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A humorous look at learning to cookIf there is anyone I know who can flub up a good recipe, it’s me.

I am notorious for taking the easiest of recipes and turning them into science projects. The good news is that with a bit of practice, I eventually get my recipe to mostly resemble the beautiful photo of the finished dish.

If it sounds like I am bit too hard on myself, rest assured that I have long ago realized my limitations in the kitchen as well as other .   As a kid back in the 5th grade once said to me, after I had been the subject of debate between two dodge ball team captains forced to decide my fate, “Someone has to be the last chosen.”

This very idea is something my good friend and I discussed as she was always last chosen for sport games in school as well. We could recruit others and form our own team “last chosen” A Bad News Bears of sorts. We might not be very good, but with practice and motivation from each other, who knows?

This is really the attitude I take when it comes to cooking. Learning to cook or bake is a skill in which practice knows no bounds for me. There is much terminology and technique that I was unfamiliar with when I began experimenting with cookbook recipes. For example, certain ingredients need to be combined in a particular manner, and why the necessity of checking expiration dates matters.

I have learned a few tips and tricks along the way that I hope some will find helpful!

1. Before you begin a new recipe, read through it all first. If you are unsure of a particular technique used in the recipe, go to You Tube, and chances are someone has a video of it.

2. If you pull a recipe off of a cooking site that has been reviewed, read the reviews. You will find that more experienced cooks offer their opinions on different ways to modify the recipe. Sometimes this is helpful, particularly if you lack a specific ingredient or want to lessen your quantity or calorie count.

3. For recipes that require a lot of prepped ingredients such as chopped onion, peppers, carrots, etc., prepare and measure all these items ahead of time. Not only will it help you not forget to add something, it will allow you to keep from getting too far behind in your recipe steps. Anytime I am preparing something with many ingredients or I am new to the recipe, I always prep and measure as much as I can ahead of time.

4. Just because a recipe calls itself a 30-minute recipe, does not mean it actually is one. Unless this is a dish you have prepared many times, double the time it claims, especially if your dish is time-sensitive.

5. No, it’s not always your fault when a dish fails to resemble the picture. Unless a recipe claims to be “kitchen tested,” measured ingredient amounts can be incorrect or vary according to the quality of the ingredients being used.

6. Don’t fudge the steps. Unless you are familiar with other ways to prepare a particular recipe, follow the steps accordingly. They do make a difference! More than once, I have tried to shortcut steps only to find it drastically changed my dish.

7. Parchment paper will be your best friend. Always keep some handy!

8. If you don’t own a Kitchenaid mixer, consider the investment. It will save you loads of time and has as many uses as Duct tape!

9. Items that contribute to the leavening (rising) of your recipe such as yeast and baking soda do have expiration dates. Check these before beginning any baking if they have been sitting around in your kitchen a while.

10. Most, but not all, recipes can be cut in half by simply cutting measurements for all ingredients in half. Some recipes that require precision for baking can be halved by cutting ingredients according to their weight. Measuring by weight is more accurate than measuring by volume. For example, one cup of flour weighs approximately 4.25 ounces. To cut the recipe in half, you should weigh out 2.12 ounces of flour.

Keep a good attitude and your kitchen mellow. I like to listen to talk radio, so I often put this on when I am cooking. If I am baking, I turn on a TV in the kitchen, and put on something I don’t have to concentrate on too much. Be prepared to make some great dishes and some that might need a bit more practice but, above all, enjoy it! It’s the journey, right?

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