How to Read a Recipe
Did you know that baking and cooking are two very different activities? Baking is really a science, with precise measurements of ingredients that are assembled and baked in specific ways. Baking recipes include those for cakes, breads, cookies, pies, cream puffs, popovers, muffins, and bar cookies. Cooking recipes include those for main dishes, soups, salads, side dishes, and many desserts.
Cooking recipes have more leeway. Adding another 1/2 cup of liquid to soup isn't going to affect the outcome. And using 6 chicken breasts instead of 5 won't ruin an enchilada recipe.
So read through these directions for reading recipes. Even if you're a pro, you'll probably learn something new!
•Most good recipes start with the ingredient list, and the ingredients are listed in the order they are used. In this case, the olive oil goes in the pan first, followed by the onions and the garlic.
•Measurements in recipes are critical. When a recipe calls for a tablespoon or teaspoon, the author means for you to use actual measuring utensils, not spoons that you use for eating and serving. Here's a basic chart of measures and equivalents. For our purposes, these are the recipe abbreviations I use that are fairly standard:•Tbsp. = tablespoon
•tsp. = teaspoon
•oz. = ounce
•In the recipe above, the onions are chopped and then measured.
•After you have read the recipe, gather all the ingredients, pots, pans, bowls, and measuring utensils you will need. Go slowly and double check all the steps and ingredients.
•The degrees of heat are usually marked on your oven dials. I always turn the dial so it points to the lowest part of the heat setting. You can always turn the heat up, but overcooking food is permanent! Medium heat is right in the middle of the dial. Low heat is also marked, and is the bottom 1/4 in the range from off to high.
•Cooking the onions until translucent means the color of the onions changes from pure white to a softer white that is more transparent.
•Browning the ground beef means to cook just until the pink or red color disappears. Stir with a fork so the chunk of ground beef breaks up as it cooks and you are left with small uniform pieces. This does NOT mean to cook until the meat turns the color of dark woodwork.
•Cooking vegetables until tender means that when you poke or pierce them with a fork, the tines of the fork slide easily into the flesh, with little resistance.
•Simmering and boiling are degrees of cooking. A simmer means small bubbles rise to the surface of the liquid slowly. Simmering liquid doesn't make much noise. Boiling means large bubbles rise to the surface of the liquid quickly. Boiling liquid is quite noisy.
•Pasta is tender when it is cooked all the way through. To test that, remove one strand of pasta from the sauce, rinse it with cool water and carefully cut it in half. There should be no white areas inside the pasta, or only a thin white line if you like your pasta to have more texture. Then taste it. The pasta should not taste of flour, and the texture should be tender but still firm.
•Stirring frequently means to manipulate the ingredients with a spoon every 2-3 minutes.
I hope this explanation helps in your cooking adventures!