As a food blogger, you’re all about the recipes. If you’re not cooking, you’re developing a dish, dreaming up a new exciting combination of ingredients, styling your food for a shoot, or putting the final tweaks to a post ready to go live. And then when that post finally hits the big, wide world, you wait for the rave reviews to come pouring in.
And you wait. And you wait.
There is nothing more disheartening than putting your all into a recipe only to find it doesn’t get the response it deserves. You know the dish is good so you’re not worried about whether people will like it – if only you could get them to make it! But for some reason, you’re not getting the clicks and the follow-throughs in the first place.
How do you get people to choose your blog and not someone else’s? And when people do read your site, how do you make sure they actually cook your recipes and not just file them away under “someday”?
Read on for 9 reasons why nobody is cooking your recipes (and what you can do about it!).
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It’s not you, it’s me
Ready for the harsh truth?
The issue is not your food, it’s your recipe.
When someone finds a new recipe to cook, they want to be sure of three things:
#1 it’s delicious;
#2 it’s foolproof (as in it’s guaranteed to work every time);
#3 it’s easy to do.
You know it’s delicious; you’re a food blogger – and you know food! So you haven’t got to worry about any bad feedback. You also know it’s foolproof; after all, you tested it 11 times yourself (in fact, your family is sooooooo sick of that dish……). If your readers follow your instructions, it’ll definitely come out right.
But what about #3: it’s easy to do? Is it? For a beginner? For a beginner who doesn’t know the difference between a tsp. and a tbsp. (let alone what a “roux” is)?
If your recipe is not user-friendly for everyone who reads it, then it could be the greatest dish in the world but people just won’t cook it. They have to be able to read it once and understand it straight away, without needing to look things up that are not explained or using trial and error to get it right.
Luckily there are a few things you can do to check that your recipe is as user-friendly as possible:
#1 add a key on your site
Assume that your readers know nothing about cooking and that you have to explain everything from scratch. Either include a default note in each recipe explaining about any abbreviations you use, e.g. tsp. = teaspoon; tbsp. = tablespoon, OR consider writing a key or even an entire page devoted to your shorthand and terminology.
#2 make sure you’re clear when you list ingredients
In my guide to how to write a recipe correctly, we’ve already discussed the fact that your ingredients should be listed in the order that they appear in the recipe. I reminded you that sometimes it’s necessary to list when items are divided, for example: “500g flour, divided as 400g & 100g”, and to state whether they are fresh, raw, defrosted or cooked (e.g. with prawns).
To be even clearer, you should also be careful that you actually describe the ingredients correctly:
a cup of flour is very different to a packed cup of flour.
It’s helpful, too, if you can be consistent with the preparation of the ingredients in your recipes; if you list vegetables as being chopped already, then don’t suddenly ask your readers to chop something else in step 6 – by then they will have put the chopping board away and will be on a roll with the cooking. So try to keep all the chopping together.
The other common problem with listing ingredients is when you require the same ingredient to be used in two different ways; for example, if you want the zest and juice of a lemon, then make sure you say it in that order – or the cook will have juiced the lemon first and will find it very difficult to get any zest off it afterwards!
#3 be clear upfront about how long the recipe will take and how complicated it is
If you’ve chosen to make something new, whether for a casual lunch for friends or a full-pressure dinner for your boss, the last thing you want is to discover that the recipe does take 30 minutes – but after you’ve done an hour of prep! You also will have unhappy readers if they try to follow one of your recipes and it starts with “you’ll need a bain marie…”. A what?! If your recipe is difficult, requires advance preparation or uses unusual practices, not only do you need to explain these things (see #1 above), but you also need to tell people upfront so that they can decide whether to cook the recipe or not.
#4 don’t be afraid to use non-cooking terminology
This is one of my favourite tricks to get more people cooking my food; I like to include more informal instructions alongside the official recipe steps:
If you’re going to ask your readers to check if something is cooked then why not give them an idea what it should look (and smell) like? You could say “fry the onion gently for 15 minutes on a low heat until caramelised; that means that it has gone brown and sticky” or “the cake is cooked after 20 minutes or when a skewer pulls out clean; you’ll know it’s ok to open the oven slowly because you’ll be able to smell the cake all of a sudden”.
#5 process shots
Process shots are a brilliant way to explain what you mean. By that, I mean you should take photographs of your recipe while you are preparing and cooking it yourself, so that you can include the pictures in your explanation for your readers to reference. That way, they know they’re doing it right.
In my recipe for taco salad, which uses edible bowls made from tortilla pancakes, I wrote this: “if you want to make the tortilla bowl…drape each tortilla across the top of a small, upturned ovenproof bowl or push it inside the bowl with a ball of foil to hold it open. Pop the bowl in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the tortillas brown very slightly and firm up to hold their bowl shape”.
Did you understand that?
What about now:
As you can see, simple instructions are great – but it’s even better if you can show your readers what to do. By the way, the finished dish looks like this:
#6 alternative flavourings and dietary substitutions
These days, so many people are on restricted diets and there are so many websites that deal with recipes for those restrictions. Therefore, it’s a really good idea if you can offer alternatives to your recipe ingredients that in some way accommodate the most common restrictions, to prevent your readers from leaving your site in search of one that does cater to their diets.
Obviously, you can’t please everyone all of the time, but some simple suggestions for the most obvious substitutions – such as using coconut milk rather than cow’s milk, honey instead of artificial sweetener or a meat substitute – is always appreciated.
Furthermore, if amateur cooks were to make those substitutions themselves at home, you know (as a food blogger) that the quantities might need adjusting or the method might require tweaking – but they might not. It therefore makes sense for you to take the guesswork out of the recipe and do this research upfront, so that your recipes can be enjoyed by all.
#7 try to use ingredients people will already have at home
If you’re going to call for a vanilla pod, brown rice or purple carrots then warn your readers! Sure, these are not uncommon ingredients for a food blogger or competent cook to have around. But they’re pretty obscure in most kitchens, I bet. Please, please, please also make sure that if you send your readers out to buy a fancy ingredient, that either they use it all up for your recipe, or you suggest another way to use it – so they’re not left with very expensive waste.
#8 easy hacks for advanced skills
Some recipes just aren’t complete without a fancy sauce or technique, but that can put off a lot of home cooks. When I posted my recipe for Easy Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon, I found a way to make the hollandaise sauce foolproof, so that the idea of making it wouldn’t put anyone off: you make it in a blender.
I also managed to simplify the classic recipe by offering a sneaky trick to coordinate the timings of the different elements: make the hollandaise first, and then keep it warm in a thermos while you boil the eggs.
If you can see a step where something is likely to go wrong for an amateur cook, then pre-empt it with a solution. A simple line like “whip the cream as stiff as you dare; if it curdles, just add a little more runny cream and stir to bring it back” or “store the guacamole in a jam jar with a cm of water on top and a tight lid – to stop it discolouring until you need it” will give your readers the confidence to try something new on their own, knowing that there is an easy solution if it goes wrong.
There you have it!
9 ways that you can make your recipes more approachable (and more cookable) for your readers.
Let me know how it goes!