A recipe is like your road map in the kitchen. If you know how to use it, there is no reason why you can't be successful at baking and cooking basic foods. Believe it or not, but recipes are written with a "secret formula" helping to ensure that you can understand the steps and process of making the dish. But the reasoning behind how recipes are written is rarely shared.
You may take an imperfect cake or cookies out of the oven and wonder where you went wrong. Maybe the cake isn't done on the inside or the cookies became hard from being cooked too long. Because you had a recipe to follow, you assume that the problem was with your own abilities. But that isn't necessarily the case. Most times, the problem is simply that the recipe itself was written in a way that could be misunderstood.
These few tips will help you see why recipes are written the way they are, and how to use that knowledge to be successful in the kitchen (almost) every time.
By the way, the book pictured is Martha's American Foods. I highly recommend it as it is filled with lots of simple favorites from across the United States.
READ THE RECIPE COMPLETELY
Be sure to read through the ingredients needed for the recipe as well as the instructions for what you will be doing. You may even want to read over everything a second time before you start. It seems like an an easy solution, but more often than not, things that go wrong with your cooking are because of something that was "hidden" in the recipe.
Many times there are things like water that may not be listed in the ingredients list and could be overlooked as you're preparing your dish. By reading over the recipe first, you can make a note of these extra ingredients that you'll be adding.
Also, a recipe may need an ingredient to be divided, but it may not say that in the ingredients list. For example, when making Oven Baked Corn, the egg yolks are added into the mixture first, while the egg whites are folded in later. It is possible that the recipe would only mention needing two eggs and without checking over the instructions, you may not notice that they need to be separated until it is too late....or not at all.
Pay attention to steps that need to take place before you actually start the recipe, such as allowing butter to soften or soaking dried beans. These steps cannot be rushed if you want what you're preparing to turn out well.
And finally, for some things like roasting meat, you may need to lower the temperature of the oven at some point during the cooking process. If this is not done, what you are preparing would not turn out they way you hoped.
NOTICE THE ORDER
Ingredients in a recipe are listed in the order of when they are used.
And if they are put into the recipe at the same time like spices, they are then in order by amount from largest to smallest. A teaspoon of cinnamon will appear before a half teaspoon of ginger, for example.
Because a recipe is set up in this way, the person using it should never have to wonder when an ingredient should be added.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE COMMA
You'll often find that there are specific instructions for what to do with an ingredient in the ingredients list. But it can be a bit confusing about whether you measure before or after you do that.
When a volume is listed first, you must measure the ingredient whole and then follow the instructions for what needs done, like melting or dicing. Every chop, melt, grind, or dice instruction that appears after a comma in the ingredients list should be done after the ingredient has been measured.
For example, 1 cup of chopped walnuts is very different than 1 cup of walnuts, chopped even though they sound almost identical. In the first example of 1 cup chopped walnuts, the walnuts are chopped first and then measured. Because they are chopped, more will fit into the cup than in the second example where the whole walnuts are measured into the cup and then chopped.
RECIPES TELL YOU HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOUR FOOD IS DONE
Near the end of your recipe will be a time range for how long what you are making should stay in the oven or on the stove top. It is not normally an exact time, but rather a range such as 8 to 10 minutes.
There should also be a description of what the food will look or smell like. (Light brown in color, smells nutty, a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.) The baking time gives you a general idea of how long your food should cook, but those visual clues are equally important.
When you see that your dish has achieved the right color or texture, it should be removed from the heat even if you haven't reached the desired baking time. And there may be times that you must let the food cook a few minutes longer to get to what you are looking for.
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