Confessions of a Reluctant Recipe Tester

Jan 22, 2024 by Amber McClain Shaw, in Blog Posts
The raw ingredients in all their glory and potential.

For some reason, I’ve always thought testing recipes would be great. I love to cook, I’m pretty good at it, and I like to eat. I’ve made some pretty complicated elaborate creations and enjoyed the process. Get paid to cook something for me, in my own home, and take some notes? Sure, sign me up!

I have four recipes to test. I skimmed them and decided to start with the recipe that called for a lot of broccolini which I could get at the Farmers Market. The broccolini was a beautiful deep green, freshly cut from the fields nearby, and it cost me $13. That’s a lot for two people but I love broccolini, anticipating useful leftovers. I took a photo of all the ingredients assembled and got started. 

Almost immediately I was a little confused, but I was committed to following the recipe as written. I’m a tester! Do not take liberties or go off script. Not the time to be creative. (Although, I’ve cooked a hell of a lot of broccolini and I don’t need a recipe to make it taste so delicious that my sons ask for it when they are home.) I dutifully cooked the broccolini as directed, turning it into an unappetizing mush, and then, as directed, topped it with a lot of raw garlic. 

It was not great. Not only had I wasted that beautiful broccolini, but I realized after making this first recipe that I don't particularly enjoy testing recipes. 

The cooked version.

I can’t give this feedback as my notes. I will need to be more thoughtful and specific about exactly what confused me and what I thought went wrong. Honesty is the best policy here, I understand that, but this recipe is not great and I have to say that in a constructive way. 

My husband and I gamely ate some of the watery, limp –and aggressively garlicky– vegetable matter. Not great. There were a lot of leftovers. Well, it could make a good soup if I cooked the garlic down a bit. (I later cooked it in some chicken broth and puréed it. I did not succeed in elevating it into something I’d enjoy eating.)

The attempted rescue.

What was I thinking? I’m not a recipe tester. I’m a recipe creator. I look at recipes as inspiration or a suggestion of what to make. When I cook, I often substitute or riff on ingredients and streamline the written cooking process, because I’m lazy and I don’t like doing tons of unnecessary dishes. A recipe is not a law that must be followed, it’s more of a guide. A good cookbook with great photography can be very sexy. Cooking is a sensual process of taste, smell, sight and touch that I enjoy. Ideally what I make satisfies a hunger in a pleasurable way, and is also nutritious fuel. It’s kinda magical and very satisfying. 

Recipe testing is like trying to follow an instruction manual for sex. It takes the fun and creativity out of it. I don’t want to follow someone else's rules, I prefer to get there using all my senses and have fun. I’ve been procrastinating testing the remaining three recipes by creating and eating a variety of not-boring breakfasts centered around the most humble breakfast ingredient: oatmeal. My husb gags at oatmeal that is not in the form of granola, so I make these just for me and they are a pleasure. And then, satisfied, I’m not very motivated to test these other recipes.

Realizing my mistake, I’ve tried to get out of doing more testing. Oh, I’m not a “real” recipe tester, I said. Somehow, unfortunately, this makes me a more attractive recipe tester. So I guess I better get going on the next one.

Update: the next recipe is delicious and easy to make. However, it is severely lacking in the visual appeal category. As leftovers, still delicious and even less attractive. I'm not sure how to solve that problem, that might be up to the recipe creator.