How to Approach Unfamiliar Cooking Recipes to Get Great, Stress-free Results the First Time

New recipes can pose a challenge to even the most experienced chefs, but these ten tips will help you approach a new recipe right, and get great results on the first try.

similing attactrive female beginning to start a new recipe with her ingredients laid out infront of her on her counter

As anyone who’s tried to expand their kitchen repertoire knows, new food concoctions can leave you feeling hassled or stressed in the kitchen as you juggle unfamiliar techniques and routines.

However, with a little bit of strategy, you can eliminate the tension of trying new techniques and cooking from scratch, and coast easily to the finish line of mastering a brand new dish.

From smart planning to disaster fixes, read on for ten tips that will make cooking with new ingredients or methods a breeze.

Clean Your Kitchen

Cleaning your kitchen before trying a new recipe can mean the difference between a frenzied, stress-filled evening and a calm, relaxed cooking experience.

The more counter space you have, the easier it will be to move smoothly through the space as you tackle the different steps and stages of your new recipe. Plus, the less visual clutter is in the kitchen, the less likely you are to miss something you’ve set down, or forget to add an ingredient that’s sitting on the counter.

Copy It Over

One of the challenges of new recipes is that no matter how closely you read them, it’s all too easy to miss a crucial fact.

To avoid common mistakes, like forgetting to preheat the oven, or discovering midway through that you need a piece of kitchen equipment you don’t own, it’s a good idea to copy new recipes out of your cookbook longhand.

When you have to write out every word, there’s no chance you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by an unexpected technique or the need for an unusual kitchen tool midway through cooking! Plus, copying out longhand provides you with an excellent opportunity to plan your time, and your space, as you go.

Plan Your Time

thinking about new recipeWriting out a time table for the different cooking steps makes new recipes easy to follow, and helps reduce the chance that you’ll burn or scorch anything, or that you’ll end up rushing things to the table in order to have dinner at a reasonable hour.

When you can just glance at the clock and then at your timetable to know what you’re meant to be doing, you’ll be able to get a new recipe to the table by dinnertime without stress.

Plan A Break

As you make your timetable, try to set aside five minutes of no activity during your cooking period. It’s okay to have something simmering on the stove or baking in the oven, but it’s a great idea to take a few moments of personal time during the adventure. That way, you can catch your breath, and catch up if you’re behind schedule.

Plan Your Space

As you’re breaking your new recipe down by time, assign each stage of the process a specific area of the kitchen. That way, you can plan ahead and make sure the tools you need for each step are within arm’s reach of where you’ll be doing a task. Take inspiration from television chefs like Alton Brown who performs each “stage” in a different part of the kitchen for easy filming; this technique keeps you moving smoothly as you cook.

Brainstorm A Backup

When you look at a new recipe, try to brainstorm a worst-case-scenario back up plan that will let you use part or all of the work you’ve done to build a new dish.

If your stew fails, can it find new life as a lasagna? If your popovers don’t puff, can you re-purpose them as a dessert base?

If you’ve got a backup plan that will let you deliver a hot meal to the table no matter what, you’ll be able to work your way through even the most challenging new recipes with the security of a safety net.

Soup in particular can be a great opportunity to transform part or all of a failed experiment into a delicious dish, so think about getting out your stockpot if all does not go well.

Get Online

attractive young female looks at food recipes and pictures on her laptop as she tries to prepare a meal. Ingredients are spread all over counter and she had flour stock to her fingers.

Looking up photographs of the techniques you’ll be attempting can help you achieve perfect results. If you’ll be learning more than one new cooking technique, it can be a good idea to print out images or detailed directions for each one and leave it in the area of the kitchen where you’re planning to do that task.

Mise en Place

attractive female tries to figure out the ingredients in a new recipe

“Mise en Place” simply means setting out all of your prepared ingredients before you turn on the heat or set any time-based cooking processes in motion. So, wash, peel, chop, and measure everything before you get started.

Although it can save time to multitask by doing things like chopping one ingredient while another is simmering, when you’re working with new recipes it’s a lot easier to front-load all of your prep work so that as you’re cooking, you’ll be ready to simply grab the next ingredient and throw it effortlessly into the pan.

Once you’ve got the rhythym of a dish, you can figure out how to streamline it for efficiency, but if you’re working with a new recipe, you need all the ease of cooking you can get, so do your ingredient prep in advance.

Keep It Quiet

One of the most troubling aspects of trying out new recipes often has to do with meeting expectations. To reduce any tension surrounding this, keep your new dish a surprise! Your lucky dinnertime companions will be pleasantly amazed by your ever-expanding culinary repertoire, but you won’t have to contend with meeting the expectations that your dish will be exactly what they expected when you describe the new cuisine to the people who will be eating it.

For example, with surprise on your side, it’s easy to rename something that you burnt as “carmelized,” and have everybody think you made the new dish correctly, even when you didn’t!

Invite A Friend

Cooking new recipes is even more fun when you have someone to share your culinary adventure with. If you’ve never made a particular dish before, try to find someone in your social circle who has some experience with the food, or with the cuisine tradition that it comes from, and invite them over to help you make (and eat!) the meal.

A new recipe goes a lot more smoothly if you can learn the tricks and quirks of the techniques from somebody who knows them inside and out, and working on a project with a friend is a great bonding experience.

If you have a friend who makes a lot of Italian food, for example, invite him or her over to help you sort through making a tiramisu you found online. You’ll get some help from an expert, master a new technique for your repertoire, and you’ll both have a great time and a great meal!

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About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

20 thoughts on “How to Approach Unfamiliar Cooking Recipes to Get Great, Stress-free Results the First Time”

  1. Thanks for the guidelines! I agree that cooking new dishes are challenging yet makes me excite on the output. Whenever I am going to cook a new one, I usually get online and watch the step-by-step procedure and I can say that it helps a lot. Fortunately, by just watching the videos I am able to prepare the dishes well. Other than this, I would also wanna try the other tips as I am pretty sure that they will be effective methods.

  2. Great tips! It’s no surprise that kitchen success beings with planning. One thing I always try to do is set out all of the ingredients before hand. I’ve had several instances where I forgot to do this and then realized I was missing an ingredient in the middle of cooking. Talk about added stress! My favorite is the last tip. It’s great to have a friend to ask questions to and share the end result with. Friends make everything better.

  3. “Copy it over” is one that I always find myself forgetting and always is the most important step! It’s easy to read it and think “sure, why not?” but difficult while you’re in the midst of it to be caught off guard by something you’re not ready for. Good tips!

  4. Awesome tips for the trying out perfectionist and then i fall out flat with a messy kitchen table and an exasperated sigh!…glad for the site foodal.com to hold me by the hand and guide me through, even through the most daunting of tasks in the kitchen area… i shall not be in want or woe 🙂

  5. I have often felt overwhelmed when I try out new recipes. I always think I’m organized beforehand, but on reading your tips, I can see that I should do a lot more before I start, if I am to be successful. Making sure the kitchen is tidy and free of clutter is something I always do before I start, but some of the other tips I never even thought of. Copying the recipe out longhand is an excellent tip that I will be trying next time.

    I also like the idea of inviting a friend to help you try a new recipe – that sounds like fun, and an extra pair of hands to help with chopping etc.

    Thank you for sharing this insight.

  6. My Mother always tells me that when cooking “a good cook is a clean cook”. I agree that a clean kitchen before a recipe is started is very important, for not to include the wrong ingredients. I am grateful for the techniques because I usually am very nervous when I start a new recipe.

  7. These are great tips! I am like Kael above. I get nervous when trying a new recipe. The one thing here I don’t do is to copy the address over. I really need to try that. I learn by writing things down so I think it would definitely make me more accurate when I cook or bake. I love your blog!

  8. Thank you for these suggestions, I have to admit I remember some recipes that have gone very wrong, luckily in those circumstances I didn’t let anyone down, I was just experimenting on my own.

    As a rule, I never cook a new recipe for a house party or celebration, I wouldn’t want to ruin everything, there’s too much pressure on! I do remember the times of University when about 6 of us would all cook one meal together and then enjoy it all over a bottle of wine, oh those were good times.

  9. Good tricks! It seems like my mom had a good idea when she was going to the library to copy down recipes from magazines that inspired her!

    My trick is to always look up different versions of a new recipe. It gives me a better idea of what absolutely is essential or non-negotiable for taste or cooking time, and what can be adjusted flexibly. Also, I then can see a variety of “secret” ingredients and then, after copying down the most interesting points of the recipes I’ve browsed through, I feel more secure to start my own and to give it a personal twist, right from the first try!

  10. That’s awesome information! It’s always best to have a back up plan in case things go wrong in the kitchen, but breaking things down like this makes me feel much more confident about trying new dishes – thanks!

  11. All the tips are great! The best tip for me will have to be number one. For a newbie cook like me, I sometimes get intimidated when trying out a new recipe. But one of the things that truly help me focus is to first clean the kitchen. I find that there is ease in movement when I do the cleaning first before I start cooking. Copying the recipe also helps one recall the recipe better.

  12. Lynne, you always have the best tips to share. It’s one of my favorite things about this site. Such great things to keep in mind, to make life in the kitchen easier, and to make recipes turn out better.

    I do try to get everything that I will need out ahead of time. This one is huge. It helps me stay better organized, but your other tips really help too. I don’t know why I never thought to plan my space. It makes perfect sense. Things should immediately begin to get smoother with this one simple step.

    You guys rock.

    • I think that planning your space is just one of those things that we all do naturally, but if we take that extra effort and focus a little more, the benefits are there to be realized. When you consider all the stress that you will be having, too, with the uncertainty and nerves, it would really help to have a little more formal plan on hand. I know that I am going to have to keep this in mind.

  13. I am personally more of a baking person than a cooking person because I always mess it up or add the wrong spices or SOMETHING happens that makes me aggravated. But with all of these tips, I think that I can slowly start learning how to cook.
    There’s two tips that really stood out to me. One of them was “Plan your time”. I think this one is really important because I’m always shorting myself on time when I cook. I can never get the dish done fast enough but I think that making a time table will really help me out. The other one was “Brainstorm a backup plan”. I never though about turning something I ruined into a completely different dish. This one is a great idea that I will definitely be able to apply in the kitchen!
    Thanks for the tips, Lynn. I can’t wait to use them!

  14. you addressed one of my major problems, I like what you said about cleaning the kitchen and all beforehand. Eliminating distraction and the things that cause us stress is a good start and makes you stay focused and motivated

  15. Although, I make a new recipe every day pretty much, these are some good tips. I definitely need to remember to get my kitchen cleaned and organized before trying to cook. That is the one thing that always slows me down and makes me frustrated. Other than my lazy cleaning routine, I love to take the time to try new recipes and hardly ever repeat a meal. It can take longer and you need to double check that you understand the recipe and have all the tools and ingredients together, but, to me, it’s worth it. It’s fun to always be trying new dishes. By cooking so many different things all the time, you can find the best tasting recipe for a particular dish after trying every other recipe for it that’s out there. Then you really know you have the best recipes around, at least to your pallet.

  16. Thank you for the tips! I haven’t tried a lot of new things in the recent months, mainly due to a busy schedule but I also was scared of failure. 😛 I have to admit, having a backup plan in case something goes wrong takes a lot of stress out.

  17. I tend to stress myself out when trying out new recipes, especially when I am having guests over, so I really appreciated all of the great tips in this article. I think it is definitely a good idea to start with a clean and organized kitchen. There is nothing worse than seeing more and more clutter and dishes piling up as you are trying to cook.

  18. If I had known these tips when I was younger, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration (and laughable results).

    I was never one to read directions thoroughly before just jumping in. It makes a huge difference, so writing it all out by hand is sage advice. That will help me not only to be aware but also to remember better.

    Laying everything out is still one of the best things to keep in mind, in my opinion. It also helps you avoid a run to the store right in the middle of cooking…I’ve found myself short on ingredients that I was just *sure* I had plenty of on hand. When you get them out first, you can really be sure.

  19. This is SO useful. I’ve always loved cooking, but making complicated recipes is really overwhelming. I’m gonna follow these guidelines and make a really interesting recipe tonight with one of my girlfriends! You’ve inspired me, lol. I love the ‘convince your friends it’s caramelized, not burnt’ bit too. We’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do 🙂

    Now, to decide what to make…

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