Kitchen Basics: How to read a recipe.

I know, I know. To some of you, this is silly. You know how to read, so what's the problem? Here's the thing — I know how to read, too. Yet, I've made so many mistakes that could have been solved if I had carefully read, rather than skimmed, the recipe in question.

For example, the other night I set out to make cinnamon rolls following a recipe I'm familiar with and have made at least a dozen times before. I managed to mess it up, badly, and didn't realize at first what had gone wrong. The first batch of dough was basically ruined for cinnamon rolls (I turned it into a pan of bars). I then made the same recipe, and the same mistake, again, and then finally realized what I'd done. I'd not miscounted how many cups of flour I'd added, as originally thought, but misread how much milk was called for.

Read the recipe.
This sounds redundant, but take the time to sit down and read every ingredient and every direction so you don't get halfway through the recipe and find you've missed something.

Re-read the recipe.
Just to be sure. :)


Estimate the time the recipe will take to prepare before you begin.
This way, you aren't a half hour from dinner and getting to the "refrigerate overnight" step. Also, beware of "Sauté onions until brown/carmelized/soft/whatever…" Sautéing onions takes awhile, and it's never as quick as the five minutes most recipes give it.


Know your measurements.
Tablespoon can also be written as 'Tbsp' or 'T'. Teaspoon can also be written as 'tsp' or 't'. Cup as 'C'or 'c', pint as 'pt', quart as 'qt', gallon as 'gal'. There are three teaspoons to a tablespoon, sixteen tablespoons in a cup, two cups in a pint, two pints in a quart, and four quarts in a gallon. Check to see if your recipe is measuring by weight; if so, have an accurate kitchen scale handy and learn how to zero it out. (For more on cooking by weight, see here.)


Misé en place.
Which means, everything in its place. Assemble all ingredients, bowls, spoons, and anything else required for the recipe, before you begin. This way you don't have to run across the room when you're supposed to be stirring, or wash a dish when something is near burning on the stove. Also, the order that the ingredients are listed in a recipe are usually the order in which they're used. Usually.

Pre-measure your ingredients.
Even if you have a full bin of flour and only need a cup, its best to measure out all ingredients before beginning the recipe so you don't find you've only got half of what's called for and have to run to the store when you've already got things cooking.

Pay attention to how the ingredients are listed. For example, if your recipe calls for '1 cup peanuts, chopped', you measure out a cup of peanuts and then chop them. If your recipe calls for '1 cup chopped peanuts', you chop the peanuts first and then measure them. 

Make sure that none of your ingredients are divided, that is to say, some goes in earlier, some goes in later. If that is the case, measure them out separately so you don't forget and dump everything in at once.

Grease the pan.
Right away. If the recipe calls for greasing or flouring the pan, do it immediately. This saves you from pouring in your cake batter, popping the pan in the oven and then remembering you were supposed to grease that pan.


Nearly every "or else you'll make this mistake" listed above, well, I've made that mistake. And more. The goal here is to save you from making some of those same mistakes. Can you think of any other tips? Have you made any mistakes in the kitchen that could have been avoided by reading the recipe more carefully? Please share, and remind me I'm not the only one. :)