Flow Chart Recipes – Crazy or Cool?

A great friend of mine writes The Penny Parsnip, which has reminded me of an odd habit that I have. Her blog is a cooking blog, which has nutritious recipes for people on a budget. She writes out her recipes in easy to follow, traditionally accepted shorthand. If I wrote such a blog, my recipes would look more like this:

I have a habit of copying all the recipes that I come across into this format. Above is my recipe for enchiladas, which are quite delicious. As you can see, the ingredients are listed out in a typical fashion, but instead of a list of steps for making the food following the ingredients, I connect everything with lines and write out the steps in boxes along the lines. So, starting from the top, a typical recipe might read: 1) Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. 2) Cook onion until soft. 3) Add garlic; cook until fragrant … and so on.

I’m not sure where I picked this up. I never really cooked much from cookbooks, I only ever really did what my mom and grandma told me to do in the kitchen. Of course, I can read a typical recipe; that is, after all, how everyone else on the planet writes them. But if I copy a recipe from the computer to make in the kitchen, I always copy it down like this. I’m not sure that it’s a more effective way of communicating a recipe or not. I think that in some respects, it works better logically. For example, I know that (a little over halfway down the page) the onion, garlic, chili powder and cumin are all involved in the same step, so I can get those together into a little bowl, then dump them in with the ground beef. In typical notation, I would have to read that step, then look up to the ingredients list to prepare it, then go back down and find where I was in the recipe. It’s a lot of going back and forth between the list of steps and the list of ingredients, which can be confusing in more complex recipes.

This technique could also be improved. Imagine you are trying to make a meal with a couple of side dishes that all take a different amount of time. You could list the total time it takes to make the entire meal on the left, then count down in five minute increments moving to the right. You could list your ingredients for the entire meal on the left, then list the steps at the appropriate time that you should do them. That way, you don’t have to be worrying “should I be starting the stir fry yet?”, because it’s listed out on the timeline. Ha! and you thought the flowchart recipe was needlessly complicated …

I think cooking should be really fun and personal, so if you found something you like, stick with it. Just know that if I ever make a cookbook, it’s going to be in flowchart notation.

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