with all the other junk papers. Thank you, Janice!

Janice Lawandi
Reply

I have lost track of many a recipe on scrap paper before I realized “why don’t I put together my kitchen experiments in a notebook like I did with my chemistry experiments in the lab!”
Honestly, it hit me as I was “filing” a scrap piece of paper in a notebook I was using with my notes/to-do lists, and I realized that I could just as easily write the recipes directly in the notebook, like I did in the lab!

Sarah | (Cooking for) Kiwi & Bean
Reply

So after reading this article I’ve been doing this!!! I’m not nearly as organized or scientific as Janice but this is so much better than my old system (i.e. keep the recipe in my head and hope I remember to jot it down in an email before I forget it).

Teresa
Reply

You are so admirably organized, Janice!

I think this advice should apply to all cooks, whether they publish their recipes or not. My mother, in particular, would benefit from this. No, actually, her children would – we’re the ones that wish we had more of her recipes. So many of them she makes off the cuff and never writes down.

Janice Lawandi
Reply

Totally! I think all our mothers (and fathers) should use kitchen notebooks. Well, if they would accept to use them 😉

P.S. There are days when I’m a mess, but I still try to always jot down a table of ingredients with the weights, and the key points for directions. Some days are hard and there simply isn’t enough time for full sentences 😉

Chrissie
Reply

This is awesome. And I agree that this applies to all cooks. Especially for passing recipes on to others! Thanks for this post!

Janice Lawandi
Reply

I find especially nowadays, with computers and the internet, we are more prone to just grabbing a recipe we find and not documenting what we made for future use (on recipe cards or in a notebook). It’s sad, especially if a recipe turned out well because most of us can’t remember where we found it! Our grandmother’s had recipe boxes and little notebooks, and I think our generation should keep that up! Otherwise, we lose all the good recipes 🙁

Carole
Reply

i have three small books on the go. This is a good reminder to invest in one big, good quality notebook

Janice Lawandi
Reply

I used to have recipes scattered between a few different notebooks, which also contained business notes from coaching sessions and to-do lists (and even phone messages) but it just got too confusing. I highly recommend keeping the recipe work all in one notebook. It makes such a big difference for efficiency of work. It’s a big time saver 😉

Kimberly
Reply

I love this post. Such great tips on organizing your recipes…..mine are on “large”post-it that I stick in a notebook after I complete the recipe.
Can chemistry/lab books only be purchased at a university or would staples carry them?
Thanks
Kim

Janice @Kitchen Heals Soul
Reply

Hi Kimberly! I’m so glad you like this post. I hope it will be useful for you.
I think these Blueline Executive Notebooks are pretty close (if not exactly) to what I am using (except the ones I own have a McGill stamp on the cover). http://www.staples.ca/en/Blueline-Executive-Hardcover-Notebook-10-3-4-inch-x-8-1-2/product_384707_2-CA_1_20001
I really love the size of the notebook. The pages are 8.5×11″ so lots of room to write and are lined. The book is not too thick or too heavy so it’s not cumbersome.

I hope that helps!

Kat Landreth
Reply

This is absolute gold!

I’ve seen so much vague advice for bloggers like “write what you love” but never anything so detailed about how to record, organize, and remember what the heck you wanted to write about.

I don’t normally cook from recipes. Because of that I never have a paper trail that lets me accurately relay what the heck I did make a dish. Friends ask for a recipe and I just shrug and say “I don’t know, I just threw some stuff together.” That’s clearly not working so well when I got to write a blog post about something I made.

Thank you for writing such a useful post. I’ll be following this blog for the rest of my life. Best blog friends forever.

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