Tip of the Week: Recipe Read-Throughs

A cooking tips article on Lifehacker’s website indicates that reading recipes in full before starting to cook is a “no-brainer.” Eeek. Since I began teaching myself how to cook, this is something I’ve failed to do—but what’s worse is that until recently, I never realized how dumb it is that I’ve skipped this very important cooking 101 tidbit.

I shamefully admit my laziness has been to blame. As long as the recipe indicates a “start-to-finish” time, I tack on ten minutes for my slowness and dive right in, thinking that reading the recipe in its entirety is wasting precious time.

But wouldn’t ya know it, it’s just the opposite! I recently started reading my recipes all the way through prior to cooking, because it helped me to set up my mise en place (which I was also trying to improve on). I was amazed at how much more smoothly my cooking experiences went!

It’s like walking in the dark. In a dark room, you can still make it from point A to point B by feeling your way around, slowly but surely. But if you turn on a light, you get there much more quickly because you can see what’s around you and you’re not fumbling. Reading the recipe before cooking is like turning on that light, because you can see what’s ahead of you.

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Tip of the Week: Writing in Cookbooks

Sur la Table recently released a series of online cooking classes, and to promote them, they offered a cooking basics course for free.  The course covered topics such as proper knife technique, how to use salt in cooking, how to perfectly cook chicken, and so on.  After watching the first session, I was hooked!  I took notes while watching and practiced in the kitchen over the next several days, and I feel the course was a tremendous help.

Only then did it occur to me:  although I cook almost every single day, and despite my improvements, I’m not continuously learning about cooking.  Yes, I’m getting plenty of hands-on experience; but there is still so much about cooking I don’t know, which means I have an endless amount of growing to do as a cook.  So each week, I will be sharing a tidbit I’ve learned about cooking–whether it is a simple, quick bit of advice, or a major tenet of culinary arts.

I read the following snippet of advice on the Epicurious website:

Write in your cookbooks.

Soup could have used more tomato? Chicken needed ten more minutes in the oven? Make a note of it and you’ll never make that mistake again.

This is something I have never—seriously, never—done. Yet I find myself making comments all the time like, “The vinegar is a little overpowering,” or complaining that the food took twice as long to cook as was stated in the recipe.

On the surface, this seems like a simple tidbit of advice for someone who uses recipes often. But for someone like me, this truly applies to cooking as a whole. Although my culinary skills have improved tenfold since I started this blog three years ago, I find I’m still lacking confidence when it comes to cooking without a recipe to guide me.

If I start jotting notes down in my cookbooks, it will not only help me the next time I cook that particular dish, but it will help me to recognize the things that make or break a meal. It will force me to consider how the different ingredients and their amounts work together and contribute to the final product. Usually I’m so focused on following the steps that I don’t really think about how each thing added really changes the recipe. By making notes in my cookbooks, I’m hoping this forces me to take a step back and analyze what I’ve learned by adjusting the recipe according to how it tasted.

What about you? Do you make notes in your cookbooks?

Cooking Wisdom: My Favorite Quotes

Happy Saturday!  I’m a big fan of quotes, because they offer a quick way to regain focus on a concept that otherwise toys with your emotions and leaves you a little scatterbrained.  As I am going to tackle homemade ravioli for the second time ever tonight, I figured this is a good day to share some of my favorite tidbits of advice and random humorous thoughts on cooking.  Feel free to share your own in the comments!

SaveAs

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure.  In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”  -Julia Child

“A home cook who relies too much on a recipe is sort of like a pilot who reads the plane’s instruction manual while flying.”  -Alton Brown

“If you’re cooking and not making mistake, you’re not playing outside your safety zone.  I don’t expect it all to be good.  I have fat dogs because I scrap that stuff out the back door.”  -Guy Fieri

“I don’t like ‘gourmet’ cooking or ‘this’ cooking or ‘that’ cooking.  I like good cooking.”  -James Beard

“Once a dish is fouled up, anything added to save it only makes it worse.”  -Second Law of Kitchen Confusion

“Cooking is not difficult.  Everyone has taste, even if they don’t realize it.  Even if you’re not a great chef, there’s nothing to stop you understanding the difference between what tastes good and what doesn’t.”  -Gerard Depardieu

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“Zip it, kiddo.  Don’t ever admit you know a thing about cooking, or it’ll be used against you later in life.”  -Rebecca Wells in Little Altars Everywhere

“I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking.  If I wanted a picture, I’d buy a painting.”  -Andy Rooney

“That’s the trouble with cookbooks. Like sex education and nuclear physics, they are founded on an illusion. They bespeak order, but they end in tears.”  -Anthony Lane

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“I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation.”  -Madam Benoit

“Cookery is not chemistry.  It is an art.  It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.”  -Marcel Boulestin

“No one who cooks, cooks alone.  Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”  -Laurie Colwin