1. I was over-mixing.
Not until I really started paying attention to chefs and thoroughly reading recipes [see #4] did I fully grasp I was previously over-mixing everything. ALWAYS. I was doing this with dough, cookies, cakes, and even soups. In order to get a great product, you do not have to mix everything until looks like it came out of a box. This truly negates the point of making it from scratch, right? It doesn’t need to look like that monolithic crap. Most of my dishes came out the greatest when I mixed “just until it comes together” – and you’ll see that a lot when you read reputable recipes. For example: eggs. Scrambled eggs are a huge indication of someone who knows what they’re doing verses not.
2. Half the recipe.
I never needed to feed an army of people. Two to three people don’t need an entire batch of cookies, soup or pasta. Especially when I’m cooking for one. I always check the recipe to see why it needs 3+ cups of flour. I guess it can be economical in most situations why a soup recipe needs to yield so much – but even for dinners – unless you need leftovers for a week, you don’t need to make more than 3-4 portions. Half or quarter a recipe is what I do. I always do this with cookies; to minimize the amount lying around.
3. If there’s no picture. Find one.
I’m always weary of a recipe that doesn’t have a picture, even from a credible source. This is the opposite from a restaurant. If they have a picture on the menu – go somewhere else. But especially if you’re making something you’ve never made before, or want to see a variation. Google it. A slight difference in spelling can turn your macarons in macaroons.
4. Follow the directions. Always.
Don’t be lazy. Yes, we all are at times when we’re cooking. I don’t need to have a spectacular meal every night. But wait, yes I do. Why eat something that was made half-ass when you could have let the mixture rest for 10 more minutes before making crepes? If you’re going to the effort to build something from scratch at least let it have its best chance. I once watched someone boil 8 minute pasta for 20 minutes. There’s no excuse for that. Like Batali says, always subtract 1 minute from pasta cooking time. Never add. Pay attention.
5. Compare multiple recipes.
This goes with #3. Do research. Even with something basic. I found that when you compare recipes for the same dish you can spot what’s superfluous and what is necessary. Just because the recipe says it needs 10 dollar flur de sol doesn’t mean it has to have it. Most of the time you can substitute kosher salt – and some recipes will tell you so.
6. Stick to what you like to eat.
Don’t try to make some extravagant dish just to impress. Make what you like. I like mac and cheese. And there’s absolutely nothing glamorous about that. But I know that if I spend 10$ on ingredients or 1$ – it will be consumed.
7. Not all food photographs well. So too bad.
I probably made 25% more recipes this year that never saw the light of day. Sometimes food dishes photograph like poop. So even though the black bean soup that I spent hours making was delicious, it would not be on a food blog. And I don’t even have high photographic standards. I don’t have a fancy camera – and I kind of care more about the food than the photographs. But again, to show what I’ve made – it has to look somewhat delicious and consumable. I wish I cared more about the photos, but I care more about how the food tastes. Food comes before the photos.
8. I don’t need fancy gadgets.
Most of the time all I need is a super sharp knife, a bowl and a cutting board. A garlic press really is the most useless thing you have in your kitchen. I haven’t gone to cooking school but I don’t think they teach anyone how to use one of those. However, my food processor has been the greatest. Soups, chopped veggies, dough, pesto. The list is endless. Invest in the right tools and you can make things you buy at a restaurant Learn how to poach instead of using a sleeve. It’s cheating. And if you learn, you’ll feel really great about your products when you take the time to make them by hand.
To another year of stuffing my face!