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giving a recipe and recipient can't make it right

My co-worker loves my shortbread recipe and asked me for it. I wrote it down listing ingredients, prep method, cooking time and so on and she came in next day and said it didn't work. So I went through the method with her, rub fat into flour etc etc and press into pan she said she did this. So she made it again, and again, and again (maybe a dozen times) and still they were nothing like mine she said and that she had trashed them.

I have to say I got mighty fed up going through the recipe with her, trying to explain what the mixture would look and feel like, oven temperature and wondering what on earth she could be doing wrong.

Until last week, she told me of yet another aborted try and then said - does it matter if I melted the butter in the microwave? I can't tell you how many times I had told her softened butter. It didn't occur to me she would melt it.

Ever had a similar thing happen?

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  1. Hmm. Nope. But makes me wonder if your coworker uses allrecipes and makes those "I didn't have butter so I used cream cheese" reviews. ;)

    5 Replies
    1. re: shanagain

      Or uses cake flour instead of all-purpose. When I give out baking recipes I always specify the brand/type of flour and explain "if you use a different flour, please don't be mad at me when they don't taste the same"

      1. re: shanagain

        But makes me wonder if your coworker uses allrecipes and makes those "I didn't have butter so I used cream cheese" reviews. ;)

        LOL! I was just thinking the same thing. Just last week DW & I were laughing at a review on that site for Crab Stuffed Mushroom caps, where one reviewer gave it 4 stars. She then said she added onions, red bell peppers, celery, and jalapeno peppers ...none of which were in the recipe. Oh, and she also left out the mushrooms.

        1. re: al b. darned

          Sounds like that woman was under-rating herself. She basically made up a whole new recipe (if she left out the mushrooms, what did she stuff? the bell peppers?) and didn't give herself credit for it.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            She said she made a "crab bake." Therefore she did not, in fact, make "crab stuffed mushroom caps", which was the recipe. She should not have posted a review for a recipe which she did not make. It may have turned out good, and maybe she should have submitted it as a new recipe. At least she gave it a decent rating, unlike other reviews I have seen, where they changed a recipe so much it was unrecognizable, and then gave in only 1 star.

            1. re: al b. darned

              I'm just going to share this idea now, as it's clear I'm not going to act on it (as I should, but dammit, I've just committed to life-long lower carb): a GREAT food blog idea would be to go through allrecipes and make the recipe as-written, then with one of the low-star-rating substitution "recipes."

              For a humorous author, this really could be gold.

      2. funny, I had a friend in college that would take my recipe - change important things, then tell everyone it was my recipe at a gathering. I wanted to jump in and say "NO, that's not what I gave you!" , particularly when hers was NOT good! She did it all the time - not that I was a great cook back in college but she would really not respect the combo of ingredients and change them out rediculously!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: lexpatti

          A similar, weird thing happened recently. A friend called to ask for my brownie recipe to take to an annual gathering that I was missing out on this year.

          Another friend tells me after the event that as friend number #1 was sharing the brownies, she announced the recipe was mine, and laughed about how she had to call me to ask if canola oil was the same as vegetable oil while she was baking them. That's true, she did call me and ask that question, not mentioning what she was making. But my brownies sure as hell don't have any oil of any kind in them...so...what the heck?

          I don't worry about it though, if people taste a brownie made from canola oil and compare it to MY brownies thinking it's the same recipe, it will just make me look like a magician :-)

        2. Yes. I even had someone accuse me of leaving out an important ingredient, so her version wouldn't be as good as mine. Which completely insulted me. It is flattering to be asked for a recipe. Most people are just lousy cooks.

          3 Replies
          1. re: jeanmarieok

            I've never had it happen to me, but I did have a fellow I worked for, who was an amazing cook, give me recipes with an ingredient or two missing every time he would give me one. I don't know that I have ever had issues with any recipe, but his never tasted like they did when he made them. I felt bad for a while for thinking he was tricking me until his wife told me to never trusts what he gives out b/c he wants to write a cookbook one day and doesn't want others to have the real recipes.

            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

              Wow. If that's the case, it's too bad he didn't "man up" and just tell you that himself.

              1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                Mom's beloved sister and niece used to get upset when their attempt at her butter cookies didn't turn out the same as Mom's.

                Mom wasn't purposely withholding info but after years of bruised feelings on both sides, my sister watched Mom bake and realized that Mom's in a hurry, she semi-melted her butter to "softeni" it before creaming .

                She tipped off our cousin who is now a happy baker, and we all had a few relieved laughs.

            2. My mom makes great ginger cookies. Chewy and full of flavor. She gladly gives the recipe out to people, gives advice but no one seems to be able to make them as good as her's. I have yet to give it a go, neither has my SIL. But since my 1 yr old nephew fell in love with them over Xmas I guess one of us should. :)

              2 Replies
              1. re: viperlush

                That's the beauty of cooking -- same recipe, different cooks, comes out different!

                1. re: viperlush

                  Same goes for some of my mother's recipes. Thing is though, a lot of the stuff that she makes, she makes without a recipe to begin with.

                  Even still, I can never get a few things to taste as good as she makes them. I guess there's just magic in a mother's hands :)

                2. My Mom loves my Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies, and always says hers don't come out the same way. Turned out she wasn't leveling off the flour(or anything), had old flimsy cookie sheets... better measurements, better cookie sheets and an oven thermometer and her cookies are a lot closer to mine :)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: maplesugar

                    Or maybe she just wanted to get you to make 'em for her ;)

                    1. re: visciole

                      Sorry I didnt see this til now. Mom & I live about 2500 miles apart so unless I fedex them I only get to make them for her about once/twice a year so it's good she's able to make them herself once & awhile :)

                  2. I've become convinced that......... just as some people are 'tone deaf' (and I'm one of them) there are people who are just plain 'cooking deaf'. In most cases it can be overcome by experience, but they do some pretty amazing things in the process. You'd think the totally different textures of softened and melted butter would be a clue to most people, though it's likely that a total lack of experience is the major culprit here. Me............ if I know I don't really know what I'm doing, I follow the recipe EXACTLY.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Midlife

                      I think you're right about that. Magic or technique or a combo, mad skills and intuition make a big difference.

                      1. re: Midlife

                        You'd think the totally different textures of softened and melted butter would be a clue to most people...

                        I respectfully disagree. I have a friend who is a Certified Executive Chef. He told me, "It's ok to cook by ear but always bake by the book." I didn't really know what he meant until I watched Alton Brown learned the differences. They didn't teach that in Home Economics classes in my school system, I dare say most school systems didn't/don't, either. They taught you how to cream the butter and sugar together, and how to melt butter before adding it to a recipe, but didn't explain why the two weren't interchangeable. Most people think "butter is butter."

                      2. A family member I love dearly is one of these cooks. I could never understand, until I was over at her house when she started in on a recipe for which she didn't have enough of one VITAL ingredient. She simply shrugged her shoulders and went ahead with about half of what she needed -- and then couldn't understand afterwards why the product didn't taste "the same."

                        I'm convinced some people simply don't understand that some recipes are actually chemistry and physics, especially when it comes to things such as baked goods or candy.

                        1. Made the greatest pie this past summer - and I'll share:

                          Pre-bake a pie shell, toss in toasted pecans, almonds, macadamias, whatever on the bottom. Cream one 8-ounce pkg very soft cream cheese, whip in a half cup of XXX sugar. Add in a little vanilla/almond/whatever. Beat 1 cup of cream until stiff, fold in. Pile into crust and top with seasonal fruit.

                          I dearly love my future sister-in-law, but when she called me in tears trying to replicate this pie I felt so helpless! She tried to pre-bake the piecrust with the nuts already there. Burnt nuts. She used store-bought 'whipped' cream cheese, cold out of the fridge. Didn't have powdered sugar, used regular.

                          I am so grateful that I had a pre-baked pie shell ready on the counter for another dessert, and got cracking. Her dinner was a success, and we've gotten much closer since then, cooking so many things together, to both or our benefit.

                          1. I tihnk that a lot of it has to do with specific ingredients. Land O' Lakes butter is of a different quality than your supermarket brand. If you are making a butter cookie the two will give a very different flavor and texture. The same is true for different brands of flour. Some flours have igher protein content and are suitable for different applications.

                            Then there are people who just shouldn't cook......

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jpc8015

                              For those recipes where it's critical, I usually put a note on the bottom: "If you do not follow this recipe exactly as written, using the ingrediants specified, it will not turn out correctly. Ask me how i know."

                            2. Mrs Jfood has this happen all the time with recipes her beloved husband tries t make. :-))

                              Sometime "a smidge" just ain't what it used to be.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jfood

                                Insert stupid sideways smiley face...

                                What about a touch, or a little?

                              2. this is one of the big reasons that i stopped giving out recipes

                                oh i didnt have butter so i used olive oil- in a white cake, or a frosting

                                oh i didnt have fresh basil so i used dried thyme in a sauce meant for a pizza

                                oh i didnt have boned chicken thighs so i used boneless chicken cutlets, for a crockpot cuban chicken dish

                                and then they complain abt it not tasting right


                                substitutions in a recipe, are allowed ONLY when yovue already made the recipe exactly according to direction once, exactly, and if i give u a recipe and u dont follow it, youre why it turned out gross, not me, im not raymonds mother on everybody loves raymond lying about ingredients

                                ok, im done now

                                this is a major pet peeve for me

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: shoelace

                                  I love looking at recipe reviews online and seeing negative reviews from people who have completely changed a recipe:

                                  "I thought steak Oscar looked good but we don't eat much red meat so I used a boneless chicken breast. And Dungenesse crab is so expensive so I substituted immitation 'Krab'. Asparagus isn't in season so I threw in some canned green beans.The steps to make hollandaise looked a bit initmidating so instead I just used some ranch dressing. This was the most disgusting dinner ever. I will never trust any recipe from Ina Garden ever again."

                                  Nothing irritates me more than this sort of bastardization of a recipe only to have the person screwing it up to get all indignant.

                                  1. re: jpc8015

                                    I totally agree with you, jpc. I just don't get this. If you don't follow a recipe, how can you write a review of that recipe? Makes me scratch my head in wonder.

                                    1. re: hey

                                      I've always puzzled over those reviews, too. They also make the rating systems for online recipes totally useless (which they are anyway, IMHO).

                                    2. re: jpc8015

                                      Word. The ingredients on the recipe are there for a REASON. If you don't eat something in a recipe or an ingredient is too expensive or you don't think you can handle certain instructions, don't make the recipe. Go to one of those sites where you can plug in what you do have and get a recipe from there.

                                      1. re: jpc8015

                                        Do people actually do that? How is it that we are all smart enough to understand that they are so stupid?

                                    3. When people ask me for recipes, i can't help them. I very rarely follow a recipe, and when i do if i'm not baking I can't resist messing with it, and I don't write anything down, so it's nearly all stream-of-consciousness, and usually it's pretty good. But I don't have enough memory to remember everything that came to me when I was 'in the moment', so I may be thought of as a recipe snob, but I really didnt have one.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: EWSflash

                                        This is me. My MIL is a "measure, stress, measure again, make sure you have the exact brand name ingredient" assembler. She invariably asks me for a recipe. I will give her the recipe and a list of changes ... which I don't have exact measurements for! The dish doesn't turn out so she asks for my critique ... my husband laughs and explains that there really is no set in stone recipe ... it's an endless cycle. She still asks me for recipes, I still share. When will I learn?!

                                      2. I have a sister in law who couldn't cook her way out of a waffle house. She always asks me for the recipe for invariably whatever is the most complex dish I've made for a meal. I simply give it to her and say good luck.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Scrapironchef

                                          At least you have a recipe to give her. My SIL is the undiagnosed queen of ADHD, asks me for recipes, I can't give her one because there isn't one, and she probably thinks I'm being an a-hole, but she comes from a long line of recipe-followers, several of whom are good cooks, but she's more task-oriented and doesn't really understand the "winging it" part. She just follows instructions, mostly.

                                        2. Wow, this post struck a nerve. My college roommate would ask me for my recipes, many of which I had tweaked to optimal conditions on my own. I would even run through the recipes with her to teach her when I was cooking. When it came time to host a party, she would brush me aside and say "I've got this, you can help if you want". Then, because she is incredibly cheap and did not like to have to buy ingredients for the next batch, she would decrease the amount of sugar, cinnamon, curry powder, meat, whatever it was, to maybe 1/6 of what it was supposed to be. Imagine a whole pot of "curry" made of 5lbs of boiled potatoes, half an ounce of pork, a teaspoon of curry powder, and a whole lot of salt (minus the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, bay leaf, other spices and hour of slow simmering I had shown her ... ) It inevitably came out horrifyingly, but then she would say that it was *my* recipe. Infuriating.

                                          I love sharing recipes and food know-how, and it feels rude not to when it is requested... but how to draw the line without seeming petty or competitive?

                                          1. I have a terrific cookie cutter collection I inherited from my grandmother and years ago made a date with a good friend to make cookies for her kids (I thought.) I offered to bring the dough (butter cookie recipe from the old Joy of Cooking.) She said no, and I was fine with that since it needs to be cold, and I was bringing the cookie cutters and the decorations. I dictated the recipe to her over the phone.

                                            When I got to her house discovered that she'd modified the recipe for her father-in-law who had heart disease - substituted margarine for the butter and sugar substitute for the sugar... of course it didn't work at all. She wound up mixing in some oatmeal and chocolate chips and wound up with some decent cookies, but I couldn't help wondering why she couldn't tell me before she didn't want to use the recipe.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: pasuga

                                              Because there are people who are cooks, and people who are not. Try as they might, there is always a communication gap, and a divide that can almost never be overcome. It's just the way it is. Hey, I can pick out a tune on a piano and I can read music, but I'm only going thnrough the motions. A musician, on the other hand.....

                                            2. This sounds like a joke, but seriously...i was giving a co-worker just an off hand account of how I had made stuffed peppers recently. (I think she had a bunch of green peppers in her garden) She tried it and said it was good, except "the rice came out crunchy".

                                              It NEVER occurred to me to tell her she had to cook the rice first.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: danna

                                                Oh, that's hysterical. But after years of seeing questions that I think are ridiculously obvious posted here on Chowhound, I've learned not to overestimate people's cooking savvy.

                                                1. re: danna

                                                  Though in fact stuffed veggies in the Middle East are often made without cooking the rice first, so I might have assumed that I wasn't supposed to cook the rice unless you said so. Ignorance is dangerous, but so is a little knowledge.

                                                2. I have issues with recipes, I almost NEVER follow them. I also can't bake (I like the instant gratification of cooking, baking takes too long!) But if I screwed up someone's recipe because I didn't follow their method, I wouldn't have the nerve to get mad about it or anything....

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                    It's not about nerve, it's about sense, and you obviously have plenty of good sense!

                                                    1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                      I'm exactly the same! have never followed a recipe in my life, and really don't care to; but I wouldn't expect my version to taste the same as the original, let alone get mad about it!

                                                    2. Smartie, I have this issue with a family member. I've gently tried to tell her that I generally make a recipe as written the first time I try it, then make changes if needed. But, she insists on futzing with recipes I recommend or give her, to the point that they basically don't resemble the original much at all. Then, she is surprised that they often don't turn out. This person isn't an experienced baker, and her cooking is hit or miss. I will say that sometimes she turns out some wonderful, flavorful dishes, mostly vegetable and grain based dishes, where improvisation is fairly easy. She has also given me some lovely family recipes that I cherish. But, some people just don't get that baking is chemistry and there are reasons they follow formulas, and are then befuddled at the results, which is just kind of sad.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: amyzan

                                                        it's all true amyzan, I mostly cook by feel even baking, but when my coworker asked for the recipe I actually weighed all my ingredients and wrote down my exact method and baking time for her while I was making a batch.

                                                        oh well.

                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                          Yes, but even by experience, baking will be more reliable than just making it up as one goes along, which is what your coworker and my family member do. I would bet there is a formula behind your successful shortbread, a formula that's informed by your experience. You "know" what looks and feels "right" and proportion and technique is behind that "right" feeling. Totally different than just throwing ingredients together without paying attention to learned instruction, either written or given in person.

                                                      2. This "accusation" is at least as old as I am (and geezerdom isn't that far away). I remember my Mom saying the same things..."I followed Aunt S's recipe for...but it just doesn't taste the same. I think she left something out." Or, "Mrs. H made...from the recipe I gave her, but hers doesn't taste as good as mine."

                                                        Actually, I suspected Mom of the same thing. She used to make the best crispy, crunchy oatmeal cookies. Her "secret recipe" was supposedly off the back of the oatmeal canister. But I make them using the same recipe and, while the resulting cookies are good, they don't have the same "crunch" as Mom's.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: al b. darned

                                                          There are things that you wouldn't think of that make a huge difference. Even using a different oven or baking sheet can make a difference in the texture of the finished product.

                                                          1. re: jpc8015

                                                            I make some meringue cookies that I have always doubled the recipe to use 6 eggs; have always beaten the eggs using the same bowl. Once I made a half recipe, I DID use a smaller bowl, but the dimensions/ratio was different such that I absolutely could not get them to the stiff consistency necessary. So this would be the kind of thing that might catch a different person who might use a different bowl than you do.

                                                          2. re: al b. darned

                                                            As for OP's initial point about softened/melted butter ... I tried a recipe recently for "Italian" shortbread that specified melted butter. Worked great. The texture was a bit different from British Isles traditional, but hardly "threw them out they were so bad" different. If this person didn't know the difference between softened butter and melted butter, I'm a little surprised they noticed the different texture in the finished product.

                                                            1. re: Meann

                                                              It's not that they "didn't know the difference between softened butter and melted butter," but more that they didn't know it mattered in the recipe. As I said in a previous post, many people think "butter is butter," whether it is solid, softened or melted.

                                                          3. When I was in graduate school, I lived in a huge house with 8 bedrooms (!) and a huge kitchen. Very ethnically/internationally diverse, which led to some great potluck dinners.

                                                            One of my housemates admired my clean and simple pesto, so I gave her the recipe. When she made it, she proudly brought me a plate. What the heck?!?! She didn't have any basil, so she just used frozen spinach instead.....

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: violin

                                                              Gooshy and bland, was it?
                                                              That's actually kind of cute in a multicultural household sort of way, I think. As long as everybody keeps a sense of humor they can all look back and laugh when their worldwide cooking skills improve.
                                                              My mother had some Canadian college roommates who had little cooking experience, from what she described. She said they boiled everything. Once she made french fries, which they hadn't had before and loved. One of them asked, "So you just get the water boiling real hard?"

                                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                                Where the heck were they from? French fries - aka chips - are a major Canadian food item, and have been since before my time.

                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                  Most Canadians don't call fries chips... we call them fries

                                                                  1. re: Blueicus

                                                                    My father was English, it was usually chips or French fries around our house, never just fries (I left Canada in 1974 so it may be a generational thing). Would still like to know what Canadians existed in the past at least 50 years who had never had French fried potatoes.

                                                                  2. re: buttertart

                                                                    Growing up in eastern Ontario in the 70s I bought "chips" (french fries in a cone or cardboard box) from a "chip truck" (for anyone who doesn't know what I mean - like an ice cream truck but with deep fryers on board instead of freezers) but at a fast food restaurant ordered "fries"... could be the British influence. Once I moved to Montreal it was always frits/fries. Maybe its a regional thing.

                                                                    1. re: maplesugar

                                                                      Yes, I was raised in London, Ont., SW Ont. so entirely possible. "Fries" was thought to be an American usage at least by my family.
                                                                      My bigger question to EWSflash remains unanswered: what manner of Canadians boiled everything and had never had French fried potatoes, since they are a usual concomitant to ordinary restaurant meals as well as fast food and have been since I was a kid?

                                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                                        She did mention it was her Mum's college roomate so perhaps - depending on her Mum's age- this was pre-McDonald's? ETA or before fried anything was commonplace? I'm no food historian but I expect it was introduced in Canada after the US and only in the last say 50 or so years?

                                                                        1. re: maplesugar

                                                                          It seems to me the first McD in London opened around 1970 - I had put myself around a lot of French fries before that!

                                                              2. My mistake as a new cook was to ask for recipes for dishes do not have recipes. My first was asking my dear Mother for the recipe for vegetable soup. Her answer was to get a soup bone and clean out the fridge. I was a flight attendant at the time. Wine, beer, good mustard and a tin of caviar do NOT make soup.
                                                                Great ingrediants but not what I wanted to make.
                                                                The other, a very proud moment for me, was my husband's Nana's "Veal Parm." It did not actually have veal or parm but after she passed I figured it out.
                                                                Proudly, I have the "Nana's Kitchen" sign in my house.
                                                                Some times you just have to listen and cook by taste.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: red_kc

                                                                  What annoys me when I do that kind of cooking is when something turns out particularly well, and I can't remember what I did *this* time that made it special. I guess I should mention that I rarely use recipes for day-to-day cooking, except of course for baking. Usually what I cook is some kind of integration of the foods that I have, what I want them to be like (light and fresh, rich and hearty, etc.) and the cooking methods I want to use (hot day, no oven; cold day, turn on the oven and roast everything in the veggie drawer).

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                    YES! And then it drives my husband crazy because he'll mention that he liked something and I won't remember how I did it.

                                                                  2. re: red_kc

                                                                    I sometimes have to tell people that I got a recipe from the Journal of Irreproducible Results and they can look it up online.

                                                                  3. I've had this experience with baked goods before (much like other posters have relayed..."I used margarine instead of butter", "I used olive oil instead of canola"), but I recently had this happen when I shared an "eggplant parm" recipe with my crazy boss. I brought in a pan of my modified eggplant parmasean for an office lunch, and it was a gigantic hit. My boss asked me for the recipe, which I carefully wrote out for her. She decided to make it for a dinner party, and came in the following Monday ranting and raving about how I'd ruined her dinner by giving her the wrong recipe. After a couple of days of listening to her tell and retell everyone in the office how I'd attempted to sabatoge her, couldn't write instructions properly, etc (like I said, she's really crazy), I finally asked if she had made any change to the recipe. It turns out that she a) didn't make the tomato sauce, instead using crushed tomatoes directly from the can b) didn't bake the eggplant after the quick pan fry, thereby essentially serving raw eggplant and c) used shredded low-fat monterey jack instead of fresh mozzarella. Oh, and she sprinkled "a good amount" of dried basil over the finished dish because the fresh was too expensive. I'm sure her guests were downright disgusted!!

                                                                    1 Reply