Book Intro

You are here because we share a connection: the desire to create and document recipes that work. Perhaps you’re a food professional— a chef, nutritionist, editor, cookbook author, or marketing expert. Or maybe you want to turn your love of food into a career. No matter, you are in the right place.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate different styles of recipe writing. Yet I’m a purist when it comes to the ultimate goal of the written recipe:

A written recipe must be accurate, readable, and reproducible—a set of instructions that translates the act of cooking into words.

My clarity-first approach reflects a career immersed in the science of nutrition and the culinary arts. I’ve worked as a clinical dietitian; recipe developer, writer, editor, and tester; professional chef; food stylist; and as a television and video host. I’m also an avid home cook and mother of three—two of whom have celiac disease.

I wrote The Complete Recipe Writing Guide because I wanted to pay it forward. I wished I’d had a book like this early in my career, a single source of truth for developing recipes—from kitchen to plate, and finally, to publication. Today, endless information on food, health, and nutrition is only a click away. Yet much of this information is overwhelming, contradictory, and confusing at best. Nowadays, it’s easy to become an “expert” simply by creating a digital presence. No education or experience is needed thanks to easy-to-use platforms, nutrition analysis software, and smartphone cameras. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great food and recipe sites out there. But there are many that contain misleading or just plain inaccurate food, nutrition, and recipe information.

Writing this book, I passionately approached every topic like an investigative journalist, interviewing top industry professionals, reading research studies and books, and attending professional conferences and webinars. I wanted to curate and share not only what I’ve learned over the years but also share the expertise of others. And I wanted those in the field of recipe writing to have professional standards of practice that incorporate the science of nutrition. Inside these pages, you’ll learn how to develop recipes for plant-based diets, diabetes management, celiac disease, food allergies, and everything in between.

I hope you’ll use The Complete Recipe Writing Guide to build a foundation of knowledge and expand your skill set. Once you master the principles, I encourage you to add your own personal style and creativity to the mix.

Food Is My Passion and My Profession

Food is medicine. The array of nutrients in food supports good health and can help prevent, manage, or even reverse disease. Yet, food is so much more. Food is memory. Food is cultural identity. Food is community. And, of course, food is joy. People don’t eat nutrients; they eat food.

For me, food has always been the lens through which I view and understand life. I am curious about everything as it relates to food—from how it grows to its meaning and place in history. What I love about food is that there’s always more to know and to experience, which no doubt explains why I’ve taken so many different career paths in the food industry and have sought out culinary adventures around the world. My husband and children have come to accept (and even embrace) that we’ll return from our travels with stories sure to regale our friends—fried scorpions in Beijing, testicle meatballs in Arizona, or the culinary and cultural discoveries from cooking alongside local home cooks (the true experts).

Most toddlers outgrow the why phase of development. I never did. Even at age seven, I wanted to know why the popcorn stuck together in the popcorn balls my friend Susan’s mother made. I looked through my mom’s few cookbooks and found nothing. Later, I was at another friend’s house flipping the pages of one of her mother’s cookbooks. There I discovered the answer: Karo syrup. WOW! Liquid sugar. How cool. I remember reading that popcorn balls were originally made with molasses. Even as a young girl, when it came to questions about food, I could go down a rabbit hole like nobody’s business.

Growing up, my grandmother Sonia’s kitchen was an endless source of fascination. There I discovered pickling salt, kosher salt, and sour salt (citric acid). We only had table salt at our house. She used pickling salt to preserve the cucumbers from her garden, sour salt to balance the sweetness of her meatballs rolled in cabbage, and kosher salt for everything else—veal brisket, kneidlach (matzo balls), beet borscht, and chicken soup. She also loved to bake. Stashed in her kitchen drawers were bags of semisweet chocolate chips and chips I’d never seen before—butterscotch, peanut butter, white chocolate, mini chocolate. There was not only vanilla extract but also almond and mint. What could I make with these?

The truth was that my grandmother was far more interested in cooking and baking for her family than teaching me how to do it. Most of the time, her goodies just appeared. They arrived in sturdy boxes mailed from Ottumwa, Iowa, to our home in Chicago, Illinois,

filled with chocolate chip cookies, rocky road bars, mandelbrot (an Eastern Europe cousin of biscotti), and hamantaschen (three-cornered pastries filled with poppy seeds or prunes). Why did the rocky road bars remain moist and tasty long after they arrived, but the other cookies dry out so quickly?

When we visited her in Ottumwa, these same treats emerged from a coffin-sized freezer in the basement. How long could you freeze cookies and bars? Why did the spaghetti she cooked, frozen and then defrosted, change in texture? What was the liquid inside the jars of dill pickles, tomatoes, and peaches that lined the cool walls of the basement?

The magic she performed in her kitchen was hard to replicate. She didn’t use measuring cups or spoons. And I never saw her use a recipe. Yet I watched intently as she sprinkled sugar in her spaghetti sauce (that’s why I must have liked it!) and smeared butter on bread so the tuna sandwiches, wet with pickle juice, didn’t get soggy. Years later, with the help of my brother, a documentary filmmaker, I translated her pinch-of-this and handful-of-that creations into recipes, some of which I shared with my readers when working as the test kitchen director for the Chicago Tribune.

It wasn’t until many years later, after she’d passed away, that I found she actually did have recipes— magazine and newspaper clippings taped to 3″ × 5″ notecards or hand copied from the back of food packaging—stored in a recipe box. I discovered that her recipes were not hers, per se, but ones she’d adapted to make her own.

When I look back, the genesis of this book began when I was a girl enthralled with the mysteries inside Grandma Sonia’s kitchen. It was there that I first had the urge to pull back the curtain, to discover the whys and hows behind the magical dishes and treats she lovingly prepared for us. I believe that recipes (like my grandmother’s) are meant to be shared. For recipes to live on, they must be accurately recorded.