Recipes and cookbooks: What I look for and what turns me off

I have lots of cooking magazines and cookbooks. Collecting recipes is definitely a passion of mine. I cut out and keep scraps of yellowed newspaper, pages printed from the internet, and magazines permanently turned open to my favourite pork tenderloin recipe.There are certain things I look for when I’m examining a new recipe.

First, I check how long the recipe will take to prepare. If it’s more than 1.5 hours, I usually don’t go any further unless it also says “mostly unattended,” or “includes marinating time.” Yes, I am competent cook. But just like you, I usually don’t have hours and days to spend on one recipe, especially if I haven’t made it before. I don’t want to invest a lot of time in a meal I’m not even certain will work.

Some of my favourite cooking magazines

Is the recipe overly complicated? If the recipe is divided into four parts – make this, that, another thing, and then a sauce – then assemble – well, if I see this I usually keep going. There are certainly exceptions, like Valentine’s Day trying-to-impress-new-boyfriend cakes. Or extravagant cooking that I sometimes undertake while on vacation. But most weekends, if I’m scanning a new magazine, I’m looking for a recipe I can make that week that is fabulous and will come together quickly and easily.

What is the list of ingredients. I want to know if I will able to find the necessary bits at my local grocery store. Hopefully I won’t have to go all over town to find something exotic. And I don’t want to be referred to a “resources list” at the back of the magazine where they tell me how to mail order the special ingredients. I will admit that in the past I have mail-ordered lime extract (only to find out that cheap lemon extract is a decent substitute).

Recipes that say “easy dinner with only 3 ingredients” are suspect I also review the list of ingredients because I’m suspicious. Recipes that say “easy dinner with only 3 ingredients” are always suspect to me. For example, here’s one: “You’ll only need three ingredients: pasta, olive oil, and bread crumbs.” While the magazine text will boast how easy this meal is, to me it looks like slimy pasta with gritty bread crumbs. OK, sure, if you have some exotic brand of extra virgin olive oil you picked up last year on vacation, and you combine that with homemade seasoned breadcrumbs that you make with your mother in law … and if you make the pasta from scratch …

Of course not. That’s not most of us. We’ve got a box of dried pasta, a half-litre of regular olive oil, and breadcrumbs that come in a cardboard carton.

This is a pet peeve of mine: recipes that glamorously state that all you need is perfect ingredients that are minimally prepared. That’s grand if you’ve got great produce to start with. There are two ends of the continuum: either you live in California, within walking distance of an organic farm stand, and can get heirloom tomatoes and your grocer sells strawberries divided by variety. The other end of the continuum is Blind Bay, British Columbia. This lovely inland community is miles from California, and about 45 minutes to a real grocery store. There’s a local general store with basic stock. But try to get a lime for your Corona beer. It’s a stretch. I’ve tried it.

The rest of us are somewhere in between. Spinach might be available all year, but only in cellophane bags. Trying to find fresh figs might be impossible.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that since everyone doesn’t live in New York City, where you can get just about anything, or nextdoor to an organic farm stand… then there should be cookbooks for the rest of us. It’s not that we’re unadventurous, we’re just limited in the groceries we can easily put our hands on at 6:00 pm after working all day. How about recipes that only use regular grocery store ingredients. It should be possible. We should make it a new law.

Do you have any recipe pet peeves, the things that once you discover when reading you just skip the recipe entirely? Does it bother you when you see “feeds 6 to 8” when you’re a family of 2? Do you have a “number of ingredients” threshold? What’s your biggest recipe irritation?

I’ll share more feedback, letters, and questions with you in future updates. Hurry up and write me soon, so I can include your brilliance in my next update!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. You can always reach me at

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef

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