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reading on line recipe reveiws

I use the epicurious site and various other recipe sites, including chowhound. I find it helpful and instructive to read the comments of others who have previously made the recipe and the ways that they would change that recipe to improve the result (the next time).
I am surprised however to read posts and comments from people who do not make the thing as written and then give comments based on the changes they were 'forced' to make as a result of not having the ingredients.."I had to substitute X for Y or I made it this way to reduce fat or I don't like cabbage so I added chocolate chips.
How is that helpful and what does it say about the original recipe? Nothing.

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  1. Well, you answered your own question from your personal viewpoint. Let me give mine.

    What this can tell someone reading it is what substitutions work successfully and what don't, how flexible the recipe can be or whether it's only useful when it's done precisely as written.

    Subjectively, I acknowledge I just like to hear/read folks talking about cooking, and if it's a recipe I was curious enough about to investigate the comments, so much the better. I get much more annoyed when someone writes in looking for a particular ingredient, say, and someone else responds, "That stuff is awful. Yecch. I hate it." What does THAT add?

    1 Reply
    1. re: lemons

      I agree -- I'm a chronic substituter, so I like reading about how other people have tweaked the recipe and what worked and didn't. Those types of comments often give me ideas about how to use what I have in my pantry in the dish. (But yes, it's silly when they conclude that the RECIPE is awful and not just what they did to it.)

    2. I think experienced home cooks will make subs for a variety of reasons - diet, allergies, availability, past experience etc. I read CH Cookbook of the Month threads every month and I'm always interested to see how some posters made a recipe "fit" their requirements. Does it indicate whether the original recipe is solid? Not necessarily, but I still think the information is valuable.

      I agree that subbing chocolate for cabbage is ridiculous, and some of the subs I've read on epi and myrecipes.com make me wonder what the cook was thinking - but the knowledge that one could sub say kale for cabbage in a recipe, that might prove useful - or noting the subs made in a traditional recipe so it's gluten free - and reporting that it was successful - that kind of information is useful to people who eat gf and the friends/family who cook for them.

      1. i saw a recipe for dorie greenspan cornbread once that looked great. one poster didn't have cornmeal, so used jiffy muffin mix. used half the butter, eliminated the sugar. her bread was disgusting and she threw it in the trash. "i will never make this again." lmao, since she didn't make the greenspan version... um, which i actually did and was perfect and delicious!

        i tweak stuff all the time, but that woman should not have been let near an oven or the internet, lol.

        3 Replies
        1. re: hotoynoodle

          I get such a kick out of the ones who do this, completely change a recipe and then complain that it never came out right. I also think most people know to not take those kinds of comments seriously (or I hope). There is a difference between posting something along the lines of "I didnt' have any curry powder so I used a dab of curry paste and it still came out fantastic !! " and what you've described. Those are helpful suggestions sometimes when your cupboard is a little bare. Same goes for suggestions for say, toasting the quinoa or something, before proceeding to the recipe.

          But if you've followed the recipe to a "t" and still it flops..... it's ok to post that. I'd make sure though that it wasn't the fault of my ingredients first (as was my recent experience with Ina Garten's blueberry coffee cake; old baking powder + frozen blueberries = pudding, not cake)

          1. re: im_nomad

            Probably more due to the baking powder than the blueberries, but they probably didn't help much.

          2. re: hotoynoodle

            I think those that make such changes are completely unaware of how their changes will make the end product so unlike the original recipe. As im_nomad said, substituting curry paste for curry powder is quite different than a wholesale change of the recipe. I've often found good hints from comments like "Next time I'll use less heavy cream - it just didn't need all that liquid, and it diluted the overall flavor" or "recipe calls for apple juice; way too bland" helpful in my planning on how to make the dish for myself (I would then cut back on the heavy cream by half and use fresh apple cider, if I had it, and maybe reducing it to add more intense flavor).

          3. I agree with you. It seems like most of the time the changes range from "this won't really taste like the actual recipe" to "this isn't even the same freaking recipe any more". If they want to post a recipe that includes their changes, they should do that.

            1. I read reviews to research the dish I want to make. It is interesting to see what has and has not worked for other people. At most, I skim substitution-rich entries to avoid the junk, like the chocolate chips for cabbage (yuck!!)...

              For the same reason, I look up as many other recipes for that dish that are available; gives me a better idea for proportions or what ingredients are crucial.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Cookiephage

                (of course that was a joke about the chocolate chips) Your suggestion, to read a number of recipes for something, let's say coq au vin, is valuable to understanding a recipe. And helpful in making something so forgiving as pot roast. I think it's all more tricky in baking, chemistry.

              2. I know what you are saying...especially when they RATE a recipe based on their changes. Sites should have a box to mark for "changed recipe", that is not inclusive to the overall rating.

                1 Reply
                1. re: thirtysomething

                  I agree. How can you rate a recipe if you did not follow the recipe?

                  Now, I have found some helpful tips in comments. Those usually come froj excellent cooks who tried the recipe and then did something a little different which made the recipe better (for their home).

                  I am fine with rates of say 3 stars on a recipe and then notes of changes made so that it worked better for the cook who did not find the dish extra great the first time but felt it had potential.

                  Those kinds of rates/comments are rare though. Yes. More often I see someone change them all up and then say they turned out bad which is not fair to the cook or chef who poasted.

                2. Mostly I am amused by the reviewers that completely change the recipe. I particularly enjoy the use of "just as good" to describe their results, when I'm not sure how they know without having tried the original. As in...I made the moroccan chicken, but didn't have olives or preserved lemons, so used canned tomatoes, left out the cinnamon, and added oregano and it was (wait for it) "just as good". Or the equally not helpful scenerio followed by, "and it was terrible." My mom and I will sometimes call each other to laugh at particularly outrageous examples. As a general rule, I only try to review recipes if I have followed them fairly closely, though sometimes I still will if I have used a common time saving step (eg substituting canned beans for dried) and still been pleased with the results.
                  Another irritation with the ratings and reviews is that there is significant grade inflation with the 4 fork rating system. I think 4 forks should be saved for something exceptional. I think Epicurious originally said 4 forks was "beyond compare," which most 4 fork recipes are not. Having said that, maybe it's just a problem with the system being too simplified. How do you rate a recipe that is super easy and fast with tasty results that makes a perfect weekday-after-work meal, but you probably wouldn't make for company? There are a number of recipes in my rotation that I think are good for after work, but wouldn't give 4 stars.
                  Overall though, I do find comments helpful, and generally read the reviews for tips. I also tend not to make things that uniformly get poor ratings.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mountaincachers

                    The comments there are pretty much useless, I've found, except to weed out the real misses. But such a very high percentage of the reviews mention sometimes-major alterations that I wonder how anyone could say they're really reviews of the same dish. I don't mean to be negative, but I've noticed many of those substitutions involve convenience ingredients that I'd be unlikely to use with an Epicurious recipe. (I'm thinking of one hilarious example of a dish I can't recall where a good number of the reviews said was even better with the addition of ranch dressing mix -- which is something I'm not at all constitutionally opposed to, by the way).

                    1. re: mountaincachers

                      You make a good point about the rating system, it's almost useless or, at best, a bit clumsy.

                    2. more common on blog sites are posters who simply get all excited by the pictures. some bloggers have outstanding food photography skills and the finished dishes look gorgeous. that's no indication of how the thing actually tastes or how the recipe executes.

                      bloggers can also be very sloppy about transposing and editing. i go nuts scrolling through dozens of posts to make sure i'm not missing any corrections, like it should be 1 tablespoon of baking powder, not 1 tsp. stuff like that can be make-or-break on baked items.

                      1. Boy, this is a topic close to my heart as just a few days ago I posted the same type of comment on another thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/665045.

                        1. I find it helpful if there are consistent suggestions to modify the recipe (like reducing an ingredient or adding something that would be complementary). Especially, if it has a year or so accumulation of comments. I also get a laugh out of some of the subs and alterations. OTOH, I do find some of the subs to be useful as I have a small pantry and can't keep a lot on hand. I think when I review the reviews I tend to take what I want from it and leave or ignore what is not applicable.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                            Yes, it is annoying when people change the whole recipe and then report on how awful it was. But I agree the sometimes comments about "too much salt" or "too much sugar" are helpful, as Tracy L said, particularly when many people have said the same thing.

                            For example, for the past 2 years I have made an Epicurious Apple-Matzoh Kugel for Passover. It gets excellent reviews but from the 1st time I tried it, I reduced the amount of sugar based on the reviews. It is amazing, but very sweet, so I cannot imagine it having (or needing)any more sugar.

                            That's about the extent of changes that I make to a recipe when I make it for the 1st time.

                          2. I like Cook to Bang. Supposed recipes to get you 'lucky'. http://cooktobang.com/

                            1 Reply
                            1. I too belong to several on-line recipe sites, and always read the reviews of any recipe I even consider making.

                              I agree, it is hard to rate/review a recipe if you have made significant changes to the original.
                              Small changes, like using leeks in potato soup instead of onions, or using less butter, or using mild cheddar cheese instead of sharp, are fine. We get it.

                              But significant changes like adding 4, 5, or 6 extra ingredients to a recipe, or replacing one ingredient with an entirely different one (such as your "I hate cabbage so I used chocolate chips instead" example - priceless!), leaves the reviewer no right to review or rate said recipe.

                              The only way they should even log on and say anything is to forewarn the rest of us if something sent wrong, giving us a heads-up of what NOT to do, such as "I made this recipe but omitted all the oil and butter for health reasons, and it was unsuccessful - don't do it".

                              Then, of course, you have the problem of the star rating system. If someone makes it with considerable adjustments, ruins it, then rates it low, is that really fair to the original poster?
                              I don't think it is.

                              1. My favorite are people who post a review of the recipe, but haven't attempted to make it in any form at all.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Firegoat

                                  Yep, I know what you mean.

                                  I spend a lot of time looking at recipe reviews, and there have been a lot of recipes I've seen that are rated only by folks that say "Wow, that looks great! Can't wait to try it!"

                                  And I think, Ok then, get back to us when you have done so.

                                  1. re: aces551

                                    I typically see the opposite .... "YECH! WHO WOULD EVER WANT TO MAKE THAT SORTA GARBAGE!?!?!?!" type of reviews.