Kitchen Tip: Do THIS First!

This back to basics cooking tip will greatly increase your success rate in the kitchen! Just three words can greatly reduce culinary disasters.

This tip will save you from a HUGE number of yikes, arghs, oops, and vocalizing a bunch of colorful, expressive words that I won’t repeat here. Pay attention, this tip is only three words, but these 3 words can make the difference between a kitchen win and a kitchen fiasco. Ready? You might want to print this out (just saying). Okay, enough build-up, here it is: READ the RECIPE! 

That’s right. READ the (insert colorful word of choice) RECIPE!

I know how it goes, you’re perusing online and see a yummy picture with a recipe. Your mouth starts to water, your stomach starts to growl. You immediately decide that’s what you’re making for dinner and can’t wait to get to it. You probably do a quick scan of the recipe, thinking you have all the ingredients, and it doesn’t look that hard. So the cooking commences. Only to realize, halfway through, that you don’t have ALL the ingredients. You have MOST of the ingredients. Let’s agree, MOST is not ALL. In most recipes, having most of the ingredients isn’t going to cut it. 

Sure, some recipes are very forgiving (my recipes fall in this category), and you can find ingredient substitutions. Unfortunately, the majority of recipes aren’t forgiving. There is a reason why a recipe calls for specific ingredients. If you want the results, you need to use ALL the ingredients. Realizing you are missing something takes the fun right of cooking and moves the Stress-O-Meter needle in the wrong direction. Many of us cook to relieve stress, not to add to it.

Let’s say you got lucky, and you have all the ingredients. You just add all the butter in step 2, to find out in step 4 you were only supposed to add half the butter. The other half is needed now. Woopsie! Okay, no one really says whoopsie, so insert another colorful word of choice here. Once the butter was added, you can’t get it out. It’s like getting toothpaste back in the tube. Not going to happen. Who knew that you were only supposed to add half the butter in step 2??? Well, those of us who actually read the recipe knew about the divided butter.  We knew – you didn’t.

Or, picture yourself rocking & rolling along. Everything is going according to plan. You begin fantasizing about how delicious dinner will be and the looks of admiration that will be bestowed upon you. Oh, I love that fantasy – it’s one of my favorites!! Only to get to the part that says that the chicken now needs to marinate for 8 hours. Eight (insert colorful word again) hours???? Come on! Really?? Your choice now is to make boxed mac & cheese for dinner and tell everyone that the real dinner will be served at 1am. Or you can say “screw the 8 hours”, and forego the marinating progress, continue cooking and then wonder why the recipe fell so short of expectation.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? They do to me. Been there, done that. That’s when I finally figured out that if I read the recipe BEFORE I started making it, I could avoid all of these disasters. Hmmm, what a concept. I also learned that it wasn’t enough to read the recipe just once. I needed to read it twice. The first read, start to finish, is to get the whole picture. It’s important to acknowledge that reading means reading word by word. Reading is not glancing, skimming, perusing, or eyeballing. Read it out loud if you need to. It’s worth it. After you finish the first go around, reread it. This time, though, read it by sections. Read the ingredients and mentally check off each one as you go down the list and pay attention to the wording. Does the butter need to be soften, the flour sifted, the garlic minced? And what in the world is white miso? Now is the time to look it up – before you start cooking. (BTW, white miso showed up in one of my recipes today — and I learned that it is a Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans and white rice. I also learned that I can substitute soy sauce — which I have in my fridge. Yay – green light.)

After the reading the ingredients, carefully review the directions, line by line. It’s in the directions that most of the “surprises” are hiding. This could include time needed for marinating, rising, cooling, or warming, that could range from 5 minutes to overnight. You want to know this before you start cooking. 

You may decide that this isn’t going to work for you, at least today. I’d rather know now than after I’m in up to my elbows. You may also discover that you need to stand over a saute pan continually stirring for 10 minutes. If this isn’t in your DNA, not everyone has the patience, you may want to choose something else to make. You want to know this before you start cooking.

The final sections you want to read is the footnotes and the reviews. If you’ve never taken the time to read them, you won’t believe what you are missing! The best stuff is always in the footnotes and reviews. That’s where you learn the “secrets” – the hints, tips, shortcuts, and possible pitfalls. You will also learn from others’ experiences regarding oven temp, cooking times, and other gems of wisdom.

Reading the recipe (twice) won’t guarantee you a perfect finished product – but not reading the recipe before you begin is a sure way to set yourself up for failure. Why would you do that to yourself? Keep cooking fun and low stress. Read the (colorful word here) recipe!

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