1. Always use the best ingredients you can find. The old advice is still good advice: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
2. Consider your kitchen a “test kitchen.” Do not be averse to trying out your own ideas, regardless of what the recipe asks for. Consider doing so, however, on a smaller scale initially because, at times, you will discover that your brilliant inspiration was awful.
3. All uses of spices should, literally, be a matter of taste. If you like rosemary in soups, for example, even if the recipe does not call for it, put it in. After all, you are the one eating it.
4. Until you find the right balance of spices for any dish, under-spice rather than over-spice. It’s very difficult to remove excess spice for a finished dish, but it is very easy to add spice.
5. In the same way, under-cook a dish rather than over-cook it. Check the dish frequently as it cooks until you find it finished to your or your guests’ satisfaction. After all, you can always cook something longer, but you can’t un-cook it. This is especially true for meats; meats vary in density and thickness so that, even though the weight for two pieces of sirloin steak are the same, the dimensions could be quite different. The same goes for the cooking medium: pan-fried is different from oven baked/broiled, which is different from air-fried, which is different from grilling or smoking, etc.
6. Feel free to substitute one commodity for another. If you’re making Mac and Cheese and you like asiago cheese more than cheddar, use the asiago or, perhaps, both.
7. When it comes to designated recipes—Steak Diane, for example—read a variety of different versions for preparing the dish; there will always be some variations; otherwise, we would need only one cookbook. It is often quite beneficial to take this idea from Recipe A, and that idea from Recipe B, and—oh, why not—another idea from Recipe C, and so on, and so on.
8. If it tastes good to you, then it is good. But maybe only to you; always be aware that it may be an idiosyncratic whimsy on your part. When cooking for others, ask beforehand how they like their dish spiced or cooked and adapt your recipe to their tastes. If this would require two versions of a dish for a particular meal, then make two smaller versions rather than one large one. (It sounds more complicated than it really is.)
9. For all of the above, and like everything else in life, experience is the great teacher. In time, any adjustments you make to recipes will become your standard recipe for that dish, and spice amounts, cooking times, etc., will become second nature.
10. For most of 2-9 above, none of it applies to baking. Baking recipes are very unforgiving, while meat and vegetable dishes are pretty flexible; add too little of a particular spice or too much of it, for example, and the cake recipe can just fall apart. The same with cooking times. You can still experiment, but do so cautiously.
- Enjoy every meal you prepare as though it were your last.
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