Liveblog: Recipe Writing

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer Food '10 panel "Vocation - Recipe Writing."

Here's the description:

The majority of food bloggers attending BlogHer Food include recipes in their blogging repertoire. What makes a good recipe? What assumptions can you make about the readers' cooking level, such as whether they know how to "fold" or "blanch"? What does it take to take your recipe-creation skills to the next level and actually be hired to be a recipe developer or tester? What are the challenges in creating recipes that are truly yours rather than those that are "inspired by" or "adapted from", and when is it worth the effort? And if you do so: Can you copyright a recipe to keep others from reposting it as their own? Join author Elana Amsterdam, who blogs at ElanasPantry.com, food editor Jennie Perillo, who writes at InJenniesKitchen.com and personal chef Gaby Dalkin, who pens WhatsGabyCooking.com to discuss the ins and outs of recipe writing.

ELANA: This morning we’re discussing Recipe Writing. My co-panelists are Gaby Dalkin and Jennifer Perillo. Gaby is a professionally trained chef and food stylist, and blogs at WhatsGabyCooking.com. Jennifer Perillo is a food editor, recipe author and cookbook author. She blogs at InJenniesKitchen.com. I’m Elana, and my focus is on organic, fresh food Although I am gluten free, it’s not my main focus. I have published recipes for print media (newspapers and magazines), have published two cookbooks, and I blog at ElanasPantry.com.

ELANA: I’d like to start by asking a few questions, to get a feel for who’s in the room…

How many are writing recipes for blogs? (majority of hands show)

Newspapers or Magazines? (A few hands show)

Writing cookbooks? (A few hands show)

What would you all like to get out of this session? We’d like to spend a few minutes taking questions, so we can respond throughout the session, ensuring that we answer the questions that you have.

ATTENDEE: About half of what I write are my own recipes. I do simple things. One of my struggles is how to format the recipes. What is the most user-friendly to read? What is the best way to convey ingredients and measurements to my audience?

ATTENDEE: Can you share formatting tips, information on what readers are looking for, and what tends to appeal to readers, like appetizers, dinners, desserts, etc?

ATTENDEE: What are the different formats for each type of publication?

ATTENDEE:  The recipes I make are gluten free comfort foods. I’m trying to attract mainstream readers. What is the best way for those who cook gluten free to translate the recipe to new readers?

ATTENDEE: What is the best practice for content, as it relates to SEO, whether to have a lot of context around the recipe…the history/story behind it, etc.?

ATTENDEE: Print this post vs. print this recipe. Do you have opinions? And do you have suggestions for different platforms, like WordPress?

ELANA: Gaby, what constitutes a recipe?

GABY: A recipe has to be user-friendly. No matter who picks it up, it will work. It must be easy to read, formatted to be cohesive; it needs to flow. You shouldn’t have to go back and re-read the instructions to create. The ingredient list should be “one onion, chopped.” So when you get to the directions you can write “sauté onions,” not “sauté chopped onions.”

ELANA: I always keep the order of ingredients the same order as they appear in the instructions.

ELANA: I started writing recipes 13 years ago when I was diagnosed with Celiac’s. I didn’t write down recipes then, but when my mother asked for a recipe after visiting, I began forcing myself to write recipes down so I can keep track of ingredients, measurements, etc., so I can remember what I make. I recommend keeping pens/notepads handy so you can easily jot down what you’re doing, or your thoughts while you’re reading articles/books.

GABY: I do it all on my Blackberry while I’m walking around Farmer’s Market.

JENNIFER: I work 100% from home. My kitchen is my test kitchen, so I have my laptop open. I start off my measuring my ingredients, so I have a base platform. If I do my first pass with out writing notes, I can’t go back to change anything if I don’t like it. Work with what style works best for you, when developing recipes. You should start off on the first pass and write everything down. You can’t change/tweak unless you do. Use the format that is best for you, your audience, but what you’re comfortable with, your own style. (IE, whether you want to write “t”, “tsp”, or “teaspoon” – it’s a personal choice.) You need to keep formatting same across your blog, so it’s always the same.

ELANA: It’s really important to keep the website clean and consistent. If readers are used to the same steps, formatting, they’ll know what to expect and it will be easier for them to cook from your site.

GABY: A print function is absolutely necessary. If you don’t know how, hire a coder. When printing, you don’t need to include picture.

JENNIFER: If your headnote has pertinent information in explaining technique, be sure to include in the print function.

ATTENDEE: I’m new to blogging, and want to change to an easier format for producing content. Currently, I don’t tag recipes. And I have archives set so it can go to individual permalinks to print the page, rather than using a “print recipe” function. What programs do you use in the past/now? What is the best program to use for streamlined printing recipes?

GABY: WordPress. I started on Blogger, but the things I wanted to do were not user-friendly so I switched. The print function is within WordPress. Tagging is really important. Especially in WordPress, Google picks up tags and keywords, so when people search, Google picks up SEO and you’ll move up in ranks.

ELANA: Where do you get inspiration for recipes? Do you adapt from others? From seasonal ingredients?

JENNIFER: I’m a recipe developer, professionally. I enjoy cooking from blogs, publications. I don’t adapt, I create new recipes. How do I develop a recipe? You have to shed any fear you have of making a mistake. You will make mistakes. Personally, I’ve started doing more gluten free baking. It was very humbling, because I’m a proficient baker. Gluten free taught me that I need to remember the chemistry of science. Ingredients are expensive. Shed your fear of making mistakes. You’ll learn what not to do, or a recipe you love will come out of mistake. You have to be original. You have to be able to own what you’re doing. A magazine won’t want to work with you if it’s not original content. I am not professionally trained, I’m self-taught, I have 15 years experience. People like recipes that work, recipes that are easy. At the end of the day, if you consider yourself a recipe blogger, you’re making a promise that the recipe you’ve put on your site will be successful in your readers’ kitchens. My inspiration comes from walking around, looking at ingredients, going to farmer’s market.

ELANA: My inspiration comes from 1) what’s in season. 2) Going to parties, seeing foods that aren’t gluten free, and then I make it at home as a gluten free recipe. 3) Reading recipes that I want to make gluten free, so I‘ll adapt recipes for my blog. All recipes that I publish in magazines/cookbooks are original. The adapted recipes are on my blog.

JENNIFER: Recipe adapting is a huge issue. Especially with gluten free cooking. You haven’t adapted a recipe, you’ve made a new one. You’ve made such dramatic changes to make it gluten free that you’ve made it your own.

ATTENDEE: When I look for a recipe that I love but want to adapt to be gluten free, what are the ethical/legal ramifications for taking recipe and making it your own? What are the rules legally, how do you word it?

GABY: In culinary school, we were taught that if you change three ingredients dramatically, you’re adapting and making your own. You have to write your own directions. You can’t have duplicate content, or else you’ll hurt your SEO. Change the directions.

JENNIFER: You can’t copyright the ingredient list. Your IP [intellectual property] is within your directions, your headnotes, etc.

ELANA: I had a pancake recipe on my blog. A reader took the recipe and post on their site as their own recipe. Essentially, it comes down to ethics. If I adapt a recipe, I’ll just put a link to the original because I didn’t think of the recipe or the interesting combination of ingredients. It doesn’t hurt me to link to others.

JENNIFER: In terms of writing a recipe, your post is a place to say where you are inspired. It’s knowing your audience and your voice. There are a lot of ways to make it your own: “one egg,” “one large egg,” “one large egg, divided,” etc. In magazines, we limit word count - short ingredient list, short directions.

JENNIFER: If you want to know what people are looking for, look at your traffic. What are popular keywords, highest trafficked recipes? You don’t want to please everyone. You want to do what you do best. It’s all about knowing your audience. If you want to reach a certain audience, pick up the magazines that gear toward that audience. See how that magazine is writing their recipes.

GABY: In terms of what people are looking for: Baked goods are huge!

ELANA: On my blog, when writing a recipe, my format is mine. No collaboration with editors. I don’t use articles (like “the”), and sometimes I’ll leave out verbs. I don’t like my instructions to wrap a line. I want my 10-year-old to see the recipe and not forget the next step by the time he gets to the fridge. When writing for publications, you’re a guest. You work with the publications’ styles. With my cookbook, I collaborate with my editor on its style.

GABY: On my cooking show, I have now started writing my own recipes, and they’ll take them in the format I give. I’m lucky in that they’ll take what I’ve gotten and post it. I proofread everything. You have to earn that rapport.

GABY: After writing a recipe, I go back a week later and re-read the directions. Did I forget to write that you need to fold in the flour? Did I forget to include baking soda?

ELANA: If you have a friend who can proofread, enlist them. The recipe becomes a part of you and you can’t see it anymore.

ATTENDEE: If you begin to use a new format, do you go into archives to re-format?

GABY: No.

ELANA: [To Gaby] I’m with you on that!

ATTENDEE: I tend to write recipes/directions in paragraph form. Is it better to format step by step vs. paragraph?

GABY: I write how I talk. I want to write so that person reading it feels like they’re sitting next to me. But I use short instructions. No cute words, just the recipe.

JENNIFER: In terms of the flow of the recipe and how a reader approaches it, I personally like the paragraph form because it sets up in the kitchen what you’re going to do.

ELANA: On my blog, I don’t write like I talk. I talk a lot. I take out every possible word so it’s as zen as possible. For my book, I do write in paragraph form and give more information.

ELANA: Did you read the New York Times article on Mise en Place (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/magazine/19food-t-000.html)? What do you think of the practice?

GABY: It means prepping everything before you start (ie, clean your meat, chop your onions, your carrots, etc). The argument is that it’s a waste of time. The only time I do it is when I cater a party for 50 people. When developing recipes, I don’t have time to prep everything in advance.

ELANA:  I don’t have the time or the organizational skills to prep everything.

JENNIFER: In restaurants they can do mise en plas, because you have line cooks who do each stage of prep.

ELANA: In terms of best practices, how much context do you give with the recipe? Personally, I love to give context. I give two or three paragraphs before the recipe, in the headnote.

GABY: I give about a paragraph. I am not a beautiful writer. Others have great writing style, and that’s their thing. Not mine.

JENNIFER: it depends on your blog and your voice. I have a very different approach on the recipes on my blog. I always have at least 20 recipes I’m working on. When I post one, a lot of time the blog post is about something going on in my life – not even about the recipe. How much to include? Not include? It’s your blog. Do you what you love doing. The blog is for you. Write it for you. Do what you love.

GABY: Your readers are reading it [your blog] because they want to know you.

ELANA: There are many new ways to maintain brand synergy, Jennifer?

JENNIFER:  Write a monthly column with a list of ingredients to tease, and then include links to the recipe to drive traffic.

For SEO, I don’t give cutesy titles. Every blog post is the title of my recipe. I’m not saying everyone needs to do that, but it’s a conscious decision I made long ago. It seems to drive up traffic and makes your site a place to go to for recipes.

ATTENDEE: Just an SEO tip: If you want to go mainstream, but also remain gluten free, add a GLUTEN FREE category or tag to the test.

ELANA: Formatting tips?

ATTENDEE: In general, how do most publishers/blogs format?

GABY: it’s a personal thing.

JENNIFER: Exactly. There’s no editing standard. In publications, it’s their own house style.

ATTENDEE: When writing liquids, like recipes for cocktails or beverages, do you use ounces or tablespoons?

GABY: ounces

JENNIFER: ounces

ELANA: I measure with cups. I think it goes back to individualization.

ELANA: This is about protecting your recipe. I signed a contract – a publications contract – in a major mainstream publication. The gluten free recipe was changed from what I submitted, and the change made it no longer gluten free. In contracts I sign, I now include the right to final proofread.

JENNIFER: Sorry to interrupt – That’s not realistic unless you’re a celebrity recipe writer. Most publications will not allow you to have final proof. There are ways, if mistakes are made, to announce to readers, with inserts in the book, or by posting a message on your blog, etc.

ELANA: Print media is going the way of blogging; I am dealing with less and less fact checkers. When you’ve had multiple mistakes with a publication, you need to make an individual decision about whether you want to continue working with that magazine or newspaper, etc. I don’t mind them changing my voice. But when it relates to accuracy within the recipe (ingredients, etc.), it matters.

JENNIFER: I have a six-page presentation @jenniferperrillo that is a recipe writing takeaway [found here: http://www.injennieskitchen.com/blogher-food-10-recipe-writing-panel-recap.html].

ELANA: So the main three components of a recipe: recipe name, ingredient list, preparation instructions. We all need to be sure we’re including these components in our recipes.

Thank you all so much for attending!

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