Last week I shared with you how I like to know the reason why and sometimes I don’t follow cooking rules because they don’t make sense to me. And if you recall, I also shared that that strategy usually backfires on me. Here are a few more things I’ve learned the hard way:
- Reduced fat products don’t always work in baking. This lesson was an accident. I was making pie crust one day and couldn’t roll the dough out. No matter what I did, it kept tearing. I never have problems like that so I couldn’t imagine what was going on. I threw away my first batch and tried again. The second batch was just as unsuccessful. Finally, I checked the shortening can and discovered it was “reduced fat” shortening. I had just enough “regular” shortening to try the pie crust again. It worked just like it was supposed to. The moral of this story: use reduced or fat-free products at your own risk. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t.
- Meringue. When you’re making meringue, you must not get even a tiny little bit of egg yolk in the egg whites or you will not have success. And on that same subject, when you’re cracking and separating your eggs, do not crack them over the meringue bowl. If you mess up, as all of us sometimes do, you will ruin all the eggs you’ve already separated. Crack the egg over a separate bowl, and if all goes well, dump the “clean” egg white into the big bowl of whites. Trust me on this. I know.
- Weather. You shouldn’t have to tailor your menu to the weather, but you do need to be aware of it. For example, if it’s really humid and you’re making a cake, the top of the cake might be sticky. When you try to frost it, the top of the cake will tear and then the frosting will be an ugly mess. The cake still tastes fine – but it doesn’t look very pretty. If you make something with chocolate frosting, like cake or cookies, the chocolate may not set. In order for the chocolate to harden, you might have to put it in the refrigerator. If you’re making bread and your house is too cold, the bread might not rise properly. You can fix this problem by putting it in a warm place or turning your oven on for a few minutes, turning it off and putting the bread in the oven to rise. But you need to be aware that the weather can affect the outcome of some foods.
- I’m sure everybody knows this, but apparently when I was a beginner cook, I didn’t. I made chocolate chip cookies. When I took them out of the oven, instead of putting them on a rack to cool, I just piled them on a plate, one on top of the other. I sent them with my husband to his work where they feasted on a giant mound of chocolate chip cookie blob. Oops. I can’t believe I thought that was a good idea.
- That reminds me, I’ve always had trouble making chocolate chip cookies. For some reason, I could make any other kind of cookie but not chocolate chip. The cookies spread out so much that the edges burned and the cookies were thin and crispy. I had given up when my friend asked if I was following the recipe exactly. I told her I was. She said I shouldn’t. She suggested the cookies might need a little more flour. I tried again, added some flour like she said, and turned out perfect chocolate chip cookies. My family was so happy! The moral of that story is that if your recipe isn’t turning out, maybe you need to do something different. At that point, it’s definitely okay to monkey with the recipe.
- Speaking of things not turning out, I remember a Thanksgiving years ago that was a disaster! One batch of rolls were burned, the next batch were raw. The turkey wasn’t done on time. Everything went wrong. I was normally a decent cook so I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. Later a friend suggested I check my oven temperature. I bought an oven thermometer and found out my oven temperature was fluctuating about 300 degrees and that’s why I was having problems with over cooking and under cooking! It wasn’t me!!! I solved that problem by getting a new oven. So if you’re food suddenly stops turning out, maybe there’s something going on that’s NOT YOUR FAULT.
- Have you ever put cheese in a pan to melt and then forgot about it? There’s not much worse than the smell of burned cheese. Cheese needs to be melted slow and stirred frequently. Don’t try to multi-task when you’re melting cheese.
- Garlic. I’m going to date myself here but the first time I made a recipe that used fresh garlic, I discovered I didn’t know what a clove was. My recipe called for one clove but I didn’t know if that was a piece or the whole thing. If that had happened today, I would have hopped on the internet and looked it up. But we didn’t have internet back then so I had to do it the old-fashioned way. I looked in all my cookbooks and even the dictionary but nothing was clear about what a clove was. Based on my research, I finally concluded that a clove was the whole thing. So I peeled it, chopped it and put it in the stir fry. Guess what? I learned soon after that I hadn’t used a clove, but a BULB. My poor husband ate stir fry with 14 CLOVES OF GARLIC. Our house reeked of garlic for days. He reeked of garlic for days (I didn’t eat it!). But now I know. And now you do, too – if you didn’t already.
So there you go – a few more things I learned the hard way. Have you figured out that there’s never a dull moment at my house? Nope – never.