Here is a collection of stuff I have learned while learning how to cook. Sometimes the best way to learn something is by making mistakes and learning from them. It’s pretty nice to skip the mistakes, save a bunch of time, and go right to the learning. Looking for something? Just do a Control-F on this page to pull up a search to see if I have a tip on it! Don’t see what you need to know? Please ask me, I love answering kitchen questions!
Recipes – First off, recipes. Just because something is in a recipe does not mean it will be good. Sometimes you can do everything exactly right and it will turn out awful – this is not your fault. If you need to find a good recipe, check out my Inspirations page for some reliable options, or send me a note and I’ll let you know if I have a good tried-and-true recipe in my collection that I haven’t typed up yet.
Old Recipes – Recipes are, of course, written all throughout history, and things change, so it helps to keep that in mind and adjust as you go if you’re using an older recipe. Some examples:
– A recipe from a few generations ago listed “oleo” as an ingredient. Nobody calls it that anymore, but basically it’s shortening.
– Many recipes for baked goods have a step for sifting the flour. That is not necessary unless you’re doing french pastries or something super particular like that. Most stuff you can use the fluff-and-scoop method, listed below.
– Fads in cooking such as using margarine or microwaves when butter or stovetop/oven will yield a much better result. Beware of these until you know what adjustments to make.
Apron – Get one, wear it. Your clothes will thank you.
Measuring Salt – When measuring salt, do so over a small bowl or plate (and definitely not over your recipe bowl). Salt always moves faster than you think it will, and you can dump the extra back into the container. This saves a ton of “how do I get a quarter cup of salt out of this bowl of wet ingredients?”
Measuring Spices – Like salt, I suggest measuring over a small bowl or plate. I get a great big towering scoop out of the spice container with the measuring spoon, then use the flat back of a butter knife to scrape the extra onto the plate. Now there is a perfectly measured spoonful of spices, and the extra can go right back into the spice container. No more trying to get a level spoonful directly out of the spice jar. Those things are tiny.
Measuring Flour – Older recipes will often include a step for sifting flour. If you haven’t done this before, it involves a contraption that pushes flour through a wire mesh by turning a hand-crank. It is time consuming and not necessary. The purpose of sifting is to make sure the flour is fluffy and not all compacted from being in storage, because a cup of fluffy flour is actually a different amount than a cup of compacted flour. I use the fluff-and-scoop method: First, use your measuring cup to scoop up flour, then dump it back into the bag. Scoop, dump. Repeat a few times, so the flour you will be using is no longer compacted together. Now, you can scoop up the fluffy flour, use the flat back of a butter knife to level off the measuring cup, and you now have fluffy flour without the extra time of sifting.
Spices – Spices have a shelf life. Only buy in bulk if you will actually use that much within six months. Bulk does save money, but your food will taste crummy instead of vibrant.
Toothpick Test – Many baked goods call out to “use the toothpick test” to determine done-ness. This means to insert a clean toothpick into the center (or a thick part) of the cake or bread, then pull it out. If the toothpick comes out clean, the food is done. If the toothpick comes out gooey, the food needs more time in the oven. If the toothpick comes out covered in melted chocolate, get a clean toothpick and try again in a place without a chocolate chip. Use a new toothpick for each test. The used ones can go into a compost pile or fireplace if it makes you feel better about not re-using them.