RE: OT: Tech writers and cookbooks

Subject: RE: OT: Tech writers and cookbooks
From: "Deborah Snavely" <dsnavely -at- Aurigin -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 11:58:38 -0800

Steve Shepard asks:

>For example, beginning with a list of ingredients is great, but often
>aren't in any order that makes sense. And if the prep and cooking
>instructions are numbered, they usually include several steps, not one
at a
>time. When the instructions are in prose, I find I often have to read
>paragraph two or three times to figure out what I am actually supposed
>do. And when I am told "do this, but not that" I am never told "why"
>it in a plastic or ceramic bowl, not glass).
>From the point of view of a tech writer, what would be a better way to
>present this kind of information.
>I am looking for ideas as I document (surprise) my recipes and I don't
>to fall into the same trap.

There's cookbooks and there's cookbooks. My treasured 1950s Betty
Crocker groups the list of ingredients in the order in which you mix
them, in a right-column list with a contrasting colored and italicized
action to the left that's linked graphically to a brace that idenfies
the ingredients. It's a pretty technical treatment of this procedural
material. Lessee, that description doesn't do it justice. Here goes an
ASCII attempt (warning: this is a MADE-UP RECIPE, no results
/ 2 eggs
BEAT WELL------------ { 1 c sugar
\ 1 t vanilla
\1/2 c softened butter
/ 2 c flour
BLEND IN------------- { 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
\ 1/2 t baking powder
\1/4 t salt

Roll dough into 2" cylinder, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate one
hour. Cut into 1/2" slices and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake
10-12 minutes @ 425 degrees. Makes 4 dozen cookies.
(Disclaimer: the above recipe is FICTION. I've never cooked it, made it
up as I typed. It might work, but consider it a hypothesis and not a
theory or a law.)

Having said that, the above cookbook also presents major educational
material at the front of the book and at the start of each section, that
define terminology, give background info, and so on, (general throughout
the book, and specific to each section such as baking, roasting meats,
substitutions, etc.).

For your own purposes, I recommend finding out some of the kitchen
chemistry involved as background knowledge. For example, the reason for
no metal bowls may have to do with the chemistry of the rise
methodology: acid-based quickbreads (buttermilk pancakes, for instance!)
may taste "off" if they pick up a tang of iron or aluminum from a metal
bowl. Vinegar, lemon juice...acetic acid is a "weak" acid, but it's
still an acid. So's the stuff in sour cream and buttermilk and yoghurt
and kefir, though I don't know whether that's lactic acid or acetic or a

Many of my non-edible herbal recipes and organic dyestuff recipes
require ceramic or glass containers because anything else is reactive.
(Why do you think chemists use glass/pyrex/quartz for their lab
glassware?) If you can't speculate why such a requirement (plastic or
glass dish) is in a recipe, do some research. Copper bowls are
traditionally used to whisk eggs by hand because they don't (chemically)
"flatten" the eggs. Dunno if they actually encourage whipping up light
and fluffy.

Deborah Snavely
Document Architect, Technical Publications,
Aurigin Systems, Inc.

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