Additional Math Pages & Resources

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Math for Cooking, Part II

As a math publisher, I consider myself qualified to write this series of blogs on recipes because I have been cooking out of cookbooks for 40 years. And writing highly-technical manuals for most of that time. Technical writing of any kind is a lot like writing recipes, as is math curriculum.

I have also done some research about recipe-writing this week. I appreciated a chapter in With Bold Knife and Fork by M.F.K Fisher, entitled the Anatomy of a Recipe. Another nice source was a newspaper column in the Financial Times called The Art of Recipe Writing. There were some other articles that didn't help me much, but focused on writing style, choice of food, etc. I did like some material on a website run by the Association of Food Journalists ("a networking system created for journalists who devote most of their working time to planning and writing food copy for news media").

In general, authors complain about the difficulty of writing a proper cookbook. Not only should the recipes leave no cook's question unanswered, they should also appeal to the diner, provide instruction to the assistants, support the creation of a shopping list, and even contain reference to amusing or amazing meals (or diners) for which the recipe was created. And offer wine suggestions, specify table decorations and special serving dishes or silverware. And so on.

Fine. But as a math curriculum person, I also want mathematically-correct instructions. What do I mean by this?
  • a cookbook author (or assistants) should have prepared the recipe multiple times, using the chosen instructions and ingredients to confirm that everything works as it should
  • the title should be descriptive
  • specified cooking times should be totaled and provided up front, for the cook's planning and to confirm the food will not be undercooked or burned
  • a recipe should designate the number of people who will be fed
  • the units of measure, heat or time should be familiar to the cook and match the customary usage and appliances in that country [Celsius, Fahrenheit, Gas Mark]
  • the units of measure for the ingredients should be a reasonable, not impossible, degree of precision [i.e. 6 grams, not 6.250 grams]
  • the units for the ingredients should match the way the ingredients are sold in the market (three carrots, one 6 oz. can of tomato paste; a 5-lb. sea bass)
  • the recipe should say when you measure the ingredients - for example 3 ounces of raw shrimp in the shell is different than 3 ounces of shelled, cooked shrimp
  • any unusual ingredients should be highlighted in a list at the beginning, to prevent cooks from getting part-way through and having to give up ( i.e. 3 pinches of saffron; 2 shavings of white truffle, etc. )
  • the size and/or capacity of the cooking equipment (pots, pans, mandolin, blender, oven) should be stated, to ensure they are available
  • the required measuring instruments should be commonly available [cup, spoon, scale]
  • the recipe should be given in the sequential order that a cook would follow; if there are parallel steps (as in my recipe) the author must present them clearly
So we have confirmed that this is not adequate:

Boil water. Put olive oil in skillet. When oil is hot, add Basmati rice. Stir until rice turns light brown. Add sweet potato, coconut and cranberries. Add boiling water, cover and put in oven. When rice is done, fluff and serve.

Tomorrow we will try again.