The Route to Success

A Recipe as a Road Map

I always think of a recipe as a road map.  It is your starting point, Point A let’s say, and the actual dish is your destination, Point B.  Like any road map, there are many different ways to get from Point A to Point B.  It’s just a guideline that you can follow exactly, or you can make a detour and take the scenic route and still end up with dinner on your plate. The point is, you can change the recipe to suit your needs. It’s not carved in stone.  No one is going to pop up in your kitchen and rap your knuckles because you don’t like peas so you left them out. (Psst: I really hate peas.  I usually substitute green beans or edamame when a recipe calls for them.)  When reading other cooking blogs or browsing recipes on an app, I often read comments from people along the lines of “My husband hates onions.  Can I leave them out?” Well, of course you can!  Unless the recipe is for something like French Onion Soup, in which case I would suggest you just take a pass on that one.

Tips for a Making a Successful Recipe

  1. Read Twice (or Three Times), Cook Once:  Always, always read the recipe through in its entirety before making it.  There are several reasons for doing this.  First you want to make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before starting.  You don’t want to get halfway through cooking mac and cheese and discover that your kids ate almost all the cheese you thought you had.  Second,  you need to check for recipes within recipes. For instance, in my recipe for Moroccan Chicken with Apricot Glaze there is a recipe for Moroccan Spice Mix.  You need to find these hidden recipes and make sure they’re prepared in advance. The same applies if the recipe ingredients call for something that is cooked already (like “cooked pasta”) or at room temperature (like butter or eggs when baking–it makes a difference in the end result). Finally, it helps you gauge how long it will take YOU to make the recipe.  When it says “20 minutes Prep Time” that is a ballpark figure.  If you’re not so great with your knife skills and the recipe calls for a lot of chopping, allow yourself more time.
  2. Feel Free to Substitute: If you don’t like a particular ingredient, don’t use it.  Leave it out altogether or substitute in something you do like. You can substitute anything you want, too.  If you like the look of the Chicken Tortilla Soup, but you’re a vegetarian, skip the chicken, add in a can of Kidney Beans (for instance) and use veggie broth instead of chicken broth. Voila!  Shouldn’t let one or two little things turn you off a recipe that might otherwise be perfect for you.
  3. Mise En Place: Mise en Place is a French term and it literally translates to Put in Place.  This is why the ingredients are almost always listed at the beginning of the recipe.  You are meant to have everything ready to before you start cooking so the actual preparation steps can be followed as you go.  This is key if you have a dish that moves pretty quickly.  If you leave onions and garlic browning in a pan while you cut up chicken breasts, chances are good you’re going to end up with burnt onions and garlic and the acridness of that burnt flavour will permeate the whole dish.  It also directs you as to how the ingredients should be prepared.  A measurement of “2 cups of shredded potatoes” is much more precise than “4 potatoes, shredded”, which totally depends on the size of the potato.  Or “1 cup of cooked rice” versus “1 cup of rice” (which means uncooked rice and would yield about 2 cups of rice within the recipe) yield two completely different amounts of rice in the dish.
  4. Salt and Pepper to Taste:  This is pretty key when you’re cooking.  Salt is important because it adds flavour to your food.  Unless you’re getting everything fresh from the farm, things can get pretty bland tasting after sitting in the produce department for a few days.  So a little sprinkle of salt will enhance the flavour of each item you are using.  I always add a little pinch of salt to my strawberries to make them taste more like strawberries.  When I’m cooking I keep a little ramekin of salt and pepper mix right next to the stove.  I taste as I’m going along and add a pinch whenever things start to taste bland.  Because I always use no-salt-added products where possible, I have to remember that every time I add something, especially broth, I am diluting the flavour that is already there.  The phrase “to taste” is key.  I like pepper in my food and I don’t like it to taste salty*, so my salt and pepper blend is about a 1:1 ratio.  If you don’t like pepper, maybe use 3 parts salt to 1 part pepper.  I don’t really recommend skipping the pepper altogether, though, because it also has flavour enhancing qualities. Figure out the ratio that works for you and use that.

Your Destination Awaits

So you’ve read through the recipe, you’ve planned your route (ingredients, Mise en Place, preparation) and you’ve arrived at your destination: dinner on the table, glass of wine in hand, while your family tucks in around you, safe in the knowledge that there are no dreaded lima beans because you’ve subbed in peas instead (because your family likes peas).  You can sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy your wine, all relaxed and stress free because you planned your route and arrived at your destination, problem free. Welcome to dinner!

Everyone loves a good kitchen hack. What tips for recipe success do you have?  Please share in the comments below.  Thanks for going on this little road trip with us.

P.S.

* When I say I don’t like things to taste salty, that’s not entirely true.  I love salty hard boiled eggs, and salty avocado mashed onto nice, grainy toast is divine. I make a lemon-thyme roast chicken that is simply delicious, and the skin is generously rubbed with a herbed lemon salt.  The salt makes all the fat under the skin melt away, so the skin gets all crispy and salty tasting.  I call it chicken candy.  I’ll share the recipe one day.

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