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It's not me, it's you: Mistakes in Recipes

Have you ever had a recipe that went wrong that wasn't your fault, because there was actually a mistake in the cookbook? Or have you ever seen a cookbook with a ridiculous spelling error or incorrect "fact"? I've seen a few...

Everyday Indian by Bal Arneson had a couple of pretty bad mistakes in it (pretty tasty food, though, good for your first few indian dishes).
1. A chicken recipe that said to bake the chicken under foil for 25 minutes then remove the foil and bake for another 5-8 minutes. I followed her instructions exactly... and the chicken was still almost raw! I had to put it in for another 20 minutes at least!
2. A recipe entitled " Green peas with paneer and potatoes" looked very tasty, so I spent an hour making some homemade paneer (cheese) to go in it. Then, when I got to the recipe (silly me, I didn't read it first) I realized that there was ABSOLUTELY NO PANEER mentioned anywhere else in the recipe besides the title. I put it it anyway...
3. A recipe for kidney bean and yam stew called for "cubed" yams. They did not cook in the suggested time. They did not cook in twice the time. When we went to eat it, they were still crunchy. She clearly meant "diced" yams. The same error is actually present in another recipe using yams but by then I had leaned my lesson...
4. A cookie recipe in the same book said it would make 10-12 cookies. I decided to make it, following the proportions given in the recipe exactly. I should have realized something was wrong when I was unable to incorporate all the nuts and chocolate chips because there was so much dough it was going to fall out ofthe bowl if I stirred it too much! It ended up FILLING 2 COOKIE TINS!!! The author's cookies must have been the size of dinner plates!!!
Other than that, though, the food is pretty good. I still like the cookbook...

There is also that infamous australian pasta book that was recalled because one recipe said to season the pasta with "salt and freshly ground black people". I can't imagine how that one made it past the editors...

I have more examples, I just can't think of them at the moment. (Subconsciously supressing them, perhaps?)

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  1. I think you need to use common sense when you follow a recipe. Number one, always read it through before starting. Many of the Food Network recipes are not prepared the same way they are prepared on the show, so you sort of have to remember, or read the reviews. Mistakes do get by those editing the books.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Mother of four

      Yeah, unfortunately they do... However, it's still kind of bizarre sometimes, especially when it seems like nobody has bothered to test the recipes to make sure they are correct.

      1. re: LePetitChefCanadien

        One of the scenes that surprised me in watching "Julie and Julia" was Julia and her collaborator's encounter with an established cookbook author - if memory serves, Irma Rombauer. In the course of the conversation, that author laughed off Julia's efforts in testing and perfecting all of her own cookbook's recipes, saying something to the effect that if she had to actually MAKE the recipes in her book, she'd never have finished it. I suspect that many recipes are never made. I won a prize in a recipe contest from a local supermarket. The objective was to use frozen foods in an original recipe so I made up a cream soup recipe using vegetables frozen in cheese sauce. I never actually made it.

        Now, you'd assume that Cook's Illustrated recipes would be spot-on, considering their extensive tweaking and testing. I subscribed for many years and learned a lot but didn't actually make very many of the recipes. So wouldn't you know, the first one I tried, for a batter-type fruit cobbler, came out weirdly, with a lot of butter floating on top of a meager pancake covering the fruit. The next issue ran a correction of the ingredient amounts, which called for 1/4 cup of several ingredients, each of which should have been 3/4 cup.

    2. "freshly ground black people"

      Thanks for the afternoon coffee snort.

      1 Reply
      1. re: inaplasticcup

        Thanks for the biggest laugh of my day. I hate that autofill...

      2. accidents in recipes are probably common.
        we all know how many typos I have.
        proof read is a must

        1 Reply
        1. re: iL Divo

          Well, there's proofreading for spelling, and then there's the technical aspect of a recipe. If someone spells "butter" with one t, I'm sure I'll figure it out. But the difference between cubed and diced can make All the Difference between moderate success and total megafails of epic proportions. This is being submitted by the person who made bruschetta topping just a few short weeks back: one pulse too many and it became salsa! And on the strength of a cut size!

        2. I knew there were mistakes in the new Miette cookbook; the publisher is going to replace it when the new edition is out in Sept or Oct.

          I managed to get a list of corrections from Book Passage bookstore.

          Just made the chocolate Tomboy cake that is so beautiful, on the cover of the book.

          Since I now have a scale, I'm trying to bake using weights rather than cups, etc. The recipe for chocolate cake calls for 2 1/4 cups sugar, or 15 oz sugar. In the correction sheet, it calls for
          16 oz of sugar, instead. The weight measurement of sugar is MUCH more than the cup measurement. I was a little worried about so much sugar but the cake tastes fine, not too sweet. I think it would have tasted bad if I had used the cup measurement.

          1 Reply
          1. re: walker

            A cup of white sugar is generally considered to be 7 ounces by weight, so 2-1/4 c is 15-3/4 ounces. It seems odd that the correction would round up by a quarter of an ounce, but I guess it's only a teaspoon or so. How do you calculate that 16 oz is MUCH more than 2-1/4 c?

          2. I've got a Moroccan cookbook that has some great ideas, but most of the recipes have either typos or actual errors. One in particular called for roasting parsnips for 20 minutes.Yummy, parsnip flavored rocks. If I didn't know something about cooking, I would have given up on this book, but I just review each recipe carefully, then alter it if necessary to make it work.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Isolda

              I don't see the problem in roasting parsnips for 20 minutes??

              1. re: greedygirl

                Maybe it has to do with the temperature?...

            2. Your examples are why recipes should tell you what to look for, not just give a time. Chicken will take longer to bake if it starts from a really cold fridge vs room temp, or if you put it in a heavier pan than the recipe developer used, or your oven is a little different from theirs.

              Anything calling for cubes should state the desired size. Brunoise is still a cube shape, just a very tiny one.

              5 Replies
              1. re: babette feasts

                Yeah, I agree. That chicken recipe didn't even specify what kind of pan or what size so I had no idea what kind of pan to use. Mine was probably too heavy...

                1. re: LePetitChefCanadien

                  I suspect your chicken breast was also huge - a "Jayne Mansfield" as one Chowhound amusingly calls them. The breasts I normally buy would cook in the oven in half an hour, no problem.

                  1. re: greedygirl

                    Actually, the chicken was cut into "bite-sized" pieces, as per the recipe. Again, the directions were not quite specific enough.

                    1. re: LePetitChefCanadien

                      Wow. 30 minutes is normally long enough for bite sized chicken pieces, pretty much any way you stretch 'bite sized.' I'm assuming the chicken wasn't frozen when you started and the oven was preheated. You never mentioned the oven temp (that I saw), but unless it was quite low (below 300 or lower), the only explanation I can think of was that a thick, heavy pan with a reasonably high rim provided a lot of insulation to the chicken.

                2. re: babette feasts

                  There's also the phenomenon of people using too little or too much salt because they use a different kind of salt than the author does and the author gives measurements in volume rather than weight. This alone is responsible for thousands of scathing cookbook reviews on Amazon.

                  I'd say roughly half the recipe errors I've seen are real errors (I suspect many of which are the result of scaling a recipe up or down before print - the same kind of thing has given NASA problems), and half are not exactly 'errors' but the author's assumptions that go unnoticed by readers.

                3. On a 'Raymond' years ago, Doris purposely gave her daughter-in-law a mislabeled bottle of spice to ensure that she would not be able to replicate Raymond's favorite mom-made sauce. I always thought it a humorous anecdote, one which I would share with my friends when discussing horrifying mother-in-law stories. I never imagined it could have a basis in reality, though. Five years ago I asked a friend for her delicious no-bake cheesecake recipe. She very graciously wrote it out and gave it to me. I made it and it was completey and horribly runny. I just figured that maybe I was distracted when making it, and tried again. Once again, utter failure. I finally called a pastry chef friend and ran through the recipe with him. He laughed and said that she left out about 8 oz. cream cheese. Mistake? I don't think so.

                  1. Just this morning I noted in another thread an error in the 1975 "Joy of Cooking" --
                    a tuna casserole -- the kind with 2 cups cooked noodles, 1 can tuna, and condensed soup. But it specifies 1 cup condensed cream of mushroom and no other liquid!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: blue room

                      Those tuna casserole proportions don't sound too far off to me. In an application like that condensed soup is not diluted to soup consistency. But that's something which I'd mix and then judge for myself whether it needs any further addition.

                    2. I have an ethnic cookbook in which the author tells of visiting the local markets as a child with her mother - and learning that you can tell which are the fresh eggs because 'they float'. Oddly the actual recipes are fine, but I do wonder about the lack of knowledge behind them.

                      2 Replies
                      1. In somewhat the same vein: cookbooks calling for "five or less ingredients." But then you read through the recipe, and it's completely component driven, e.g. 2 c. Bernaise, one fully cooked yankee pot roast, plus a pan of roasted vegies. So. :)

                        1. The lamb ragu recipe from Urban Italian says to add half a cup of red wine to a pot full of meat and vegetables and then to cook it all off. The recipe helpfully notes that this should take about ten minutes.

                          In reality, it took more than forty minutes and turned everything purple in the process (the sauce was much darker than the picture in the book). I knew this was a lot of wine, but I didn't realize just how much wine it was until after adding it to the pot full of meat and vegetables.

                          Months later, I discovered that the recipe should read "half a cup" instead of "a cup and a half".

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: lavaca

                            LOL at this one, lavaca. I followed a recipe once for eggs poached in red wine and didn't really stop to think about the visual until about halfway through. They were decidely unappetizing. And there wasn't a thing wrong with the recipe itself; it was just the whole idea. At the time, though, it was the most gooooormett thing I'd ever, ever seen (and god bless it, I think it was seriously from the Cosmo Girl cookbook, by Helen Gurley Brown who was always known so well for her kitchen skills, wasn't she? :) and I had to try it. Score one for the kitchen learning on the subject of initial concepts just being wrong.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              I ordered that at a Les Halles restaurant here (Oeufs a la Meurette) once (I have an ancient French tea towel with the recipe for it on it and it always intrigued me) and never want to see it anywhere near me again. That is one misbegotten dish.

                            2. re: lavaca

                              You do realise you've put the right amount of wine (half a cup) in your opening sentence? I was thinking that half a cup of wine sounded about right!

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                I guess I corrected it twice, once for my sake and once for Andrew Carmellini's.

                              2. re: lavaca

                                I don't follow - why shouldn't half a cup cook down in 10 minutes?

                                Or did you make a mistake and really mean to write 'a cup and half' (in the first sentence, as you did in the last)?

                              3. When I was in college, my roommate and I made do on $15/week for food. One night we decided to make chicken livers because it was so cheap. We picked out a recipe from the NY Times Natural Foods Cookbook. We chose to do the "Luscious Chicken Liver" recipe. Being as new as possible to cooking, we believed that if you see it in a printed recipe, well, that's the way to do it. It called for 1 lb livers, and, since I still have that ancient cookbook (in a less old, but still unrevised version), I can quote what else:
                                1 tbls dry mustard
                                1 tbls curry powder
                                1 tbls ground ginger
                                1 tbls garlic powder
                                1 tbls sea salt
                                Results were as you can imagine. In some respects, it was a blessing in disguise. I resolved to learn how to cook on my own and not use recipes at all. It was many, many years before I went back to trying recipes, and even now I never follow one verbatim.

                                1. I've got one.

                                  My sister forced me to borrow her bread machine because she wasn't using it.

                                  Just so happens that I was cooking a corned beef and wanted to make a rye bread.

                                  Found a recipe online and followed it exactly and made...rye pebbles.

                                  I figured I must have done something wrong so I tried again and made more pebbles.

                                  That damned bread maker is now firmly ensconced on the bottom shelf in the back of my pantry and may never again see the light of day.

                                  1. Then there are operator errors when things aren't spelled out. Don't know if it's true, but Peg Bracken once wrote she ended up with a stew that should have been a clam cobbler. The recipe neglected to tell her to drain the canned clams before adding them. ;-)

                                    1. Paula Dean's recipe for a chocolate pecan pie with bourbon has a cooking time of about 25 minutes but needs about 45 minutes and nearly every critique mentions the extra cooking time, and the recipe needs changing up quite a bit too. It still gets lots of thumbs up from those who had to change the cooking time and adjust ingredient quantities which means it's not really a good recipe.

                                      1. Diced is defined as small cubes.

                                        What was the yam time? What size were your cubes?

                                        I can steam sweet potato in inch thick slices in 15-20 minutes.

                                        In this cook channel version, she uses 'diced', cooking them till tender in 15 minutes. Though the picture show something closer to 1" cubes. Still 15 minutes seems long enough. Still one comment complains about the time.

                                        Usually I look to recipes for novel combinations of ingredients, and let my experience guide me with the cooking details.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: paulj

                                          I've tried the recipe since wiith many different sized cubes. It always takes longer than the recipe indicates, regardless of which pot I use. I have also tried adjusting the temperatures. It has always taken me longer than the recipe indicated. I think the problem is the amount of liquid in the recipe. I've gotten it down pretty close to her time but it always seems to need at least ten minutes extra.

                                        2. I've been running across inaccurate cooking times lately. Not like "oven temps can vary a bit", but way off.
                                          I made a cauliflower gratin from Ina Garten's recipe and the cooking temp was too low, the time was too short, and the amount of cheese sauce was too little. Not usual for her.

                                          1. Do you remember the episode of "Everyone Loves Raymond" where Debra asks her mother-in-law (MIL) for her spaghetti sauce recipe? MIL gives it to poor wifey, but when wifey makes it for Raymond it just tastes off - and wifey can't figure out why. According to Raymond the written recipe looks right - and Raymond and Deb come to the conclusion that obviously Deb can't cook as well as Ray's mom. Until...wifey discovers that the oregano that MIL so gracefully provided to her to make the sauce was actually tarragon (or some other spice) - MIL purposely mislabled the jar to ensure that the sauce would never equal her own. Ha ha, very funny - but wouldn't happen in real life, right? I asked a friend of mine for her "stupid easy" (her words) cheesecake recipe. My friend so graciously gave me the recipe - but when I made the batter something just didn't look right, and when I baked it it was completely watery and totally fell apart. Turns out this alleged 'friend' left out one of the vital ingredients - the second container of cream cheese - needed for the cake. Oops. I'm sure it was an accident, right?