Thursday, February 17, 2005
How to read a recipe.
A sweet friend of mine wanted to cook a meal for his honey the other night (On Valentines day actually...doesn't that just melt your heart?) and went online to find some recipes that sounded do-able. Turns out there wasn’t anything he felt he could make, due to his limited kitchen skills, so he called me up (since I do teach cooking for a living and all) and had me walk him through it. The meal turned out fantastic, but made me realize it might be helpful to post some basic thoughts on reading a recipe. (I realize most people who read food blogs already know these things, but here it is again, just in case…)
Always read the entire recipe before you start. There may be things you don’t know how to do, there may be typos (16 pounds of butter for one pound of pasta may be excessive, or a typo…) and there may be constraints (let marinate for 12 hours) that you didn’t anticipate.
Make sure you have all of the ingredients, or substitutes you feel comfortable with. Keep in mind, the higher quality the ingredient, the higher quality the outcome. Also, many recipes (mine, for certain) in the ingredients list will call for things to already be done (I.E. “one onion, minced”; not for “one onion.”) Take the time to do all of these things and gather all of your ingredients ahead of time. This is called Mise en Place in French, and is a great way to streamline your cooking by having everything (pots, pans and spoons too) out and ready.
Measurements and abbreviations. Most measurements are metric or standard, so hopefully you are already familiar with that…just keep in mind, fluids and solids are measured in different units. The best recipes use weight measurements, because that is the most accurate, a great reason to invest in a scale. As for the abbreviations, the most common are these:
Tsp or t = Teaspoon
Tbsp or T = Tablespoon
C. = Cup
btab = Bring To A Boil
evoo = Extra Virgin Olive Oil
S and P = Salt and Pepper
Oz = ounce
Al dente – “To the tooth” A term used for pasta that is cooked just enough to still have some texture or bite.
Bake – To cook by surrounding the product with indirect dry heat.
Boil – Water heated until full bubbles break the surface (at 212 F at sea level)
Braise – To cook by surrounding with indirect, dry heat (in the oven), but in a covered container to retain moisture.
Broil – To brown with direct exposure to flame/heat source (from above or below)
Brown – Causing the surface of the food to turn brown while the interior stays moist.
Chop – cut into small (bite sized) pieces
Covered – Pot or pan with a lid on. Conversely, uncovered means without a lid
Cube – to cut food into ½ inch pieces (ostensibly, cube shaped)
Dice – to cut food into 1/8 inch or smaller cubes
F0ld – to gently incorporate two ingredients together. Starting at the back of the bowl, a rubber spatula is used to cut down vertically, across the bottom of the bowl and up the nearest side.
Fry – To quickly cook food in a large amount of oil
Mince – cut into very small pieces
Puree – To mechanically combine until all ingredients are smooth and indistinguishable (a blender or a food processor are typically used)
Reduce – To allow liquid to evaporate while boiling. Used to thicken sauces
Roast – To cook by surrounding with indirect, dry heat (in the oven), in an uncovered container
Sauté – To quickly cook food in a small amount of oil
Sear – To brown quickly using high heat
Simmer – lower heat than a boil. Small bubbles will break the surface
Stir – To agitate with a spoon
Stir fry – To quickly cook food in a small amount of oil in a wok, while stirring constantly
Sweat – To cook, uncovered, over low heat, coaxing out the moisture, but not allowing to brown (the moisture from the food makes it almost steam)
Whip – To incorporate air, using a tool called a whisk.
Don’t stress out. Cooking is an art, while baking is the science. Making a meal is fun and rewarding. Just go slowly and follow your instinct, and don’t be afraid to make changes. Think about what is in your pantry that might make a good addition, or take out what you don’t like from the recipe…nothing is set in stone.
And the most important thing (at least, according to the chefs at my cooking school) is to taste. Taste everything to see if it is coming along the way you want it to. (No, don’t taste all of the raw product, I mean taste things as you are cooking.) Adjust seasonings as you go. Only you know what is going to appeal to you in the end.
Banana trees are botanically classified as herbs
Cinnamon, chili powder and seasoned salt are the three most common seasonings in North American homes (after salt and pepper.)
No one knows if there really was a Dr. Pepper. The company has collected over a dozen different stories of the name's origin.