I have a friend who used to make her grilled cheese sandwiches by placing the buttered side of the bread on the inside when she cooked it! While it’s a funny story now, it reminded me that not everybody knows the same cooking basics. Even the majority of recipes written are for those who are already “in the know.”
So how do you get to be “in the know?”
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the kitchen with my mom, my dad, my stepdad, and even my stepmom. I saw the steps they took to prepare meals; I was allowed to experiment with creating my own microwave brownies (only because I wasn’t allowed to use the oven on my own yet); and I was always the sous chef whenever my mom was baking. While that may have been my introduction into the kitchen and where my love of baking was born, that isn’t the case for everyone.
So to get you comfortable in the kitchen, let’s start with how to read a recipe.
The first step in any recipe is reading all the ingredients to see how much you need of each. Let’s take a look at this one for meatballs:
As you can see, there is a quantifiable amount of each ingredient needed, but the measurements themselves are all different. Part of this is because some of the items are considered wet ingredients (things like water, milk, extracts, and even eggs), and others are dry ingredients (solid items like flour, sugar, and the onion dip mix). So let’s break this down a little further…
Most recipes use abbreviations for measurements, like in the picture above, because it makes it quicker to read and write your list. It’s critical, however, to understand what each of these abbreviations means.
Here’s a quick list to reference some typical food measurement abbreviations.
As I mentioned before, there are “wet” and “dry” ingredients. Some food is special and can belong to both categories, like butter. It’s important to know which category your ingredient belongs in so that you use the correct measuring tool.
You know how to read your list of ingredients and understand the measurement abbreviations, now it’s time to portion them all out.
What measuring tools do you use for which ingredients?
The type of ingredient you are measuring determines the measuring tool you’ll use. Measuring cups with a spout are built to handle liquid items, while flat measuring cups are perfect for scraping off the access from the top for dry ingredients. Those tiny teaspoons and tablespoons are capable of measuring both wet and dry ingredients in small amounts, just be sure to pay attention not to mix them up. A single tablespoon is equal to three teaspoons!
Remember how I mentioned butter was both a wet and dry ingredient? While that is true, butter is best measured straight out of the fridge in stick form. Doing this while it’s cold ensure its firm enough to cut, and promises accurate measuring for recipes (most stick butter already has measurements written on the paper it’s wrapped in).
Another way to measure all ingredients is by weight. This guarantees the same results for a recipe every time you make it as it is the most accurate way of measuring ingredients. The downside to weighing everything is that it’s time consuming, and unless you own a bakery it’s usually unnecessary at home.
Now that you have a good understanding of what ingredients are needed and how to measure them out accurately, it’s time to take a look at the directions and what they mean…
FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS
The directions for recipes are written out step-by-step. Having your ingredients pre-measured and ready to go will help you keep your pace. Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of wording. Sometimes recipe directions will give you helpful hints of what things should look or smell like in the process, so be sure not to just skim over it.
When you’re reading the directions you should also notice that the list of ingredients is in order of when it is used in the recipe!
Here are some more top tips for the kitchen:
- Read the entire recipe first. Reading a recipe all the way through is not just to make your grocery list, but it’s to make you aware of any funny directions, like having to chill part of your recipe for 8 hours when you intended to serve it in 4. Doing this in advance will also give you time to look up how to do anything that you don’t recognize, or borrow that weird tool it specifically asks for.
- Mise en place. This is a French phrase for “put in place.” It’s meant to gather and prep all of your ingredients and tools before actually following the directions and cooking or baking. Not only will doing this make sure you have what you need, but it cuts down your cook time because you aren’t wasting precious moments looking for your favorite spatula.
- Take liberties with cooking, but be precise with baking. Baking and cooking are two very different monsters in the kitchen. Cooking is meant to be done with flavor and really using your senses to let you add more or less of an ingredient. Baking, however, is a science that shouldn’t be varied by too much.
- Start testing for doneness at the beginning of your time range. Recipes usually have a range of cook time because ovens, humidity, and even altitude can change the way a recipe develops. So if your cookie recipe says to bake for 8-10 minutes, check to see if they’re done at the 8 minute mark, and try not to let them cook more than 10 minutes. (For cookies, do a test batch of one or two cookies first to see how long to bake them for. This way you only have to check the cook time once and can place more dough on the rest of the cookie sheets.)
- Higher and hotter is not better. If a recipe calls for a medium-low heat, turning the burner up to high will only char the outside of whatever it is you’re cooking while leaving the middle cold. Professional recipes are tolerance tested in test kitchens to give you the best outcome. Trust the recipe and follow it with your heart.
Click below to download a copy of this handy Kitchen Conversions chart for measuring your ingredients:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Being in the kitchen doesn’t have to be intimidating. It should be a fun and liberating experience. Having some knowledge and prepping beforehand can give you the confidence to dance around the stove and prepare mouthwatering dishes like a true chef.
What do you find the most difficult when it comes to reading a recipe? Let me know in the comments!
Everything we do is linked in some way, so be sure to check out my other articles on quick and easy life skills.