Recipe testing for Modern Potluck.

Cranberry jam bars from Modern Potluck tested by one of my volunteers.

 

I love a loose recipe, one that’s written more to inspire you to try a certain flavor combination or method for cooking cauliflower than give you an exact road map for making a perfect dish. For my forthcoming cookbook, however, I wrote very specific recipes, often detailing exactly how root vegetables should be cut and how to plate the dish.

When crafting a recipe, there are a zillion factors to consider. For example, calling for 1 garlic clove might suffice if you’re cooking it until it mellows, releasing its flavors into the oil. But if you’re grating it raw for a salad, a volume measurement will likely serve you better, as garlic cloves can range from the size of a large shelled peanut to that of an in-the-shell walnut.

After I developed my recipes, taking copious handwritten notes, and then wrote them up as well as I could, I dispatched them to a bunch of volunteer recipe testers. I learned a ton, A TON from this process, including that it’s basically impossible to write a recipe that’s perfect for every person. Here are a few tips to consider if you want to enlist volunteer recipe testers: 

1. Limit the number of testers you’ll useI opened this up to any of my Facebook friends. To my surprise, more than 50 people volunteered, which was way too many. Managing emails from that many people became cumbersome, buying modafinil online plus a lot of people never sent feedback. Try to narrow down your list to testers who are most excited and ask them to commit to cooking through at least five recipes.

2. Enlist testers from your target audience.  If you’re doing a book of easy shortcut-type recipes, definitely ask novice or convenience-minded cooks to join in the testing. In my case, my recipes were a bit more complex, geared toward experienced cooks in search of new ideas and inspiration when preparing a dish for a special occasion. Having a few novice cooks in the mix in this case can be beneficial, but it can be a bit demoralizing to get feedback suggesting that you add a processed ingredient to make the recipe easier or even tastier.

3. Consider all feedback and then agree to disagree. I read every piece of feedback, often re-testing and tweaking the recipe based on it. Sometimes, I didn’t change a recipe based on a tester’s suggestion, but I read between the lines about what went wrong, and then emphasized aspects of the recipe to help the cook make a better dish. For example, I realized that some testers weren’t salting and browning their meat enough, resulting in a dish that was less flavorful than it should be. Instead of adding a processed ingredient, as one cook suggested, I added some notes about the importance of browning meat to build flavor.

For more tips on getting help from volunteer recipe testers, check out this great post.

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