July 05, 2009

Things Recipes Don't Tell You

Herbs & Spices
  • Quantities are guidelines only. The actual amount you use will depend on how old your spices are; if they don't smell very strong you'll need to increase the quantity (and buy new spices). This is why you should taste your dishes whenever possible & adjust the spices accordingly.
  • It usually isn't necessary to add salt as called for in a recipe. However, I can think of two exceptions: plain mashed potatoes (or any other food that's known to be really bland), and baked goods where salt is a necessity for rising and so forth. Oh, and although there's a lot of debate about this one, I believe you should salt meat you're going to grill/broil if you want a nice crust on it.
  • Dried herbs should be measured, then crushed between your fingers to release the flavor before adding to a dish. Fresh herbs should be chopped at least a little bit, too.
  • If a dish calls for an herb or spice you don't usually keep on hand, try to find it in bulk. You can buy 3 tablespoons of rosemary, for example, for about 9 cents. Plus, it's fresh! And if you're not any good at estimating quantities, take your measuring spoons with you.
  • The only time it's necessary to be absolutely precise when measuring is when the ratio of one ingredient to another is critical. When making baked goods from scratch, like bread, it's necessary. It's also necessary when making sauces or gravies. The rest of the time, don't sweat it.
  • When a recipe calls for "1/4 cup chopped parsley", chop the parsley and then measure it. If the recipe calls for "1/4 cup parsley, chopped", measure the parsley by first packing it loosely into a measuring cup; then chop it up.
  • When measuring dry ingredients, don't shake the cup or spoon. Just loosely scoop or spoon the ingredient in, then use the back of a knife to scrape it off level with the top of the measuring implement.
  • The only times I know for sure that it's necessary to preheat the oven are when baking pizza, and when making baked goods like cakes, bread, etc. For roasts, casseroles, roasted vegetables, lasagne, etc. etc., it isn't necessary and wastes money. Just add a few minutes to the cooking time instead.
  • There are charts and tips all over the WWW for substitutions. All I wanted to say about them is don't be afraid to substitute things. It's the way you truly learn to cook!
My husband calls me "The Kitchen Goddess" and every time he says it to someone I blush. I'm not a goddess, just a darned good cook. If you have any specific questions feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll be glad to respond. Happy cooking!

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