Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Follow a Recipe

Here’s a secret: you don’t always have to follow a recipe word for word. It’s true! There are a few simple ways to tell which pieces you need to stick to and which ones you can tailor to your needs. Let’s take this weeks featured recipe for an example. First we start with the ingredients:

Quinoa, water, chicken thighs, egg whites, black beans, corn, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, dried rosemary.

In recipes that call for a certain grain you should stick with what’s specified as they can vary greatly in cooking time and texture.

In recipes that are savory dishes that call for water you can always use vegetable or meat stocks. It adds another layer of flavor- just be sure to use low sodium broths.

Don’t have the exact type of meat called for? No worries. Obviously steak or hamburger can’t be substituted for a chicken nugget recipe but let’s say you have boneless skinless chicken breast or maybe some ground turkey on hand, both could be used in place of the chicken thighs. Just be sure you’re substituting the correct amount! Instead of 4 thighs, use 2 boneless skinless breasts or 1 lb of ground turkey. Even easier is if you’ve got bone-in, skin-on thighs in the fridge: just de-bone and skin them yourself. It’s a little gross and will add prep time but no need to rush out to the store.

This recipe calls for egg whites but you could use two eggs or two servings of egg substitute.

When recipes call for canned goods like vegetables, beans or sauces you can always use reconstituted or fresh choices. If you don’t have canned black beans but do have dried beans, just cook up the right amount and continue on (be sure to calculate the extra time this would take) or if you’ve got a spare ear of corn in the fridge simply shave off the kernels and you’re good to go.

Spices are almost always optional. If you’d rather have some thyme or sage instead of the rosemary- switch it out. Have some fresh garlic? Toss it in instead of the powdered. Like the kick of cayenne? Add a pinch or two. The only times you need to follow the recipe’s called for spices is when you’re making ethnic specific dishes (Asian, Mexican, Indian, ect).

Keep in mind that whenever you change ingredients in a recipe the nutritional information changes too.  

Now let’s move on to the directions. Here is where there’s less wiggle room. You should always read over a recipes directions before starting to be sure you understand what to do when and that you have all the hardware (pans, utensils, ect) needed. In some recipes things happen very quickly and if you haven’t gone over the recipe previously you’re nuggets will be burning while you check the printout to see what needs to happen next.

Always follow the steps in the order they’re written and cooking times should never be messed with, unless you’re cooking beef to taste.

In step 2 of this weeks recipe there is use of a food processor. I know a lot of recipes that call for food processors and I also know they are not as common as cookbook writers would like to think. If you don’t have one don’t let that stop you from trying a great sounding recipe. You can always do small batches in your blender or mash it by chopping it into pieces. Both of these options take more time (especially using a knife) but produce similar enough results.

Cooking should be fun! If a recipe is too daunting or you’re only trying to please company it can turn into an exhausting process that you won’t want to repeat. If you’re feeling up to a challenge then go for a new recipe, if you feel like keeping it simple whip up some macaroni with cheese and hot dogs, if you’re completely wiped and want to order a pizza then do that- the most important part of dinner is eating with your family. Nutrition is important but not more important than the bonds that form when you take time to really talk and share a meal with your loved ones.

Just try to keep the takeout/order-in to once a week ok?

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