You know how it is: you’re in the kitchen trying to come up with something for dinner so you just start tossing things together. Or, maybe, you’re doing a little improv on an otherwise basic recipe. Either way, dinner turns out very yummy and you’re left wondering: now, how did I do that?
Of course, in my case, I’m working on the cookbook so I have to be able to tell others the recipe. But whether you’re situation finds you wanting to write down a family recipe that’s made by memory or follow your own ad libbing, the following tips will help you get to the same destination: a recipe that can be made more than once with the same results! It all comes down to two main parts: Measurements and Records.
A pinch of this, a dash of that, but is it your pinch or my pinch? A finger and a thumb or a full-fisted affair? While some vagaries of cooking (the inevitable ’til it’s done’ comes to mind) really are variable due to a number of conditions, if we just pause long enough to measure each thing before adding it to the pot it makes the written account so much easier to follow.
How to do it? First, keep a couple sets of measuring cups and spoons out as you create. One set of each for wet and dry ingredients and a flour sack towel or the like for wiping spoons out from one spice to the next. If you have them out, you’re more likely to use them. Then scoop or pour everything into one of these tools, first, rather than directly into your cooking vessel of choice.
For bigger items (meats, large quantities of flour, etc.) having a digital scale on the counter is a real time saver. Choose one that does both grams as well as pounds and ounces then just keep a stack of wax paper on hand to put between the food and the scale and you’re in business. You can also weigh as you go if you’ve got a tare-function on your scale (place an empty bowl or dish on the scale and then press the required button–it’ll zero-out the weight so that all you’re measuring is the contents and not the vessel); just note the weight change after each addition and you’ll be able to replicate your results even when the original was done completely by eye.
Measuring is one thing, but unless you have some way to retrieve that information, it’s not going to do you much good. As a friend used to say: the weakest ink is better than the faintest memory. The obvious solution is to keep pen and paper at hand and stop between each step to write everything down.
As simple as this is, it can also wreck that creative flow you get into while playing culinary scientist on the way to a new discovery. Instead, recruit a friend or family member into taking dictation. This is a great position for kids who want to help in the kitchen but may not be quite ready to man (or woman) the range on their own. Finally, if you fly solo at the stove, try a digital voice recorder to take notes hands-free that you can transcribe after the dishes are washed. This is also good for catching any kitchen epiphanies you might have along the way.
So, go forth, create and then replicate your success again and again. Or, if it’s not so much in the success department, at least you’ll know exactly what you did and you can figure out where you went astray.