The 10 Rules for Meal Preparation Success are on my mind as Thanksgiving approaches. Whether you're making the whole meal or contributing just one dish, you'll probably use recipes. Of course that U.S. holiday is not the only occasion for which you need them. So, whether or not you're cooking for Thanksgiving, here are my tips on how to read recipes and end up happy with the result.
It’s great to skim when you have plenty of recipes to choose from or when you’re leafing through a cookbook. But when the time comes to get down to business, before deciding whether to use a recipe, read it carefully and all the way through. And what to look for?
My tips on how to read a recipe
Ask yourself a series of questions -
- Ingredients – Which ingredients called for do you have on hand and which do you need to buy? Will you want/need to make any substitutions and how will those substitution work?
- Equipment – Do you have all the required equipment? If not, how can you manage with the equipment you do have?
- Preparation - What steps are involved? Do you know how to do all of them? How long will total preparation time take?
- Cost – What’s the total cost of the recipe? Are you comfortable with the cost? If not, is there a way to make the dish less expensively with a good result?
- Storage/leftovers – Can the dish be made ahead? Is the amount it makes, the amount you need? How will you store leftovers?
These may sound like too many questions to remember, much less answer for each recipe you use for a dinner with several dishes. But reading a recipe is like driving a car. Most of us don’t think about all the steps we take when we drive; they have become second nature. The same will happen after you use these steps for a while.
If you’re wondering how to find substitutions, decide whether you can leave out an ingredient, or figure out how to improvise around a missing piece of equipment, try my method. I check out similar recipes (in cookbooks and on-line), then look to see whether the change I want or need to make is one that fits into variations I find among the recipes.
In most cases, there isn’t just one way to make a particular dish or a single piece of equipment used by all cooks to do a particular step. I can usually find substitutions or new ideas for variations, simply by comparing recipes.
This comparison process doesn’t have to take a lot of time. And you may not need it at all if you’re satisfied with the recipe you want to use and have determined that you have or can obtain the necessary ingredients and equipment.
Back to the basic part of the rule. Especially if you’re used to speeding through materials for work and pleasure (a tendency unfortunately more common when you’re reading on-line, as you are now) – take it slowly when it comes to recipe reading. It’s fine to make mistakes when you’re cooking, especially if you’re experimenting. But at least make the mistake creative ones. Don’t make mistakes that could easily have been avoided if you’d only read the ingredients or directions more closely.
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