Re: Tech writers and cookbooks

Subject: Re: Tech writers and cookbooks
From: "Jay Sadler" <jsadler -at- websidestory -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 12:02:52 -0800

Hi Steve,

I am a technical writer/translator, software engineer, and was a Banquet
Chef for about 20 years. One of the last non-culinary things I did at the
Hilton was to translate (about 100) new restaurant recipes into Spanish and
standardize the lists of ingredients and preparation procedures. I have
also written, developed, and copied out many recipes over the years.

Other posts responding to your question mentioned targeting the user
(yourself) as essential to the final presentation of the substance of the
recipe; separating ingredients list from preparation directives, listing one
main action per directive; illustrating; formatting as XML; indexing and its
importance. These suggestions will all contribute to your cookbook's

You mentioned the hows vs the whys of certain procedures. In a cookbook for
yourself, it might be a good idea to include such information in a general
section ahead of the recipes, where you would describe ingredients, (how to
purchase, signs of freshness), equipment (power equipment, features of good
vs bad equipment, which material is best suited to a certain task), and
general techniques (how to whip egg whites, basics of sautéeing, how to cut
shortening into flour).

When you get ready to implement the recipe by actually cooking, you will
find that 'mise en place' is an important activity for any cook. It
translates to getting everything ready to cook, including equipment and
ingredients, properly measured and arranged approximately in sequence of
their use. Preparing multiple dishes from recipes simultaneously is a more
daunting task, but when properly organized in this fashion can be easy to
accomplish, given proper kitchen space and freedom from distractions.

If I were to create a cookbook today, I would arrange (and number)
ingredients in the left-most column, grouped by function (e.g., dry
ingredients together), or order of incorporation into the recipe, and
separating quantity of the ingredient, unit of measurement, and description
of ingredient. [Be aware also that when reading the ingredients list, some
items require pre-preparation -- soak beans, peel & finely dice onion,
pre-cook rice, etc.] In the middle column, I would list steps of
preparation, one step per action, paralleling the functional groups of
ingredients in the left-most column. Finally, in the right-most column, I
would place supplemental notes on preparation or references to the general
explanatory sections, rather than repeat information. This formatting
approach may entail a lot of whitespace, since some recipes (salad
dressings, marinades) are just a matter of combining ingredients, and order
of incorporation into the recipe is irrelevant. But you can use the
whitespace for your illustrations or sidebars. The recipe header would
include information on recipe name, category, length of preparation, yield,
portion size, suggested garnish, suggested accompanying dishes, etc.

As you mature as a cook you may find that all you really need to execute a
recipe is the list of ingredients, because you will 'instinctively' know how
much of this or that you will need, and what 'looks' right. In this case,
you will need only to refer to the left-most column. XML would be ideally
suited for producing 'views' of the data, so that in one style sheet you
could specify ingredients only (to be printed up as part of your grocery
list, or mnemonics for the dish), in another XSL file menu items only (so
you could plan your menus), in yet another ingredients and preparation tips
(to review when you get rusty on how to make that crème anglaise or soufflé
au chocolat)... A database would also allow you to produce reports giving a
view of the data. Then of course, you could combine your XML code with your
database... Good luck.



Jay M Sadler
Temporary Engineer
WebSideStory, Inc.
jsadler -at- websidestory -dot- com

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