Have you ever followed a recipe EXACTLY and ended up with an epic fail instead of an epic meal? I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all done that at one point or another. However, there are some things that you can do in order to avoid another disaster. Here are three helpful tips to get you on the right track.
Rule #1- TASTE YOUR INGREDIENTS BEFORE YOU START SEASONING AND KEEP TASTING AS YOU GO. What a lot of people don’t think about when they start measuring out their ingredients is that there is A TON of variation in the flavors and textures of those ingredients. For example, I grew tomatoes in my garden for the last two years. In the first year, they were very acidic and did not contain very much liquid. In the second year, they were much less acidic and had more liquid inside. They were the same exact seeds from the same exact packet, so how could the taste and texture be totally different?
Well, it turns out that the amount of rain, sunshine, hot days and cold days that we have during the growing season can have a BIG EFFECT on the flavor and texture of your produce! This is one reason why I do not like to follow recipes. Maybe your spaghetti sauce recipe calls for 1 Tbsp. of sugar. Well, if you have very acidic tomatoes, that may not be enough to balance out the flavors. Maybe a recipe calls for 3 cloves of garlic, but you are using a type of garlic that has very strong flavor, or maybe your cloves are larger than the recipe writer’s cloves were. Three cloves may be too much.
I’ve experienced the same situation when making apple sauce. Sometimes the apples are very sweet on their own, and I hardly have to add any sugar. Sometimes the apples are bland, and I need to add more sugar than usual. Tasting as you go is the only way to get the flavor just right. Just remember not to double dip your tasting spoon if you are cooking for others! I keep a small bowl and a spoon next to whatever I’m cooking. Then I can use my big stirring spoon to drop some of the food into the small bowl and use my little spoon for tasting it.
Rule #2- USE YOUR JUDGEMENT TO EYEBALL AND ADJUST THE TEXTURE. As far as texture goes, I have found that some types of flour (such as gluten free or rice flour) tend to soak up more liquid than wheat flour. I often have to add extra liquid to my gluten free baking recipes to get the right consistency.
These adjustments are not limited to gluten free baking, though. Any recipe that calls for eggs can vary greatly in the amount of additional moisture needed. Some eggs are bigger than others and therefore change the amount of liquid that is in your recipe. I have also had to either thin out or thicken my sauces and stews, depending on what consistency I was trying to achieve.
Rule #3- DON’T BE AFRAID TO SWITCH OUT INGREDIENTS TO SUIT YOUR OWN TASTES. Most people use onions and celery when they make stuffing. Celery is not my favorite, so I use carrots instead, and it’s delicious! (See picture below.) If you come across a recipe that looks good until you get to those one or two ingredients that you don’t like, don’t give up on the recipe! Swap out the things you don’t like for things that you do. Just be aware that your substitutions may change the texture or consistency, so adjust liquid levels accordingly.
Recipes should be used as guidelines or starting points, but you absolutely DO NOT have to follow them exactly, and sometimes you shouldn’t! Sometimes recipes come out a lot better when you tweak them a little. Another trick that I use to figure out how to season my food is to taste the food and then smell the herbs or spices that I am thinking of adding to it to see if they would go together well. If you are not confident in your smell-matching abilities, no worries! Just put a small amount of food in your bowl and add a small amount of the seasoning into that bowl to see how it will affect the flavor before adding it to the whole pot.
Lastly, go easy on yourself! When I first started cooking, I had my fair share of disasters (and still do sometimes, as my kids will willingly tell you!) Cooking is an art. Use ingredients that you like. Take risks! Try new things! It takes practice and experimenting to see how each spice and herb changes the flavor of your dishes, but once you figure it out, the sky’s the limit!
Well, I hope these tips have given you confidence and motivated you to get adventurous with your cooking! If you have any questions or would like suggestions, please email me at email@example.com I would love to hear from you! Happy cooking!!!