When deciding what to prepare for dinner, I usually assess what ingredients I have in the kitchen and find a corresponding recipe. I hate anything to go to waste. Although I try to pre-schedule meals and make my shopping list accordingly, at the beginning of the week, somehow a wrench is always thrown in my wheel. Professional chefs suggest conjuring up my own recipes, I tend to stick to reliable sources; my mom’s recipe books or America’s Test Kitchen. After preparing a GOOD recipe a time or two, I might throw my own spin on things. Here are few suggestions when you are cooking from a recipe.
Build your own recipe book
I use a large 3-ring binder notebook. I have separated categories with thick dividers labeled for beverages, poultry, pasta, meats, desserts, etc. Each divider has a pocket for loose or small recipes. Anytime I see an interesting recipe in a magazine, I tear it out, use the 3-hole punch and put it in its appropriate section. When I need a chicken recipe, I go to the poultry section and Viola, there they are. Once I prepare the dish and it was well received, I move it to my “Recipes Shared notebook,” that I will give to my grand-daughter one day. If it is not a hit, it gets thrown away with the scraps. This is my notebook.
Write in your cookbooks
It is fine to write in your own personal copies of cookbooks. I will make a note if we liked it, hated it or just thought it was okay. I always date the recipe for when I prepared it. In 2014, I went an entire year without repeating a recipe. I never knew there were so many ways to devise my husband’s favorite dish – spaghetti. If you do not want to write in your cookbooks, consider using sticky notes. Make your note on the opposite edge from the sticky part, place the sticky part at the top of a page and then you can easily find those recipes that you deem good enough to make again.
Cross reference recipes & ingredients
In your recipe book, keep a running list of infrequently used ingredients, that could go to waste because you only used a small quantity in one recipe. For example, buttermilk; on the recipe index card or page, you can list several foods that require buttermilk like biscuits or pancakes. Use the cards/page for recipes you find that include these same unusual ingredients, so the remain quantity will be used.
Prepare ingredients before you start the recipe
A good cook never has enough mise en place dishes in the kitchen. From those that will hold a pinch of salt, to the largest measuring cup, these will hold your measured ingredient, before incorporation. The word is a French term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish to be prepared and combine up to the point of cooking. I even go so far as to line my mise en place dishes up, in order they will be added to my dish.
Keep your recipe at eye level
You don’t really need a cookbook holder, I have placed recipes on cabinet doors with painter’s tape. I have clipped a recipe book on a hangar and put the hanger-on a cabinet knob in the kitchen. I have used magnets to hold a recipe up on the refrigerator. It is a good idea to place your recipe in zip lock bags or sheet protectors, saving it from splatter and spills.
Give the oven plenty of time to heat up
Make sure to read through the ENTIRE recipe several times before you begin, to verify you have allotted enough preparation time and oven preheat time. Have your baking dish or cooking vessel ready to use, as well as your serving dish.
Invest in a good thermometer
There is nothing worse than serving under or over cooked chicken to your family and friends at your dinner party. I never trust the “touch” test. Especially cooking on the grill, a good instant read thermometer will assess the done-ness for you. You will be so proud when your guest slice into that perfectly medium-rare steak. Proteins cost way too much, to make a mistake in cooking, than can be prevented.