When I was young, my mother attempted to force my sibling and I to learn how to cook. We selected a recipe from Kraft magazine, checked the ingredients, made a grocery list, and cooked the dish.
I was quite a picky eater as a child. I avoided fruit, vegetables, and most foods that weren’t pre-made. My favorite foods included hot dogs, Kraft mac & cheese, apple juice, and corn dogs. At one point, I even persuaded my mother to start buying TV dinners.
You can’t build a table without the instructions. Many famous chefs encourage amateurs to pursue their passions in the kitchen without recipes. I’ve begun to embrace this philosophy now that I have more experience. However, most of us must start with the basics.
Mistakes I Used to Make When Reading a Recipe:
1. Ignoring Adjectives
Ex: Heat a
large skillet over medium high heat.
Ex: Beat 1/4 of the white
thoroughly into pumpkin mixture; gently fold in the rest.
Why This is a Problem:
In the specific examples, the size of the skillet may affect you as you add more ingredients. Using a skillet that’s too small crowds the pan (which affects the cooking) and/or won’t fit everything. The level of heat is important too. If it’s too high it can curdle or burn ingredients; if it’s too low it can take longer to cook or not heat ingredients properly (for safety). In the second example, gently folding in egg whites affects the consistency of the dessert.
In short, ignoring the details of the recipe can affect how your food turns out. It’s important to follow the instructions fairly closely. Cooking, unlike baking, does allow for some leeway, but experimentation comes after experience.
2. Taking Out Ingredients “I Don’t Like”
Ex: I remember once trying to cook a recipe for taco bowls. I took out all the foods I didn’t like, including the peppers, onions, and tomatoes. This was nearly all the vegetables (and ingredients) in the recipe.
Why This is a Problem:
You might be able to take out a few things (especially if you’re allergic). Still, you should recognize that by removing ingredients, you change the flavor profile of the dish. If you remove too much, the result will be bland and flavorless. It’s best to choose recipes without too many things you dislike in the first place. Even better, you can find ways to eat things you dislike. This was the best way for me to counteract my picky tendencies. Once I found a way to eat my least favorite foods, I welcomed new flavors and textures.
3. Not Reading Through the Recipe
Have you ever started making a recipe, then realized halfway through that you’re missing an important ingredient? Or you’re missing the fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth you need for your recipe? The issue with this is pretty obvious. You can’t make the recipe if you’re missing vital ingredients or equipment!
I’m sure many of my readers have made similar mistakes.
1. Choose a suitable recipe.
Search for a recipe online or on Pinterest. Consider your source. Don’t pick the first recipe you see. Two recipes for macaroni and cheese may have different kinds of cheeses. A recipe for one dish can be more or less complex. A recipe for pumpkin pie can use canned pumpkin or made from pumpkin that you roast first. Carefully think about your personal preferences, the equipment you own (or can get), and the level of difficulty. All recipes are not created equal.
2. Read the recipe through once.
Familiarize yourself with the recipe. Make sure you understand the instructions.
3. Compare the ingredients and equipment to what you have.
Run down the list of ingredients and make sure they’re in your pantry or fridge. If it helps, pull out everything you’ll need. It’s important to note the amount of each ingredient you need. For example, if you’re going to make onion soup, you may need four onions. If you check your fridge and there are only three onions, you’ll need to buy another.
Some equipment may be difficult to buy, while others you may be able to pick up at the grocery store. A strainer or whisk is easy to find for cheap, if your budget allows. Large machines like a food processor or a Kitchenaid may take some time. Be realistic about what you can afford.
4. Go Grocery Shopping
I always walk through my kitchen to check for ingredients listed in a recipe. As I tend to by in bulk, I usually have leftover ingredients or spices I can use for multiple recipes. Write everything you need in a list or put it in your phone. If you have the list in front of you, you’re less likely to forget something.
5. Before you start cooking, read the recipe again.
I usually write it down, but you have to make sure everything is the same as the original! Make sure you haven’t missed anything. Reading it again may seem annoying, but it will ensure you remember every step.
I hope this helps! Paying attention to your recipes will prevent a lot of problems as you learn to cook. Don’t be afraid to try different recipes until you find the best ones.