One of the reasons I think home cooks don’t love to try new recipes is because of the time-consuming task of looking at a recipe for exact instructions and measuring out each ingredient. What if there was a way you could cook just by using your instincts and eyeballing the quantities? That would definitely make life easier. Experienced cooks do just that. They are able to create meals using a pinch of this and a spoonful of that, with delectable results, much quicker than referring to a recipe. Until you are at that level, use these helpful tips to measure ingredients, ditching the tools.
Start Simple. Start with a simple dish that is basic and delicious—something using fresh, real ingredients that you can just improvise and create without a recipe, such as mashed potatoes, a stir-fry, or pasta with fresh garlic and basil. Creating a simple dish with success will help build your confidence to try more complex dishes without exact measurements.
Read Recipes at First. It doesn’t hurt to read through a recipe to get the gist of the dish and see what ingredients are involved. Once you get the idea, you can start cooking with some knowledge without referring back line-by-line to every direction. It also can be helpful knowing recommended oven temperatures and cooking times. The more you practice, the less you’ll need to refer to the recipe.
Less Is More. When you are cooking without measuring, always start with less, especially when it comes to seasoning and spices. You can always add more, but if you add too much it’s hard to undo it. Keep it simple as well; don’t overcomplicate with too many spices or herbs.
Taste Your Dish. If you’ve ever seen any cooking show, you’ll notice the chef tastes his food repeatedly before the final result. This allows you to adjust seasoning and ingredients to your tastes until you reach perfection. Just don’t forget not to double-dip your spoon when you are cooking for guests!
Improvise! If a recipe calls for something you don’t have, use your common sense and try to substitute for something on hand.
Learn the Eyeball Method. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you would know that a 3-ounce portion of lean protein such as meat, chicken, or tofu is about the size of a deck of cards. An average-size lemon yields about 3 tablespoons of juice. A steady stream of oil once around a large sauté pan is equivalent to a tablespoon. A medium-size garlic clove is about ½ a teaspoon minced garlic. One cup of cooked vegetables or salad greens is about the size of a baseball. Once you pay attention to what a measurement looks like, you can create your own shortcuts to eyeball a quantity.
Just go with it! It’s OK if you don’t get it just right each time. The point is to learn as you go and become more comfortable in the kitchen. If skipping the measurements and saving time will make you happier to prepare a meal for family and friends, then it’ll be worth it in the end. Don’t be too hard on yourself, take it slow, and you’ll see you will be cooking with ease in no time.
Alliums of your choice: onions, garlic, shallots, leeks—one or any combo, chopped
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes for a kick, fresh basil, thyme, or cumin
28-oz. can of chopped tomatoes in juice
Cream or coconut milk
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a big pot and sauté the alliums you are using with a pinch of salt until they are soft and begin to caramelize. Sprinkle with spices or herbs of your choice and stir to coat. Add the tomatoes with juices and about a cup of vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add a swirl of cream or coconut milk if you want a creamier consistency.
Cool soup slightly, then blend with immersion blender or in a food processor in batches. If you want to keep it chunky, only blend half of the mixture. Pour into bowls, drizzle with a little olive oil, and garnish with fresh basil or thyme.
Want to learn how to cook delicious gourmet meals right in your own kitchen? Take one-on-one cooking lessons or give a gift to an aspiring cook you know. For more information, contact Take Home Chef personal chef services by calling 516-508-3663, writing to elke@TakeHomeChef.net, or visiting www.TakeHomeChef.net.