A recipe is a tool, a formula to help you to replicate — though the product is never exactly the same — a dish that has been made previously.
I like to follow a recipe as closely as possible the first time I make it, and then, after working through the method and tasting the results, I have a better idea of how well it works, whether I’d make it again and what changes might improve it.
I can accomplish more and make fewer mistakes when I follow a recipe in an organized way, and I’ve learned, to my happy amazement, that organization is a learned skill.
The first step, after reading through the recipe and ensuring that all the ingredients are on hand, is to assemble them and get them ready for use. Defrost the frozen meat or poultry, wash the vegetables, soften the butter, bring the eggs to room temperature.
The next thing I do is to gather up the required dishes, cutting boards, utensils, measuring tools, cookware and bakeware. Depending on the recipe, I might need dry measures, for taking level measurements of ingredients like flour and sugar, liquid measures, usually transparent, with markings showing different measures along the sides, to gauge the amount of oil or milk and measuring spoons for measuring smaller amounts of dry or liquid ingredients.
I have acquired a mismatched assortment of measuring tools, but usually stick with just one system — imperial or metric — when measuring ingredients for any dish.
It’s useful to know how to convert between the two systems, when, for example, following a recipe that is written with imperial measurements and using metric measuring cups. The following standardized conversions are approximate and make it easy to measure ingredients using standard sized measuring cups and spoons. They usually work well. Because they are not exact conversions, they may work less well in recipes requiring large amounts of an ingredient or in double or triple batches of a recipe.
1 cup - 250 mL
3/4 cup - 175 mL
2/3 cup - 150 mL
1/2 cup - 125 mL
1/3 cup - 75 mL
1/4 cup - 50 mL
2 tbsp - 25 mL
1 tbsp - 15 mL
1 tsp - 5 mL
1/2 tsp - 2 mL
1/4 tsp - 1 mL.
Some authors convert 1/4 cup as 60 mL and 2 tbsp as 30 mL.
After gathering up ingredients and equipment, it’s time to peel, chop and measure. It’s about this time that I remember to put on an apron, as I never fail to spill, splash or drip when cooking.
There are different techniques for measuring each type of ingredients. Spoon a dry ingredient into a measuring cup until it is heaped up a little above the top rim of the cup; then stir gently or smooth the top to fill any empty spaces, and slide the flat side of a knife or a spatula across the rim to level the surface.
Resist the urge to tap the measuring cup and thus compact the flour, if baking a cake.
To measure liquids accurately in a liquid measuring cup, look at it at eye level, unless you’re using one of the cups with measurements marked on a ridge that curves around the inside of the cup, so that you can read the measurements from above.
Chunky, chopped food is also best measured in a liquid measure, as it is difficult to level the surface when using a dry measure.
Use measuring spoons when measuring dry or liquid ingredients in amounts of 25 mL
(2 tbsp) or less, leveling dry
ingredients with a flat edge, and bringing liquids right up to the brim.
There are several ways to measure butter and other solid fats. You can pack it into a dry measure, being careful to not leave any air spaces, or use the displacement method.
Here’s an example to illustrate the displacement method. To measure ½ cup of butter, start by adding 1½ cups of cold water to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Spoon in butter, and keep it totally covered by the water, until the water level reaches 2 cups. Then discard the water and use the ½ cup of butter.
After everything is measured, I try to remember to check the recipe, reading down the list of ingredients to be sure that nothing was missed.
Having followed all these steps first — something that can try the patience until it becomes a habit — the rest is easy.
With all the ingredients prepared, it’s time to stir, beat, mix, sauté, bake or otherwise take whatever action steps the recipe indicates. The final step before serving is to take a wee taste, just a little on the tip of a spoon is enough, and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Then sit down and enjoy.
After the meal, I make notes for myself, right in the cookbook or on the recipe card, recording any changes I made, and what I thought of the dish. Sometimes, “good” is enough. Other times, I’ll jot down things like, “reduce salt,” “needs more liquid” or simply “not worth the effort.”
It seems almost silly at the time, but I’ve learned that it’s the memory aid I need to get the most from the recipe next time I make it.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.