Want to improve your cooking skills? My 10 tips for recipe success are a great place to get started!
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Have you ever had a recipe go totally wrong? I think we've all been there ... an exploding pumpkin cheesecake actually comes to mind!
As much as I enjoy cooking, there's nothing worse than spending a lot of time, not to mention money, cooking something that doesn't turn out well (or is even edible).
Thankfully, the more time I've spent in the kitchen, the more I've learned. And these days, I don't make nearly as many mistakes.
I've been revisiting some of my older posts lately, and I found a list of tips for recipe success. There are some great cooking secrets and tips here, and since I know a lot of people are are wondering how to become a better cook, I thought the post was due an update with some pretty photos.
10 Tips for Recipe Success
Whether you are a beginner or a more experienced cook, these easy tips for recipe success can dramatically improve your cooking. Give one or two a try and let me know what you think!
1. Choose Recipes with Seasonal Ingredients
Roasting veggies for my Pasta Primavera ... yum!
I try to cook seasonally as much as possible.
Sure, you can get asparagus in December, but it won't taste nearly as fresh as it does in spring. Plus, it will cost more (probably a lot more).
For the best, freshest tasting results, choose recipes that feature seasonal ingredients.
Not sure what's seasonal when? Here's a handy list of fresh fruits and vegetables by month.
2. Read the Recipe from Beginning to End
I know that when I find a new recipe I'm immediately tempted to jump right in and start cooking. The problem with that is sometimes I'll end up missing an ingredient after I've already started the recipe. Or I'll skip a step, or maybe I'll just be confused about the instructions.
This is such an easy problem to avoid!
Slow down a bit, and read through the ingredients and directions thoroughly before you begin cooking. If you have any questions, read the recipe intro and notes for clues or simply read the recipe again.
You'll have a much better idea of everything you need for the recipe, and you'll be confident that you can understand and follow the recipe.
3. Prep your Ingredients
The delicious ingredients for my Ultimate Chopped Salad.
Taking time to prep your ingredients before you start cooking is one of my favorite tips for recipe success. It's so important!
There's nothing worse than feverishly chopping veggies for the next step while your onions are burning on the stove, am I right?
So instead of plunging into a recipe, start by gathering all your ingredients. Then, take the time to do all the prep work (chopping, dicing, etc.) before you begin cooking.
I like to arrange my prepped ingredients on my cutting board, or put them in small bowls (this technique is called mise en place, if you want to get fancy!). That way everything you need is ready when you need it, and you won't be as hurried.
4. Measure Ingredients Carefully
Unless you're a very experienced cook, measure your ingredients. This can be the difference between a successful recipe and a flop. If want to learn how to become a better cook, you need to learn to measure properly!
Measuring improperly can lead to a host of problems. Your recipe might have too much liquid or it might be too dry. It may taste bland or over seasoned if you're not using the right proportion of herbs and spices. The dish could take longer or less time to cook.
This is especially true for baking. For example, did you know that you should spoon flour into the measuring cup and then level off the top? Unless you are directed to do so, don't scoop! It compresses the flour, and your measurement will be off.
Check out these measuring tips and techniques for lots of great info. And make sure to read the recipe carefully, too, because the author might direct you to measure a certain way (such as packing or not packing brown sugar).
5. Substitute with Care
Mixing my mouthwatering Cold Asian Noodle Salad.
If you've never made a recipe before, it's always best to make it as directed without making any substitutions. Then, once you're comfortable with the recipe, you can try changing things up.
That said, I make substitutions all the time, whether it's because I'm missing an ingredient, or maybe I'm simply adjusting a recipe to my taste.
It's fine to swap ingredients. Just make sure that your substitutions are smart.
For example, feel free to exchange pinto beans for black beans (or red peppers for green peppers). But think twice before exchanging an ingredient that's contains a lot of water for one that's drier (like tomatoes for potatoes), or interchanging two ingredients that won't cook the same (like almond flour for white flour).
So feel free to try a substitution, but be aware that the recipe may not turn out as you think. And that's probably because you made a bad substitution (not because the recipe sucks). Hey, it happens to all of us!
6. Pay Attention to Salt
One of my favorite cooking secrets and tips, involves one of the most basic ingredients ... salt. To me, salt is the most important ingredient in any recipe!
Salt can make or break a dish, so don't rely on the recipe to give you the perfect amount. You might like more or less salt than the recipe author does, so season to your taste instead. And season your cooking as you go. This will bring out the best of each ingredient, leaving you with a dish that's full of flavor.
Speaking of salt, I have a confession to make. I never use regular table salt ... ever. For most of my cooking, I use kosher salt (or sometimes sea salt) instead of standard table salt. Unlike table salt, kosher salt doesn't have additives, and you can taste the difference. Give it a try.
Finally, if you cannot use salt due to health reasons, try adding fresh herbs or a squeeze of citrus (or dash of vinegar) to bring out the flavors in your recipe.
7. Listen to Your Intuition
Making the Creamy Lemon-Garlic Dressing for my Easy Kale Salad.
Recipes are not written in stone. If something seems off as you're cooking, don't be afraid to change it.
If the soup is getting dry, add more water or broth. Shorten or lengthen cooking times, as needed. Turn down the heat if your dish is burning. Turn up the oven heat a little if the recipe is taking much longer than indicated to bake. Etc.
Using your intuition and making small changes can help a recipe shine.
8. Tweak Recipes to Your Taste
My delicious Polenta Cakes with Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables recipe.
We all have our own particular tastes. I love goat cheese, but I know from experience that lots of people (including my husband) hate it. What's wrong with you people? (Just kidding!)
If you find a recipe that sounds delicious, but includes an ingredient you hate, don't be afraid to change it to fit your preferences.
It's OK to replace an ingredient that you dislike, increase or decrease the herbs and spices, or add something that the recipe didn't call for. You're the one who has to eat it!
So if you don't like goat cheese, try replacing it with feta. Or if you're not a fan of dill, maybe the recipe would taste better (to you) with basil. If you have a low heat tolerance, and a recipe calls for a tablespoon of sriracha, start with a teaspoon or leave it out altogether.
9. Add Something Fresh at the End
Adding something fresh, like herbs or citrus, at the end of the cooking process can dramatically improve a recipe. Especially if the dish has been cooking for a while.
So just before serving, sprinkle on some fresh herbs. Or add a squeeze of lemon or lime (or even a dash of vinegar) to the finished dish.
It's amazing what a difference this simple step can make!
10. Take Notes
My cookbooks are full of little notes, like "loved it" or "add more salt."
That way, the next time I make a recipe, I remember any changes I made the first time.
You can even do this on Pinterest. Create a Tried and True Recipes board that's filled with recipes you've tried. Then, edit the pin descriptions with your recipe notes.
A yummy meal from Plated!
If you really want to expand your skills and learn new techniques, I highly recommend trying a meal delivery service, like Blue Apron or HelloFresh.
These services deliver everything you need to create a delish meal, including the recipe and all of the ingredients. It's a really fun way to break out of a rut and try new recipes and flavor combinations. You may even learn some new cooking techniques.
More Ways to Improve Your Cooking
Here are a few other posts you may enjoy:
- Kitchen Essentials List for Home Cooks
- 5 Tips for Hosting an Sophisticated Dinner Party (it's part of a recipe post, scroll down a bit)
- Tips for Organizing a Small Kitchen
- How to Clean Your Kitchen into 15 Minutes
I hope you enjoyed these tips for recipe success!
What is your favorite kitchen tip?