What I Learned Writing a Cookbook

a hard copy of a marked-up book manuscript
An early draft of the manuscript

There is more than one way to do things

Recipes serve as guidelines. A cookbook is not written in stone (it wouldn’t fit on a bookshelf) and you have no moral obligation to follow recipes exactly (unless you test recipes for a cookbook).

Taste is subjective. For example, you may prefer a membrane-blistering level of chiles in your dishes. Other cooks may omit them altogether. Or perhaps you decide to add Mexican seasonings to my bean and mushroom shepherd’s pie recipe and swap out the mashed potato topping for a layer of cornbread. (I might try this today.)

Think of recipes as suggestions. Adjust them as you see fit. (When baking however, I’d recommend sticking more closely to the recipe because chemistry.)

At some point, you have to make a decision and move on

I couldn’t fit every recipe idea into this book. I debated including sourdough discard chocolate cake but had already chosen two chocolate desserts (sourdough brownies and chocolate bread pudding). So I decided against the cake and posted it here instead on my blog.

Similarly I agonized over the decision of whether of not to include both sourdough tortillas and dosas. On the one hand, would readers want two types of fermented flat bready type foods? On the other hand, these very different flat bready type foods go with the Mexican- and Indian-inspired recipes in the book respectively. Decisions, decisions!

At some point, you have to stop deliberating and make the important decisions—whether to take that new job or move to a different country or buy the house or provide recipes for sourdough tortillas and dosas. (I went with both.)

You don’t know how to do stuff until you do

Speaking of crepe-like dosas, my first attempts didn’t look so great. But with practice swirling the batter around in the pan, I became quite proficient at making them.

If most of us already knew how to do everything, not only would we be unbearable to be around, we’d also have no need to ever learn anything and schools and universities would go bankrupt. Think of the job losses.

When trying anything new, don’t worry about failing. That’s how you learn.

Dosas with hummus

Plans make projects run smoother

My book project underwent many phases, including:

  • Determining a menu
  • Developing recipes
  • Testing recipes
  • Incorporating testing feedback
  • Retesting recipes
  • Writing and revising the manuscript

Having a plan makes a big project run smoother. You wouldn’t build a house without blueprints, for instance. And if you’ve been on the zero-waste or lower-waste path for even a little while, you’ve no doubt noticed that planning makes the routine much more doable.

But you won’t want to plan everything

On the flip side, I often come up with the best recipes when I have random ingredients on hand that I force myself to use somehow. Such parameters make me more inventive. This also applies to writing and other creative endeavors. (Speaking of creativity, meditation also enhances it.)

Writing a cookbook makes you hungry

From flipping through cookbooks for inspiration, to organizing an outline, to writing descriptions of recipes, to editing the recipes, reading and writing and thinking about food all day makes you very hungry.

Cooking is fun, doing dishes not so much

I washed five million dishes as I developed recipes for this book and fed my tasters (and myself). If you’ve reduced your waste, you’ve probably increased how many dishes—and jars—you wash every day because you likely cook more food from scratch.

Tips for reducing dishwashing drudgery include:

  • Clean as you go. Washing a few dishes at time as you make them will allow you stay on top of them and free up counter space to work.
  • If you have cast iron, embrace it (maybe not literally). I used to roast vegetables in glass baking dishes that I would have to scrub and scrub and scrub to clean. Switching to cast iron changed my life. Cast iron cleans up so easily. You can usually just wipe it a bit after cooking in it. I use cast iron for baking also.
  • Soak your dirty dishes. But avoid wasting water when you do this. If I have a large bowl or pot in the sink, I put dirty dishes in it and every time I turn on the tap, I fill the bowl or pot a bit more. Soaking speeds up cleanup.
  • Reduce the number of dirty dishes. Like zero-waste, prevention is key. If I poured my tea into a fresh clean cup every time I brewed some, I’d have an embarrassing number of cups to wash and would have to face up to my tea addiction. (In my defense, it is my only vice depending on who you ask.)

You can have too much of a good thing

I baked the sourdough sticky buns in the book so many times that at one point, my daughter Charlotte asked me to please stop.

I bake these with a glaze and pecans spread across the bottom of the pan

People want to help

While I worked on my book, I had an incredible amount of support from family, friends and an army of recipe testers. If you could use a hand—perhaps you’ve lost your job or you need help juggling work and kids or 2020 fatigue set in long ago—and someone offers to help, take them up on it. But don’t wait for offers. Often people don’t want to overstep their bounds by offering help so they will wait until they hear a plea for it. If you need help, please ask for help.

My book is now available for preorder!


10 Replies to “What I Learned Writing a Cookbook”

  1. Really good tips here! I love that you call recipes a suggestion. I always laugh when I see a recipe titled World’s Best….the Ultimate. What I love in an apple pie might be totally different from you, so we would have completely different ideas about what the World’s Best Apple Pie would taste like!

    1. Thank you very much, Dorothy. You’re right about the “World’s Best” or “Ultimate” titles. It’s totally subjective. Now I have to go through and see if I’ve named any of my recipes like this 😀
      ~ Anne Marie

      1. LOL Anne Marie! I think I’d better do the same thing!

  2. Congrats on the Cookbook!!

  3. I’m so excited about your book! I (almost) never pre-order books, in part because I know that the book will ship alone and I find that to be more wasteful than having at least a few books shipped together. But! I *have* pre-ordered yours because I really appreciate your blog, and I wanted to seize this opportunity to support your work – especially since that comes with the bonus of getting more of it! I can’t wait to receive it; I know it’ll be a much-used reference in my home.
    (Regarding the dosa vs. tortilla question – I’m glad you went with both!) 😉

    1. Thank you very much Josiane. I really appreciate it! I’m glad I went with both also. I kind of shudder to think that I almost omitted one of them :O
      ~ Anne-Marie

  4. I agree about your sentiment, “Cooking is fun, doing dishes not so much”. LOL Congrats on the cookbook.

  5. The Canada edition cover is so much more attractive than the US edition. Why must they be different? I’m in the states, but wish I could select the photo cover instead!

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