About recipe testing

I get asked a lot of questions about how I got into recipe testing and what it involves, so I thought I’d do a post about it and my experiences testing.

It started for me quite by chance. Joni was writing a burger book, and I posted a question on the PPK forum about vegan burgers. She asked me if I’d be interested in testing for her book, and since I’d already enjoyed some of things I’d tried from her first book, I went for it. If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you’ll know that Friday night became burger night on our house, and we really enjoyed picking one out each week. (Joni, if you’re reading this, when is it coming out?)

Then I really hit lucky when Isa asked for testers for her new book Vegan Brunch. I was honoured to be chosen, and loved doing all that testing. After that Joni asked if I’d help out with another project with Celine, for a mammoth project, 500 Vegan Recipes. That testing whizzed by; those girls had a really tight deadline and cranked out recipes so quickly that I didn’t test as much I’d have liked. Then came Terry’s Vegan Latina, then Tami’s Vegan American Kitchen, and now Isa’s new Healthy Vegan book. So I’m a busy tester right now! It’s months since I’ve eaten an evening meal which wasn’t a tester.

Here’s some questions I get asked:

1. So how do you actually do it?
The authors have a website, usually a discussion forum but sometimes a blog, that’s password protected for testers. They post a recipe and we go away and work at it. Then we give feedback about how long it took, whether we liked it, how many people it served, how we’d change it etc. Then the recipe either gets tweaked, changed, or after a certain amount of tests, gets closed for testing.

2. Do you get paid?
Ha! No. I get a copy of the book.

3. So why on earth do you do it?
Well, I love cooking, but I don’t really have much inspiration to create my own recipes. I love the idea of feeding into a project. I hate books with mistakes, or when its obvious that the recipes haven’t been tested properly. And I love making friends with the authors and other testers too. I’ve done some great food parcel swaps so that we can all have access to the ingredients we need. And it means we eat something different every single night!

4.Can anyone do it?
Well, anyone in theory could, but here’s a list of things I think you need to bear in mind if offering or planning to test recipes.

  • Flexibility. Recipes sometimes appear in a big rush all at once, and sometimes not for a while. You might need to change your meal plans at the last minute.
  • Cost. It isn’t cheap! You might sometimes need just a spoonful of an ingredient you don’t normally buy, or go to a few different shops to track something down. You’ve got to be cunning with leftovers too or you start to waste stuff.
  • Feedback. You need to be clear in your own mind about the difference between you not liking something and it not actually working. This is really important. Not everyone can love everything and you need to learn to say so, but when to know it’s probably just your tastebuds.
  • Precision. Your oven temperature needs to be right, you need to weigh and measure things properly, you can’t just throw in a load of extra things like you normally might. And you need to think very carefully about making substitutions and how it affects the test. All the authors I’ve tested for are American, so I’ve learnt a lot about different names for UK ingredients! And something which is really difficult for me to get, is very easy for them (say, tempeh, or liquid smoke).
  • Techniques. If I’m just following a recipe from a book I just do it from the instructions. But I’ve noticed that the most common mistake authors make is listing an ingredient then not referring to it, or vice versa. So now I get all the ingredients on the counter first so that I can easily notice if something isn’t used.
  • Chance of failure. Of course if you are testing a recipe, there’s probably more chance of it not working than if you pick one from a book. I made Isa’s omelette from Vegan Brunch at least 4 times before I got it to work, so I had a few meals of broken up omelette type stuff. But you take the rough with the smooth and its great when it eventually does work!

But I love testing, I’ve loved everything I’ve done. It’s made me a better cook, given me access to tonnes of new recipes, has introduced me to loads of great people, made me become a big part of the vegan community and given us lots of new things to eat and discuss at home. I owe a huge thanks to all you authors and co testers who continue to inspire me!

Here’s a few pictures of things I have been testing recently.

VeganMoFo: Lentil daal burger

This is another test recipe for Joni‘s burger book. I haven’t blogged about all of them but I reckon this is my 30th test burger! Burgers are usually Friday night favourite but we had a shuffle around this week and had the burgers on Sunday. I always have an urge to serve burgers on a bun but it’s not always necessary, and some burgers, like these, would go very well with something like rice or vegetables instead.

I made a very simple spinach and potato dish to go with them which was just onions, mustard seeds, cumin, chilli flakes, boiled potato, spinach and lemon juice all cooked together.

These made a lovely meal and the good thing about most of the burgers is that they freeze very well. I have quite a few assorted burgers in my freezer and now have 4 lentil daal burgers to join them!