How to Decode a Cookbook

An expert reveals a few steps for evaluating recipes.

  • Kathleen Squires
Advice from Nigella Lawson, cooking-show host and author of Feast: Food to Celebrate Life:

Sit down with a new recipe and read it a couple of times over a cup of tea, then ask yourself: How long is this going to take? Do I understand what I'm being told to do? Figure out everything you'll need, including tools. If the ingredient list is too long, I know I'm going to be buying things I'll need one tablespoon of and never use again. But don't be deceived that a short recipe is a simple recipe―you want as much description of the method as possible. Generally, if a recipe says something like "combine," it won't matter too much if everything is stirred for ages or not, but it's more helpful if it says, "Listen, this will be very lumpy at this stage. Don't worry―it will get smoother later." And when you glance at a cookbook and know deep down that's not your sort of food, accept it. Don't force yourself to become someone you're not.